There was really no way to predict it so long ago, but the modern series of LEGO franchised games are undeniably great. When the first LEGO Star Wars game hit store shelves in 2005, it’s probably safe to assume that Traveller’s Tales didn’t foresee the growth that the franchise would go on to enjoy. Eight years and more than 10 games later, the LEGO series is still alive and doing incredibly well for itself. Showing no signs of slowing down, the latest — and arguably greatest — LEGO game to hit the scene is LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, a brand new adventure featuring the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, their greatest villains, and some other random pals who came along for the ride.
As mentioned before, there has recently been a whole mess of LEGO games released for a number of different consoles in a very short amount of time. The Wii U, a console that just recently celebrated its first birthday, is already home to three unique LEGO titles, including console exclusive LEGO City Undercover. The majority of these games have been based on various film and comic book franchises, borrowing characters and plots that lend to a distinct experience with each release. Situational differences taken into account, the fact is that all of these games provide a similar experience that doesn’t diverge too drastically from the established formula — even the sense of an open world is becoming common on home consoles. If you’ve played one LEGO game before, then you can expect to find incredibly similar gameplay here. The LEGO games are mostly about style over substance anyway, and Marvel Super Heroes is no exception to that rule.
Reflective of its comic origins, the plot of LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is both over-the-top and wildly convoluted, taking characters from all ends of the Marvel universe and attempting to tie their stories together. In short, Silver Surfer’s board breaks apart into cosmic bricks. Realizing the power contained within, Dr. Doom, Loki and Magneto team up to collect the cosmic bricks in order to build a devastating weapon designed to take down the local super heroes. More twists and turns occur, forcing characters to visit strange locations and create unlikely team-ups, but we’ll kindly keep the rest spoiler-free. The plot may all be a bit much, but the comical styling of the LEGO franchise does its part to support the otherwise messy story by not taking itself too seriously, poking tongue-in-cheek jabs at the source material and always remaining self-aware. Whether it’s Tony Stark’s trademark snark or Nick Fury shouting a line from various Samuel L. Jackson films, the jokes are on-point and are guaranteed to have you laughing – assuming you’re savvy enough pick up on the countless pop culture references.
On par with the course for previous Lego titles, the controls are kept simple and intuitive, primarily utilizing the left stick and lettered buttons to move, attack, and use your character’s special power. The Wii U GamePad is used as the chief input method with options for a second player to join in with a Wii Remote and Nunchuk combination or a Wii U Pro Controller. Some awkward on-screen instructions might confuse players using the Wii Remote as the prompts to press certain buttons are specified to GamePad controls rather than the differing Remote layout, but it’s a minor complaint that is easily overcome by playing for a short amount of time and understanding which buttons perform particular actions. Instructional snafu aside, the controls remain welcoming and uncomplicated, perfect for gamers of any age to master and enjoy.
The controls may revel in their simplicity, but the GamePad’s technology is far from utilized to its fullest potential. While exploring the Big Apple, the GamePad’s touchscreen can show an interactive mini map that allows you to set waypoints and make sure you’re heading in the right direction. During stages, however, the touchscreen is limited to merely displaying the characters that you have available in that particular area. Being able to accurately switch characters by tapping the screen is vastly superior to pressing the X button and fumbling through nearby figures until you’re in control of the one that you want, but that’s about the extent of it. The GamePad is used here to make basic mechanics more intuitive, but it doesn’t do much beyond that. The controller also supports off-screen play, allowing you to enjoy your adventure while a pushier housemate hogs the television. When playing with a partner, you also have the option of featuring one player on the television screen while the other is shown only on the GamePad’s small screen, a convenience that completely circumvents the necessity for traditional split-screen.
Realistically, the majority of gameplay in any LEGO game is repetitive button mashing combined with very basic puzzle solving. The gameplay may not be the most interesting or original, but that doesn’t detract from the sheer amount of fun that players of all ages are sure to have. Repeatedly tapping the Y button to smash through waves of baddies may sound like a chore, but it somehow manages to feel fresh with each passing stage. Each character also has special powers that are reflective of their comic origins. Wolverine, for example, can use his claws to dig up hidden objects while Spider-Man can shoot webs and climb along certain walls. Whether you’re firing optic blasts at your opponents as Cyclops or comically swinging them back-and-forth like a ragdoll as Hulk, there’s definitely some fun to be had by all.
Not unlike LEGO Batman 2, Marvel Super Heroes features an open and explorable world set in New York City as well as 15 story stages in self-contained areas. The campaign can be played through in around 10 to 15 hours, but this is the type of game that thrives on replayability and its various side-quests scattered throughout NYC. The usual collectable minikits are located in stages, demanding at least a second play through of each in order to collect everything, and many LEGO bricks can be found in the open world, often rewarded for completing challenges. Challenges in NYC range from finding and retrieving an object that a random citizen may have lost to defeating a Sentinel that suddenly decided to terrorize the town. At one point while exploring the streets, Blade decided to challenge us to a race on Pizza Bikes. Why a superhero would feel the need to steal a Vespa and drive it in an underground street race is beyond us, but that doesn’t make it any less fun and hilarious.
Though the campaign may be considered short, extra missions unlock after its completion, expanding the LEGO Marvel universe and continuing to breathe new life into the game. While not spoiling some really great surprises for comic fans, we will say that the additional missions continue to delve into the absurd and tie nicely into some of the upcoming films. These extra missions, combined with the hundreds of collectables to be found and characters to unlock, ensure that this is the type of game from which you’re bound to receive countless hours of play.
Just like other games in the series, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes looks fantastic. We considered including a joke here about “blocky” graphics (it would have been a real knee-slapper too), but we decided to play this one straight instead. So much attention to detail isn’t obvious in the character models as they all look like LEGO minifigures or Big Figures anyway, but all of the environments, whether they be in stages or the open New York City, are beautifully rendered with lush surroundings that make each new locale feel unique. Rather than simply recycling settings and reskinning them to give the appearance of a brand new environment, the classic Marvel locations instead come to life and feel like they could have been adapted directly from the pages of a comic or film.
The audio is similarly impressive to the visual presentation, but that’s not to say that it comes without its flaws. The orchestrated soundtrack is tremendous in scope and all of the game’s dialogue is fully voice acted, lending an additional layer to the already hilarious script, but the game is full of strange audio dips and raises that are more than a little distracting. It’s a bizarre issue to define, but LEGO Marvel Super Heroes seems to have some issues finding a balance in audio levels and maintaining them throughout. Sometimes character voices will suddenly drop in volume at the end of a spoken line, making the punch line inaudible, and other times a stage sound effect will suddenly blare out loud, drowning out everything else around it. These niggling issues may be far from game breaking, but they hint at a larger sloppiness that thankfully doesn’t rear its ugly head too often when playing through.
The LEGO series of games has always been focused much more on content rather than gameplay, and Marvel Super Heroes continues on in this tradition. As the games continue to expand outward rather than upward, longtime fans may start to see through the cracks and realize that what they’re being fed is little more than what they’ve been playing for years, but in a vastly larger and prettier package. The great news for players and the developers alike, however, is that the formula has remained true because it’s one that works. Don’t approach this one expecting a unique experience, but do appreciate it for its charms and accessibility.
If you’re looking for a fun way to unwind, relax, and have a laugh alone or with some friends, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is exactly the game to fulfill that need. It’s pure family-friendly fun that squeezes in just enough variety to ensure that players of all ages will find something to enjoy. A heroic feat, indeed.