“Two great tastes that taste great together…” If you were about to sing the finish to that famous tag line using “Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups” you would be historically correct, but I dare say that when WB Games and TT Games got together one day to “play” these words were heard in the executive conference room: “Hey! You got your LEGO’s in my comic books. No…you got your comic books in my LEGO’s”. And magic was born.
And by magic I surely mean LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, perhaps one of the best comic book inspired games of all time and certainly the best in the long line of LEGO games. Yes, better than Star Wars, better than Indiana Jones, and definitely better than Batman, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes excels in every facet of being an enjoyable game from start to finish, although I’m not sure you can ever finish this monster endeavor. With more than 100 heroes and villains waiting to be unlocked, each with their own abilities; that makes for thousands of possible combinations when it comes time to go back and revisit the amazing worlds TT Games has crafted and populated with ingenious puzzles and hidden secrets.
The first LEGO games were very much about the blocks, but slowly, over the years, game after game and now movie after LEGO movie, LEGO has become more of an art style than a way to assemble architecture. If it weren’t for the distinct plastic head character designs and the occasional pile of vibrating blocks, you’d never realize this was a game based on interlocking bricks. LEGO Marvel Super Heroes blew me away on the PC with crisp visuals and no aliasing on the edges. I don’t know what this game looks like on the consoles but it sure isn’t this good. The colors are vibrant and the design for each of the 100+ characters was as flawless at it was charming, and don’t even get me started on all the fun superhero animations.
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is more than a random assortment of missions. There is a movie-worthy plot at work here with villains like Doctor Doom, Loki, and Galactus, and while the Avengers are featured prominently led by Nick Fury onboard his flying carrier and S.H.I.E.L.D. star Phil Coulsen, just about every other Marvel character has been mined from the archives and makes a valid contribution to the story and the action. And therein lies the beauty of this game. While the Avengers movie gives us the cool mash-up of a handful of heroes, this game creates some of the best ensembles in entertainment history from all franchises, and if you don’t like the way the story assembles your team you can always replay the level and mix and match your own from any of the unlocked characters or even create your own custom characters.
It’s almost mind-melting to conceive some of the adventures you’ll be playing out. Iron Man and the Hulk vs. Sandman and Oblivion kick things off, and then Spidey joins in for the final battle. Next its Captain America and Mr. Fantastic skydiving off Fury’s heli-carrier and battling Doc Ock in the Baxter Building, then seamlessly moving across the rooftops to the Daily Bugle where Spider-Man joins in for the final battle. And so it goes with one amazing mash-up after the next with loners like Magneto to team players like the X-Men. No one is safe from being buddied up with the most unlikely of partners, and that is where all of the fantastic cooperation and teamwork comes into play.
Like previous LEGO adventures, the gameplay relies heavily on puzzles that can only be solved by a certain character using certain abilities. If you are playing alone this means a lot of switching around between the two or three available characters. Obviously playing with a drop-in/out partner makes things a bit easier when it comes to getting past the puzzles, but you do have to come to terms with the unique split-screen nature of these LEGO games. The rotating angular split was even more pronounced in this game as some characters can fly, and if you go higher than the other player the screen will quickly rotate around so the flying character is on top. You just really have to focus on your character if you want to play local co-op.
While there is a bit of combat in the game, most of the action is more thinking than fighting. You’ll spend much more time smashing inanimate object rather than people to create debris that can be reassembled into something useful. Puzzles often rely on a character standing on a special plate or using their special ability like Captain America’s shield or Fantastic’s rubbery shape shifting abilities or even Spidey’s tingling spider sense.
While I enjoyed playing co-op with some of the guys in the office I ultimately played most of the story mode solo. The AI for the uncontrolled characters is pretty good, but there are times; mostly navigation puzzles, where the game insists on your moving all characters individually across the obstacle using their unique route. The open world map of New York City serves as your hub to the various levels giving you easy access to revisit them with new and different characters later. But your adventures aren’t confined to the NYC skyline. Prepare to explore Stark Tower, Asteroid M, a Hydra base, the X-Mansion, and one of my favorites, Asgard.
As is the case with LEGO games, you will see plenty of interactive objects during the story that cannot be accessed with the default characters. Make notes and return later with the proper character to unlock those secrets and collect all the collectibles. Speaking of collectibles, a LEGO Stan Lee is hidden in each level much like “Where’s Waldo”, so find him for a fine “Excelsior” thank you.
The music is very heroic and adventuresome and the script is delightfully charming and makes me so grateful they finally added speech to these LEGO games. They even got some reasonable sound-alikes to do the voices; some of which are from the Marvel animated shows. Sandman utters one of the most hilarious lines of the game in the very first boss fight – I was laughing so hard I had to pause the game, and it stays consistently funny throughout. And then you have all the subtle sight gags and character expressions going on that you really have to watch for, especially in the cutscenes.
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is not only my favorite LEGO game to date, it is also one of my favorite action-adventure games of the year. With a strong emphasis on teamwork (even when playing alone), puzzle-solving, and for the most part, non-violent combat, this is the perfect family-friendly game that will delight gamers of all ages. And that 10-12 hour campaign is just the beginning because there is more than 20-30 hours of replayability lurking behind all those colorful bricks. Your adventure is only getting started.