What fascinates me about Traveler’s Tales’ LEGO video games is how they manage to stay compelling and relevant – well, some better than others – despite their structure and formula remaining largely unchanged since 2005’s LEGO Star Wars. The gameplay may be old and well worn but that doesn’t stop LEGO Marvel Super Heroes from being the best produced LEGO game. The sheer reverence to the game’s source material sets it apart from its previous superhero adventure, LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, because it makes great use of the Marvel license, its catalog of heroes and the commercially successful – if not critically acclaimed – film adaptations.
Beginning after the events of The Avengers film, Loki calls upon Doctor Doom to capture the Silver Surfer and harvest Cosmic Cubes from his board to build a powerful superweapon. An army of supervillains rally under Doom’s banner leading S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury to coordinate a response team made of up Marvel’s extensive catalog of heroes. The game offers the largest roster of playable characters in a LEGO game, bringing together classic and lesser known heroes and villains (and some genuine surprises) together under one roof. Franchise stalwarts like Iron Man, Spider-Man and Wolverine run alongside the Guardians of the Galaxy, Venom, Magneto, Beast, Abomination, Thor, Pyro, Punisher, Deadpool, Sabertooth, Ice Man, Red Skull, Doctor Strange, Rogue, Jean Grey, Archangel…the list goes on and on and on. Having such a massive pool of characters to draw from offers near infinite pairings and dream teams to take on the game’s substantial content.
If you’ve played one LEGO game within the last decade, it won’t take very long to get reacquainted with the main missions work. Equipped with a party of up to four superheroes, you’ll navigate through lengthy stages consisting of several rooms that require building or destroying LEGO blocks to create switches and contraptions that will open a path towards the end boss. Objects that can only be manipulated using a specific character’s unique ability is a common occurrence and not everything can be reached during the first playthrough. After defeating the end boss, a free play version of the level allows for you to replay the level with characters designed to access hidden content, like minikit canisters and saving Stan Lee from perilous situations.
Downtime in between levels is spent traipsing around the open world map of Manhattan, performing checkpoint races and hunting down gold bricks to open up ancillary stages to earn more character unlocks. Some gold bricks require getting through a short puzzle, or simply having the right minifig for the situation, and others are given as rewards for helping citizens find lost friends or missing items. The best piece of secondary content involves J. Jonah Jameson tasking Peter Parker with taking pictures of iconic landmarks around the city. Getting around the city as Spider-Man fueled my nostalgia for Treyarch’s fantastic Spider-Man 2 even though the web slinging mechanic in LEGO Marvel lacks the other game’s complexity.
LEGO Marvel’s open world allows characters that fly a chance to really let themselves go. Flight enabled characters are kept on a fairly short leash during story missions which makes zooming around town more thrilling than it should be. There’s nothing more fun than jumping off the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier and waiting until the last possible moment to engage flight controls and launch into a hair-raising ascent before weaving through New York’s urban canyons. Flight makes getting to and from objectives a breeze, though the controls are a little finicky and take some getting used to.
What makes LEGO Marvel really stand out from the pack, outside of its impressive cast, are its high quality graphics in every department. The recreation of New York may not be as visually complex as Grand Theft Auto IV, but it is more than an adequate representation of the famous city. Iconic buildings stand alongside fictional structures, with Stark Tower, Oscorp and Professor Xavier’s mansion fitting right in with the New York skyline. The individual story levels are beautifully rendered and feature exceptional lighting effects with LEGO bricks that work very well against real world environments. I second Jeremy’s assertion that the level set in Asgard is the game’s most breathtaking set piece.
The game’s sound production is exceptional and makes great use of audio assets taken directly from the Marvel films. Iron Man’s repulsors whine, Captain America’s shield clangs and Thor’s hammer rings with every blow. The men and women brought in to voice the characters perform their roles in such a manner that fits their character’s personalities rather than try to mimic the actors and actresses who played them in the movies. Notable voice actors include Nolan North , reprising his role as Deadpool, and Clark Gregg as fan favorite Agent Coulson. And then there’s Stan Lee. ‘nuff said.
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes represents Traveler’s Tales finest work with the LEGO property. All of the requisite hooks are there: a fun story, good humor, solid gameplay and healthy challenges. The studio’s reverence for the source material really pays off in the end, with content and character options that should be more than enough for any type of Marvel fan.