PLATFORM: PC, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Wii U
PRICE: $59.99 (Next Gen) $49.99 (Current Gen) $39.99 (PC)
ESRB RATING: E 10+
DEVELOPER: TT Games
PUBLISHER: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
BUY IT FROM AMAZON: Here!
The “brand” media extension has always been something of a tricky proposition. It’s hard to make product shilling lovable (unless you disguise it as a children’s TV show of course) and the charmingly subversive Wreck-it-Ralph’s are sadly outnumbered by soulless corporate tripe (see: Mac and Me). That said, Lego is a company that seems to have been fairly smart in leveraging their brand, and their various cross-over games have proven to be of a surprisingly high quality. The inherent absurdity of its block-based setting brings with it some welcome humor to what can otherwise be fairly staid source material, and Lego: Marvel Super Heroes continues the trend of offering an amusing skewering for kids and adults.
The setup for Super Heroes consists of some good old-fashioned MacGuffinery. The Silver Surfer’s board has been broken into various bricks of power, forcing S.H.I.E.L.D. and its superhero allies to compete against a legion of super villains lead by Dr. Doom in a race to etc. and so forth. It’s incredibly perfunctory and rightfully so, as the real fun of the game lies in bouncing around various famous locales in the Marvel universe. Much like the earlier Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, this is less about narrative and more of a theme-park comic tour, though this game wisely avoids Alliance’s oddly depressing dramatic beats. Appropriately enough for a game based on a line of children’s toys, things are kept deliberately light, with broad gags and big, melodramatic touches. A lot of the humor also draws from the recent Marvel cinematic universe (yes, there are shawarma jokes), a smart nod to the large chunk of the audience that may only be casual Marvel fans. That said, for the hardcore comic nerd there’s a LOT of specific references scattered around, and the huge roster of unlockable heroes and villains includes some surprisingly deep cuts (I’m looking at you H.E.R.B.I.E.). Even within the main storyline there’s a far bit of variety, as in addition to the Avengers you’ll get to play as heroes ranging from Spider-Man and Wolverine (who I know are technically Avengers, but shut up) to the Fantastic Four. Not all of the gags work, but as a whole the writing and voice work is consistently amusing, and there are some real gems thrown in the mix (Hulk’s intermittent fits of rage were a personal favorite).
Thankfully that huge cast isn’t just window dressing. There’s a wide variety of unique powers and abilities scattered amongst the various playable characters. While some fall into general categories (super-strength, fire, telepathy) there’s an appreciable difference between playing as, say, the Abomination versus Hawkeye. This also encourages multiple playthroughs of each level, as certain areas can only be accessed with specific abilities, though the game smartly mandates certain characters to avoid breaking the level progression. In addition to using the powers in combat, characters will also need to use various abilities to perform simple puzzles like flipping switches or squeezing through grates. It’s relatively painless switching between characters and the AI does a decent job keeping pace, but it’s definitely more fun in co-op. I would however recommend turning off the literally nauseating dynamic split-screen.
While there’s a good variety in terms of the characters, the same can’t really be said when it comes to the gameplay. Combat basically boils down to button mashing, and the puzzles almost all consist of either smashing destructible objects to build a gizmo, or using power A on object B. There’s also little penalty for dying, as you re-spawn almost instantly minus a token amount of studs (the in-game currency). Of course I’m obviously not going to lambast a game aimed at kids for having forgiving gameplay, and what the game does excel at is the primal joy of smashing the environment into tiny geometric pieces. Almost every object in the levels distributes studs when destroyed, and since consecutive enemy kills build up your score combo combat encounters become a satisfying hybrid of fisticuffs and slot machine. While I occasionally found myself road blocked by an unintuitive puzzle or overlooked level element, the vast majority of the gameplay is more than serviceable.
In addition to the story missions, the game also has a free roam mode in a virtual New York, accessed by free-falling off a S.H.I.E.L.D Heli-carrier. And yes, that is as awesome as it sounds. There’s a ton of content here, and while most of it falls into the typical sandbox format of races, fetch quests and hidden collectibles, the sheer variety of gameplay offered by the different characters and the amusing reactions of the pedestrians was enough to keep me going. Throw in all the unlockable characters and costumes and that’s a whole lot of bang for your buck, especially at 50 bones. For those burnt out on the Lego formula, Marvel Super Heroes doesn’t offer much new, but what is here is a charming love letter to Marvel nerds that happens to be a pretty darn good game in its own right.
Out of 5
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