I’d have to imagine that after doing something for as long as Traveler’s Tales has made LEGO games, finding new ways to keep that thing fresh would be increasingly difficult. Now, as a well-documented creature of habit and collector of all the things, I’m able to put up a fair amount of stagnation when it comes to games, but eventually, even my patience wears thin. Such was the case with LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2.
A combination of tired mechanics, a world map that felt like it was bored with itself, and a lackluster cast of voice talent who was going through the motions led me to give the game middling marks and question whether or not I had another one of these in me. Well, spoilers, I do, and as it turns out, the formula only needed a little bit of tuning and a whole lot of voice love to feel good again. And by good I mean BAD, as in villain bad. Cause this is LEGO DC Super-Villains.
So, how does it differ from its closet contemporary, LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham? Well, for starters, and as the name suggests, the majority of the game deals with the excellent roster of DC rogues. Beginning during a breakout orchestrated by Lex Luthor, while The Joker and Harley Quinn execute a heist of some Wayne Tech items, the main crux of the story deals with the Justice Syndicate, doppelgangers of the Justice League from Earth-3, whose intentions are less than, despite their initial help in “busting” the escaped baddies.
Unraveling their scheme proves to be the majority of the story, and while it’s not great, it works far better than the time spanning adventure that the Marvel Super Heroes went on. Part of the reason is the fact that we get to spend so much time with some of the voices that have come to define these characters over the years. Mark Hamill/Tara Strong return for more fun as Joker and Harley respectively, while Clancy Brown steps back into Lex Luthor’s finely-tailored shoes, and John Barrowman reprises Arrow’s Malcolm Merlyn. They even managed to get Michael Ironside back as Darkseid, and it’s been years since he played the lord of Apokolips. Add in some positively awesome work from the rest of the cast (including Kevin Conroy’s wonderful Batman), and Super-Villains is simply a joy to watch play out.
Thankfully, some smart changes to the way LEGO DC Super-Villains plays helps elevate the standard LEGO gameplay. The standard LEGO loop still stands; you enter a new area, break everything you can, and put together any pieces that are still jumping around. In a great quality of life change, items that can be broken into buildable pieces glow, and once broken, the floor glows to show you where you need to stand to build them. Such a small visual change worked wonders in removing a lot of the standard guesswork that would come with trying to get through LEGO levels. Traveler’s Tales also did a great job in not only spelling out when you have bonus studs available, gained from breaking henchman figs, but in clearing a lot of the endless waves of annoying henchman out.
The largest change by far, though, comes in the inclusion of a created character in the narrative. Central to the story, you create a character that get included not only in the story cinematics, but is also super-useful in completing levels, both through the story and in free play. It’s a little sad that the part is basically silent, in a classic silent protagonist fashion, but the interactions with the other villains and heroes, as well as the revelation as to how they fit into the story, make delving into the creation tools and getting lost in the endless options not feel like a waste of time.
With all of the changes that worked, sadly the one that didn’t revolves around boss battles. Super-Villains features a lot of one-on-one battles, even going so far as to cordon off the area, so it functions like a ring. Most bosses have one or two attacks that they switch between, and when they miss, because they are super-easy to dodge, you attack them, take off one of their hearts, and rinse and repeat. There’s very little challenge to any of them, and also very little to them. Even one that looked like it had a little more layered on top of it, kind of like a puzzle element, turned out to not even bother with it in the end. It’s kind of a shame, but given that the majority of fights are against the Justice Syndicate and not “actual” heroes, being able to just beat the hell out of them with the villains felt good.
The open world, stretching comically over a vast distance, feels well-implemented, though attempting to get anywhere without using a flier or a speedster just isn’t worth the aggravation. I adore the way the cities are thematically connected, though, with Gotham being dark and gritty, while Metropolis is literally its sister city on a hill, brightly lit and always in the sun. The Halls of Justice and Doom are well-represented, and Smallville even makes an appearance. It also helps that the game look fantastic. Yes, each LEGO game has looked better than the one previous, but I am constantly amazed by just how much the developers are able to squeeze out of the toys and their accompanying look and style.
While on paper the changes seem incremental - and if we’re being honest, they are - DC Super-Villains feels like a big step up and a welcome evolution. I’m certainly feeling better this go round than I was at the end of the last, and am even planning some trips back in to clean up and collect what’s left to find. Plus, they got Mark Hamill back for The Joker. That alone means it can’t be all bad.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!