It feels like TT Games has just about drawn all it can out of the Marvel Universe. This was true of the DC Universe in Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham, the third in a series of games exploring the world of Batman and the greater DC Universe. After two previous entries, Lego Marvel Super Heroes and Lego Marvel's Avengers, we now have Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2, standing as the culmination of everything featured in those previous titles.
At its core, Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 remains the same as the games that came before it. You romp through Lego mashup of the best of the Marvel Universe, from its most popular heroes and locations, to some more obscure characters and settings. Combat remains a low-stakes, kid-friendly beat-em-up and at any time another player can pick up a controller and join the fun. Interspersed with the fighting are the occasional boss fights and a whole heaping of puzzles: destroy this, build that, flip this switch, figure out how to get over there.
The puzzles sometimes rely on character-specific abilities, which are broadly spread across Lego Marvel 2's immense cast. Iron Man's sustained laser can rip through golden objects, but if you don't want him on your team, Captain Marvel and other characters act as solid backups. Captain America's shield is useful in reflecting lasers or hitting certain switches, but he's not the only shield-wielder in the game. Once you've completed the story, you have space to pick your own squad, including the custom Lego super heroes you can create in the Customizer. (You still have 10 character slots available for your creations.)
If you've played a Lego game, nothing I've written so far diverges from what you already know. So what's changed?
First up, the roster of heroes. Continuing to build upon what they've done in Lego Marvel Super Heroes and Lego Marvel's Avengers, TT Games has kicked up the roster to 191 characters in total. Now, that might seem like less than previous games, but that's only counting actual character slots. Many characters actually share the same slot, like the multiple versions of Iron Man and Tony Stark. There's like nine different versions of Spider-Man, three kinds of Venom, a couple of Hulks, and a few Captain Americas. Within the same character, there's a lot of variety.
The consolidation in character slots means TT Games frees itself up to do some more interesting and odd characters. Gwenpool headlines as a major new addition, functioning like Deadpool did in the Lego Marvel Super Heroes. Squirrel Girl friends Chipmunk Hunk and Koi Boi join the fray. Cosmo the psychic Russian space dog from the Guardians of the Galaxy comics is here. Kid Colt is around and factors into part of the story campaign. The Living Mummy. Red Guardian. Stingray. The Presence. TT Games gets down in the dirt when it comes to characters this time around. All we're really missing are the characters Marvel doesn't own in film and television, including the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. Which is a shame, considering those heroes were in the first Lego Marvel Super Heroes.
So how are all these characters brought together? That's the focus of the story campaign for Lego Marvel 2, co-written by comics veteran Kurt Busiek. Kang the Conqueror is up to time shenanigans, bringing shards of various worlds into sync. Through a bit of trickery, Kang finds a way to fuse the shards into a complete whole, leaving the heroes trapped outside of space and time in a Kang-controlled city comprised of various neighborhoods. It's up to our heroes to fight their way across each region, collect the chosen MacGuffins, defeat Kang, and return the worlds to their proper place. (Marvel fans will note this sounds a lot like the plot to the recent Secret Wars crossover. It is.)
It's not a bad story campaign, standing as one of the lengthier entries that TT Games has put together. Kang's Chronopolis pulls from various Marvel regions and eras: there's modern Manhattan, the Marvel Noir version, the 2099 version, Xandar, Hala, Sakaar, Wakanda, Lemuria, Attilan, the Old West, ancient Egypt, medieval England, and more. You will journey across all of them in the campaign.
I do have a few complaints. The first is that the story takes quite a while to really get going. You'll put a good 3-4 hours into Lego Marvel 2 before it gets to the point. My second issue is the humor. Most of it was on-point, I just felt the jokes didn't hit as much as they did in previous entries. In some cases, that's because of new voices; Spider-Man in particular was a complete miss and given his prominence in the story, that's a shame. If it is the same actor, the new delivery isn't to my liking. Overall, the general charm is still there, but I felt it landing a bit less than TT has in the past.
What does work is the various eras give the game a bit of life and unique presentation. From dogfighting in the Hydra Empire, to facing cowboy MODOK in the Old West, to taking down Kingpin in the Noir version of New York, there's always something new to look it. You can tell TT had fun planning out each world.
With such a large cast, Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 sort of lands between two audiences in terms of difficulty. Most of the game, including the combat and the puzzles, are utterly straightforward and kid-friendly, like most Lego games. With the wide variety of heroes though, it can become a bit difficult to keep track of who does what. Star-Lord shoots and throws grenades, but his grenades create gravity wells, versus the grenades of Rocket Raccoon, which destroy silver objects. Ms. Marvel can lift heavy objects like She-Hulk and shrink like Ant-Man, but can she pull in objects like Spider-Man? It's hard remember who does what outside of a small, core cast.
I also found that in certain sections, I simply didn't know what to do next. In some levels, the thing I needed to build, destroy, or press was in a corner out of the way; I knew what I needed to do once I found that corner or spot, but finding it, especially in the heat of combat, was sometimes a bit difficult. As an example, the boss fight with cowboy MODOK went on for an extra 5-10 minutes because I couldn't figure out how to take down his last bit of shield. I eventually figured out that I had to drop a barrel on him, but that only came after wandering around the playable space for far too long.
If you're not tackling the story campaign, every level has the standard list of collectibles you'd expect from the series: Golden Blocks, Tanks, at least one character, and a Stan Lee. Sure, you'll complete a level during the campaign, but they're not really done until you go back in free play with a different squad to unlock everything. There's also a new multiplayer Battle Arena, which is played locally with up to four players. (You can sub in AI contenders if you have no friends.) It's mostly a time waster, as none of the heroes are balanced around competitive play.
Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 doesn't shift away from the template that TT games has already established. There's more characters, the presentation and variety is bigger, and the references mine more of Marvel's history. It does feel like this is the endpoint of Lego Marvel; all that's missing is the X-Men and Fantastic Four. Like Lego Batman 3, I wouldn't want TT Games to revisit the universe unless they were trying something new with it.
Similar to the other TT (Telltale Games), I think beyond here Traveller's Tales might want to rebuild from the ground up. The core works, but every now and then you need to drop a new engine into your line of cars to keep them feeling modern. But that's planning for the future. For now, Lego Marvel 2 is for Marvel fans and families alike. It doesn't hit with the impact of the first Lego Marvel, but it's still a damned fun time if you're a fan of the formula.
Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 feels like the solid end of TT Games' exploration of the Marvel Universe. There's more characters here and this mashup of worlds provides a good deal of variety. There are problems: the X-Men and Fantastic Four don't return from the first game, the voice cast drains characters of some of their charm, and with this many characters, things can get a little confusing. The Lego game formula might need a rebuild in the future, but Lego Marvel 2 is good victory lap for the series.