Lego games have such mass appeal, not only are they the perfect entry level game for kids and non-gamers alike, they have managed to grab some fantastic well known franchises to work alongside. Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Batman, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings have all been released to consistently good critical acclaim and sure things when it comes to sales numbers. Each new Lego title also seems to bring a series evolution, even though the individual outings are not usually linked, for those who play every Lego game that comes out, itís clear to see a developer, Travellerís Tales, honing their skills and adding more and more with each new title. Once again Lego Marvel Super Heroes is a wonderful evolution in the series and the hook-up with Marvel is a stroke of genius, something which for a long time looked like it would never happen.
The Marvel universe has quite simply never been so popular, a veritable cash cow right now with more movies than your regular theatre can cater for in a calendar year and sales numbers that would make anyone in Hollywood green with envy. The universe is vast, the lore is sacred to the now aging generation but there is, of course an entirely new generation to win over. Cue new origin stories with 12a ratings, lunch boxes, sticker books, animated kids seriesí, pyjamas, the list is pretty much endless. Marrying this massive Marvel world and its staggering list of characters, some main stream, for example Iron Man, some less so, for now at least, for example Guardians of the Galaxy with the cute, simple and effortless couch co-op gameplay that a Lego game provides is quite simply, common sense - why wouldnít you do this? Well now they have...and itís pretty cool.
The campaign is a straightforward tale riddled with Avengers based references which sees Loki being all types of naughty again alongside fellow ďevilĒ characters such as Dr.Doom and Magneto. Itís all fairly light-hearted world-ending shenanigans played out with the tongue in cheek sometimes slapstick humour that has been present in all recent Lego games - this outing being particularly similar in tone to Lego Batman 2. However, and perhaps most importantly, whilst there are similarities to the Batman games particularly, the colour palette for both the characters and the environments is significantly lighter and more varied than that of the aforementioned Lego titles.
Both the gameplay, size and scope of the game represent the perfect evolution of the Lego series. In Lego City Undercover we saw a huge open world filled with side quests and random events, in Batman we saw an open world Gotham City which could be thoroughly explored after the main missions have ended. What we see in Lego Marvel Super Heroes is the development team taking the best parts of each and adding verticality into the gameplay. Not only is there a hub, much like the bat cave or police HQ in the aforementioned Lego titles, in the form of the floating SHIELD HQ there is also a massive city below brimming with side quests, races and other random activities. Even the little touches throughout the game help to keep that smile on your face as you play through; jumping from the SHIELD Helicarrier down to the city is an opportunity to grab some multi-coloured studs as you descend at breakneck speed down to the ground, only to deploy a parachute within safe distance, or indeed turn into one should you be playing as Mr Fantastic. This quick, short example of the nice light touches found withinLego Marvel Super Heroesdoesnít even scratch the surface, as they are plentiful. The art direction is spot on, the characterís reactions to certain events are in keeping with the comics and more recently the movies, as well as there being more custom character animations than ever before. Quite literally all of the one-hundred and fifty-five (yep, you read that correctly) characters will have signature light and heavy attacks along with unique special skills that are needed for certain puzzles. Naturally through the course of your time with the game you will start to feel like some of the unique abilities are a little bit forced, for example, Wolverine has the power to dig holes with his claws and activate special claw based switches. These examples are the most extreme stretching of the established lore but they suit the gameplay scenarios so can very easily be forgiven, plus if you struggle to overlook such things then to be frank if you have that much of a problem with a Lego game taking liberties for the sake of gameplay, you likely shouldnít be playing a Lego game in the first place and clearly really need to get out more.
Gameplay wise the scripted story missions see you in a number of colourful scenarios including Xavierís school for the gifted, a space station and Grand Central Station, hell there is even an underwater level. The level design whilst initially open and free gradually becomes tighter and more claustrophobic, partially countered by the new verticality found throughout due to having access to an awful lot of characters who can fly, or swing in Spider-Man's case but not necessarily to the benefit of the game overall. As the levels become tighter and more and more character switching is required, the fun is slightly drained from proceedings - what begins as an open battle versus Sandman, camera panned back, Hulk bashing his way around the play area, is reduced towards the end of the game with boss battles in tiny rooms often with so much going on you have literally no clue as to where your character is, let alone your co-op partner or even the guy you are meant to be smashing. This can lead to disorientation and frustration, not helped by the always annoying spinning dynamic co-op camera. During these latter stages itís very obvious that co-op is not the way to go and everything becomes far easier solo.
The main campaign, clocking in at around the eight hour mark is but an entree to the game though and for the eagle eyed - check out your save after the first play through, even if you do love a collectible or two, your save wonít be hitting over 25%. There is an awful lot of game here and lord knows how long it would take you to collect enough gold studs to purchase all the characters.
Unfortunately itís doesnít all amount to the ďHigh FiveĒ happy ending usually seen in a super hero movie. As the Lego series has evolved it has become more complicated and for a simple two to three button game, rooted in the mindset of trying to keep it simply to two to three buttons, issues will ensue. Now that characters like the Hulk, for example, can transform to normal form and back by holding the Y button, you frequently find yourself accidentally switching away from that character as you are trying to transform. As a lot of the characters fly, itís now quite difficult to get them to land where you wish as the land button is also the secondary attack button - add to this pain that the BUILD (as my son likes to shout) button is the same button again. With so many actions allocated to a single button, things get a bit hit and miss at times which can cause minor frustration. Add to this the usual Lego mix of small glitching, the odd crash, some poor checkpoints and at times you can feel like it all lacks polish - it does if we are being honest with ourselves but it doesnít stop the game from being great, it just stops it from being perfect.
For the first time a Lego game has a definite kitchen sink feel about it - if youíve played a Lego game before, you will have seen the core mechanics of the game but if youíve played all of the Lego games that came before, you will have seen just about everything in this one. There isnít a great deal that can be considered new or revolution here, itís a simple mash-up of previous games taking advantage of the array of powers afforded to the developers by the characters in play. That said, Call of Duty makes billions and thatís been the exact same game for the last eight years so itís perhaps a tad harsh to complain too much about this from a Lego game, and really, who buys a Lego game for the new game changing core mechanics. Quite simply they donít - the target market is kids sitting on their sofa with their Dad (or Mum, or sibling) playing a game as their favourite character that is neither too taxing or at all violent.
Itís Lego, itís Marvel, itís pretty awesome - a must for any kid who loves The Avengers, X-Men, Spiderman, hell there is too many to name! There are still some issues that have come across from previous Lego games preventing it from being a perfect experience but its audience wonít care one little bit. Hulk smash!