I tried a Lego game long ago. It was the first Lego Star Wars and being a big Star Wars nerd, I figured I might find something to enjoy about the game. Lego Star Wars was a family-friendly game: easy combat, simple levels, light humor, and a host of Prequel Trilogy characters. While it was well put together, it wasn't built for me at the time; 2005, the first Xbox, and the PlayStation 2 feel like ages ago. I avoided certain games back then and I don't think I appreciated what Traveller's Tales had created. So when I popped Lego Marvel Superheroes into my 360, I wasn't expecting much.
What a difference eight years makes.
Lego Marvel Superheroes isn't that far from the first Lego Star Wars when it comes to its core. The game plays out largely like an old-school beat-em-up: hit enemies as they run at you and move towards your objective. This is broken up by simple puzzles that won't tax veteran players at all. The humor is still kid-safe and pun-filled. Lego Marvel Superheroes is a game for families like all of Traveller's Tales' offerings, but if you happen to be a fan of Marvel Comics, there's so much more.
By my count, there's 136 Marvel characters in this game, many with alternate costumes. The expected mainstays are here, like the Avengers, Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four; the main cast is an odd melange of Marvel history. The Avengers are all understandably based off their movie counterparts, but the X-Men are clad in their 90's cartoon costumes with the exception of Wolverine, who sports his Wolverine and The X-Men (cartoon and comic) outfit. Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four wear classic costumes, while the rest of the cast gets stuck in whatever Traveller's Tales assumed was their most recognizable look. Power Man and Iron Fist are the versions from the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon, for example. I would've liked to see all of the characters' Marvel NOW costumes, but beggars can't be choosers. (Hey, TT Games, I'll pay for a Marvel NOW costume DLC pack.)
Every character plays differently and has abilities you'd expect (the comic nerd within me takes issue with the portrayal of Mr. Fantastic's powers, but nothing's perfect). Spider-Man can swing on webs, stick to walls, and use his Spider-Sense to find hidden objects. Captain America is a shield-wielding acrobat. Iron Man and Thor can fly, while Black Widow, Nick Fury, and the Invisible Woman can cloak themselves. There's even big characters like Hulk, the Thing, and Colossus who are perfect for mindless smashing. Most characters have at least one ability needed for the game's environmental puzzles, whether that's using electricity to charge up batteries or using lasers to melt gold Lego bricks.
The main cast and their primary villains are unlocked by finishing the fifteen story chapters. These chapters will take you to a number of recognizable Marvel comic and film locales: Stark Tower, Asgard, the Baxter Building, the Daily Bugle, the X-Mansion, Asteroid M, and the SHIELD Helicarrier are all included. The levels are well-designed, look great, and have a ton of easter eggs for fans. I almost did a spit-take when an early chapter had a Superior Spider-Man billboard, while I was chasing Doctor Octopus. If you get that reference, it's because you know that - SPOILERS - Doc Ock is the Superior Spider-Man. There's a ton of jokes and items lying around that reference the comics, the movies, or even the film actors associated with each character. The humor is skin-deep, but if you let yourself ride with the puns, Lego Marvel will make you chuckle at times.
In-between the story chapters, you have a chance to play around in Manhattan. Here you can use the various heroes and abilities you've unlocked to explore the city, do side-missions, help citizens, and unlock even more heroes and villains. This is the meat of Lego Marvel Superheroes; by time I had beaten the game's story, my save file said I'd only completed around 10 percent of the game. As you progress through the story and explore New York, icons for other unlockable characters and vehicles will pop up on your map. Around those icons will be puzzles to solves, enemies to fight, or events to take part in. Finish those successfully and you'll unlock the hero or villain associated with that icon. Once they're unlocked, you can buy them using the game's currency, Studs, which you'll find everywhere. Not only are they floating out in the open, but everything you hit drops more. Showers of the tiny Studs flying everywhere.
The game started off slow for me, but once I started unlocking characters and costumes, it got addictive. I've spent hours just jetting around Manhattan on Iron Man - flying heroes are the best! - uncovering icons and meeting other heroes. The mile-wide grin I had when I found out Power Man and Iron Fist are in the game, was matched time and time again. Helping Captain Britain find his car, racing Ghost Rider, teaching students with Professor X at the X-Mansion, fighting Red Hulk on the streets of New York; for a Marvel fan it's all a ton of fun. Even Howard the Duck is in this game! There hasn't been a Marvel game this enjoyable and comprehensive since Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 four years ago. And Lego Marvel adds a whole city to explore, so it's actually a better game in my mind. I could tell the game had its hooks deep within me when I looked up after unlocking Gambit and Ronan the Accuser and it was 2 A.M.
Does the game trip up a bit? Yes. Heading back into some of the story chapters to unlock more heroes can be very tedious at times. The Manhattan is a ton of fun, while the story levels get bogged down in combat half the time. You end up mindlessly punching your way to get back to one spot and use a specific ability. Here's my recommendation: beat the entire story before you head back into earlier chapters to unlock things. Finishing the story will give you most of the abilities needed in your replay of old levels, so you'll only have to play each level twice. Racing around in Lego vehicles was also a no-go for me. I never felt like I had great control over the ground vehicles, which felt loose. Why race around in a boring, unwieldy taxi, when you can just switch to a flying hero and jet across the city? It just didn't feel very integrated into the rest of the game I was playing.
And it may be an isolated occurrence due to my old Xbox 360, but the game hard-locked five times over the course of my review playthrough. Your mileage may vary on this one.
Maybe Lego Star Wars was this good when I played it years ago and I wasn't ready. I wasn't in the right mental space to just enjoy the game, even though Lego games aren't challenging affairs. It's clear in Lego Marvel that Traveller's Tales have a deep love of the subject matter; playing the game is like talking to another avid Marvel Comics fan. If the studio doesn't care about Marvel Comics, then they do an excellent job faking it. Hell, the game ends with the Merry Marvel Marching Society song. That's digging deep into history there. Lego Marvel Superheroes is so fun that I actually want to go back and pick up Lego Batman 2: DC Superheroes and Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga to see if I've just been missing something all these years.
Also if you're playing on PC, the game's only $30. Great bargain.
- Visuals: Despite being made out of Lego bricks, most of the environments are pretty impressive. Manhattan, The Rainbow Bridge on Asgard, Asteroid M, and the final boss fight are stand outs in a great looking game.
- Music: The music is crazy epic for a game featuring Lego characters and would fit in any Marvel film.
- Interface: Switching between heroes can sometimes be tedious, especially in the case of Iron Man, who has a number of different costumes.
- Lasting Appeal: Finishing the game's story mode is only a tiny fraction of the game. There's a lot to explore and you'll need to collect everything to unlock Deadpool. Set aside some time for Lego Marvel.