With a great franchise comes a great number of releases. In the case of the LEGO video games series, their multi-platform games have hit just about every major gaming console of the past 10 years. Having no desire to be left out of the series’ success, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes: Universe in Peril brings an original adventure to the Nintendo 3DS.
Like any of the other LEGO franchised games, gameplay consists mostly of button mashing beat-em-up action combined with some light puzzle solving. As you work your way through each of the game’s 15 stages, you have the ability to switch between certain Marvel characters to help defeat your foes and solve the areas’ puzzles; each of the 15 stages are broken up into three small sections including a boss battle. While the game leads you through them seamlessly as you play the campaign, having them set up this way makes it much easier to navigate and jump from one section to another when replaying. Unlike so many other games, unlocking the next stage in the story isn’t as simple as completing the one before it — instead, stages are unlocked based on the amount of gold bricks that you have collected throughout your adventure.
Many of the gold bricks available to unlock are obvious and easily earned simply by completing tasks such as reaching the end of a stage or collecting a certain amount of LEGO studs: other challenges, however, are much more taxing on the player. These other challenges range from completing a level without switching your character to saving a certain number of civilians. These challenges not only add variety to the otherwise straightforward beat-em-up gameplay, but they also force replayability on it in a surprisingly unobtrusive manner. To advance in the game, you actually have to play each stage more than once, dramatically extending this otherwise short title’s lifespan.
Stages are laid out isometrically and follow a mostly linear path. Any divergence that you experience from the main walkway usually just leads to hidden objects and studs or more destructible scenery, but each area is designed to guide you along without much hassle. The environments and characters populating them look great and obviously take advantage of the hardware’s capabilities, often showcasing smooth animation with few to no drops in frame rate. The console’s 3D effect is used to add a sense of depth to the environments which, admittedly, does make it easier to identify where characters and objects are in location to you, but it does little to actually enhance the gameplay.
The same cannot be said about the cinematic sequences, however, which look absolutely atrocious. Opting to keep mostly the same scenes from the console version, the video quality took a major hit, leaving these short sequences looking grainy, splotchy, and even discoloured. With the load times being as frustratingly long as they often are between stages, one might expect more quality to have been put into the video, but this is absolutely not the case.
The audio quality is similarly poor, maintaining a generally tinny sound as it is pumped through the 3DS’s speakers. The poor audio quality is especially unfortunate as games in the LEGO series tend to have excellent soundtracks, and this one is no exception to that. The game is fully voice acted, making each character seem like a unique personality rather than stock superheroes, but this doesn’t make up for the fact that some of the dialogue is barely intelligible. The good news is that there are subtitles displayed, so you might actually be better off silencing the game completely and playing the Avengers film soundtrack in the background instead.
The control scheme is kept simple, making this game easily accessible to players of all ages. Your character is controlled using the Circle Pad or D-Pad while attacks and dodges are performed with the A, B, X, and Y buttons. Additional controls, such as making certain characters fly or swapping between heroes, are tied to virtual buttons on the 3DS’s touchscreen with easily decipherable icons. While the touch controls are easy to identify, they’re not always as responsive as they should be, often calling for second taps and more deliberate swipes to function. Though more than one option is available regarding character mobility, we found that, due to your character’s ability to more in three dimensions, using the Circle Pad is the more accurate option when compared to the D-Pad.
Unlike the console versions, there is no open world to explore and no side missions – beyond the additional challenges in each stage – to complete. New characters and attacks can still be purchased with studs that you’ve collected, but this is all done through bland menus rather than interactive shops. There is also an unfortunate lack of multiplayer gameplay, which is easily one of the most enticing aspects of the console games. In what we assume is an attempt to make up for the lack of co-op, there is an included card collection game that utilizes the handheld’s StreetPass feature to challenge other players to unseen battles, but it doesn’t do much to captivate its audience, and it isn’t nearly as satisfying as actually playing through missions with a friend at your side.
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes: Universe in Peril is a lengthily titled game that provides a sweet and satisfying portable experience for LEGO and Marvel fans alike. It may not live up to the standards that the console version has set for it, but it still offers up a unique experience that will keep players of all ages entertained for a decent number of hours. Long load times, ugly cinematics, and finicky touch controls aside, the fun mission structure and engaging gameplay makes this one worth picking up for anyone seeking big fun in small bursts.