Developer: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Publisher: TT Games
Review Platform: Xbox 360
Release Date: October 22, 2013
I take any chance I get to talk about The Avengers movie. What a blast that was, right? While it’s infinitely better ‘in the moment’ then on subsequent re-watches, the ‘cool’ factor of seeing Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and friends all together, on screen, was a cinematic cross-over for the ages – and wallets, taking in over a billion dollars. The house that Spidey built is a powerhouse, there’s been more Marvel movies in the past 20 years than there are James Bond movies total. So naturally the cash-ins were a comin’ – lunch boxes, toys, TV shows, halloween costumes, and video games have assaulted our Walmarts, Targets, Amazon wishlists, and game consoles.
Unfortunately the game console part hasn’t been so hot. Aside from Marvel Ultimate Alliance way back when the Xbox 360 first launched (and before Iron Man came out), Marvel games have been kinda…meh. So thank Odin for the Danish. Specifically a Danish company you may have heard of – LEGO. In case you haven’t (and I’m sorry your childhood was terrible), LEGOs are *the* building blocks. With sets ranging from space, to pirates, to politics, to pretty much anything you can think of, as a kid, they were your imagination’s best friend – you could build anything from robots to laser guns to toy cars to robots on wheels with laser guns. It was Minecraft for the analog age.
Now that the “LEGO” experience has been usurped almost entirely by Minecraft, it’s fitting that LEGO now builds a niche for itself in the gaming world. While the first attempts to bring LEGO to the digital realm were mediocre -I’m looking at you, LEGO Island, eventually LEGO hooked up with TT games, a British company, and they were off to the races. LEGO Star Wars felt more like a Star Wars game than the official Star Wars games did. By putting in countless references, in jokes, and unlockable characters that tickled the fancy of hardcore fans, it endeared itself to players almost immediately, and continued to do so through several other LEGO titles.
It was a winning formula, and TT games have done it again with LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, an open-world, for-all-ages action platformer featuring the earth’s mightiest heroes…and Howard The Duck. First impressions are wonderful. LEGO Marvel Super Heroes positions itself as a fan-fiction sequel to The Avengers, with the X-men, Spider-man, Daredevil, Venom, Carnage, Doc Ock, Red Skull, and more thrown into the mix.
The first thing you’ll notice is the density. A lot is going on at all times, bricks are exploding, enemies are attacking, sirens are wailing, and despite being LEGO mini-figs, you feel like you’re in the middle of a warzone as you’re tasked by Agent Coulson with stopping The Sandman, who’s wreaking havoc on Penn Station, as Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk. You eventually hook up with Spider-man, and you take down the Sandman via teamwork and a little H20, and you’re rewarded with a great Wizard of Oz joke that had me giggle out loud at 11 A.M. on a Tuesday morning.
You’ll do a lot of giggling and smiling if you’re a fan of the Marvel Universe. The writer, Mark Hoffmeier has crafted comics, but most of his resume is actually adapting comic book material to kid-friendly television, his credits including Spider-man, Spider-man Unlimited, The Silver Surfer, Green Lantern, and the criminally underrated Exo-Squad, which ironically enough was the inspiration for my own LEGO creations as a young-in’. So Hoffmeier definitely has an intimate knowledge of all things superhero, and as a result, also has a knack for knowing exactly when to subvert superhero tropes for big laughs. Silly things like The Human Torch stopping The Thing from saying his ubiquitous catch-phrase until it feels right, to random NPCs getting the names of all these new heroes wrong, to countless gags by Maria Hill, who, for example, questions if Stark Tower is a technological achievement, or a testament to one man’s massive ego, all make LEGO Marvel Super Heroes a charmer.
The wonderful voice work from Troy Baker (Loki), Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson), Adrian Pasdar (Who has been Iron Man in animated form for years), John Eric Bentley as a great Nick Fury, and countless others, is just as important. The key to comedy is refusing to believe you’re in one, and the cast passes with flying colors. Sure, the characters do silly things, but everyone is deadly serious about those silly things. Dialog is handled with a deftness only veteran talent could bring to the table.
The music is especially great, too, featuring a ton of ‘sound-alike’ music from Agents of Shield, The Avengers, and various other Marvel properties that go a long way to helping you invest in a world made from plastic figures – your heart will pump as you sky-dive from the Shield helicarrier.
While the actual story of the game is a little simple, the moments contained within the story are bright and fun – and plentiful. The best gags feel at home with classic Looney Tunes – manic, subversive, a little sweet, and more than a little nuts.
Not nuts is the relatively simplistic gameplay. LEGO Marvel Super Heroes gameplay is diverse, but not complex. Each character has 2-3 special abilities. Wolverine has claws and can climb, the Hulk can lift up heavy objects, Iron Man can fly, Spidey web-slings, and so on. Special attention was paid to making the characters feel unique, so you’ll often times wonder if you want Spider-man’s web slinging, spidey-sense, and ability to turn into Peter Parker over say, Iron Man’s flying and projectile attacks. There’s a little over a dozen abilities, but a lot of them are mixed and matched between characters, so no one feels completely repetitive. You may find yourself playing as an alternate costume in order to use a special ability they didn’t previously have – For example Iron Man gets a fire-beam ability midway through the game that can only be used with his Mark II suit. This all handles pretty well, despite some iffy flying controls that are pretty easy to get the hang of after a bit.
You’ll use these abilities to pass missions and collect gold bricks, which are akin to Super Mario 64’s Stars, or Banjo Kazooie‘s puzzle pieces. The more you get, the more stuff unlocks, and so on. There’s well over a 100 in total, not including red bricks and other hidden goodies, side missions, puzzles, races, and time trials. None of this is particularly hard, but figuring out what to do next is often times challenging. You’ll clear out all the enemies with ease, then be stuck for several minutes figuring out if you missed a switch, door, or lever while scouring a level – creating a point-and-click adventure game kind of vibe, which fits in right at home with the ‘for all ages’ moniker – a fact which is hammered home when you realize boss-battles cannot be won on brute strength alone.
It’s an often used cliche, but it’s fitting that LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is greater than the sum of its parts. You need to play it to understand it’s immense charm. When I have a hard time putting my love for a game into words, I tend to close my eyes and think about the images that pop into my mind’s eye when I think about it. With LEGO Marvel Super Heroes I see The Incredible Hulk smashing a fancy computer, feeling bad, then making Tony Stark a cup of coffee. I see LEGO creations breaking apart into thousands of pieces in pure chaos as a fight through Latveria . I hear the thumping musical score that transforms virtual representations of plastic toys into honest-to-goodness heroes on a mission to save the world. I see Wolverine and Spiderman commenting, indirectly, on the events of The Avengers movie from 2012.
I see the kind of stuff I imagined when I was a kid, smashing LEGOs together on my table, telling my own superhero and space adventure stories that borrowed liberally from Marvel, Star Trek, Star Wars, Exo Squad, and Battlestar Galactica, all the while humming music I made up as I went along.I see those fantasies realized in this game, better than I could ever hope to do it myself, which is a special kind of wild. But, that may not be you. If you’re not a huge marvel guy, or you are a huge marvel guy and can’t take an occasional jab at a character you like, or dismiss “What ifs” and “Spider Ham” as useless distractions, you may not be charmed by this game. But, if anything I've written appeals to you, buy this game right away, and you web sling, laser blast, berserker rage, and Shield throw to your heart’s content - which will take quite awhile.