Since time immemorial, the Marvel and DC mega-fans have been at each other’s throats like cat and dog in a never-ending war of nerd attrition. Whilst Marvels cinematic output is debatably trumping the current DC (at least in consistency), it’s been the reverse for video games. In the tit-for-tat conflict, Marvel has offered up titles like the enjoyable but shallow RPG-lite Marvel Ultimate Alliance 1 and 2, classic arcade beat-em-ups like Marvel vs. Capcom. However, recent Kinect related output hasn’t really hit home. DC on the other hand has been cooking on gas with the towering Batman Arkham series and the inventive Lego Batman games.
Now it’s time to strike back and redress some of this balance with Lego Marvel Superheroes, which marks the latest in a line of roughly 317 adaptations of famous films/books from developers Traveler’s Tales. Who can forget the gritty majesty of Lego Grange Hill: Zammo Rides Again or the simple joy of Lego: Adventures In Your Mum Cleaning Up Lego Off The Bedroom Floor?
I can’t, I just made them up…anyway, not meaning to start on such a dismissive note, the sub-genre of Lego games has now covered almost every conceivable base and their latest draws the developers gaze to the colourful world of the Marvel Universe. It’s a good fit for the style of games really; there are lots of different characters with many differing abilities, environments can range from New York City to deep space and the universe has a rich vein of humour running through it.
Lego Marvel has an entertainingly bonkers plot revolving around cosmic bricks derived from the Silver Surfer and the looming threat of Galactus the devourer of worlds, but truth be told it’s merely a vague excuse for stringing together tenuously linked colourful set pieces, all shot through with the silly sense of humour you would come to expect from previous games.
The games visual style is of course bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with levels ranging from Thor’s native Asgard to Dr Doom’s stomping ground Latveria. Most levels, however, start with you dropped into the hub of the SHIELD Helicarrier or various points in New York City. From these points you are either able to carry on the main story or can engage in any of the copious numbers of side activities which the developers have littered throughout the world.
The game supports a two player co-op function or can be played on your lonesome switching between characters, meaning no matter the ability of your partner, as long as one of you is capable, you will prevail.
The level design is often a master class in lateral thinking
The character abilities are varied and generally fall into a number of categories such as Spidey’s webs pulling levers, Jean Greys ability to move blocks with telepathy, heat beams from Human Torch and explosives for characters like Iron Man. There’s cross over between some of the characters of course and you won’t be granted the ability to hand-pick your squad until free play is unlocked but there’s always a nice mix provided. Plus with over 100 playable characters to unlock, resident geeks or ‘completionists’ are given a major incentive to finish the game.
The level design is often a master class in lateral thinking with the developers having once again found a way to make a game ostensibly for youngsters also challenging for adults to play. This isn’t to be sniffed at although it’s easy to present a facile challenge of ‘take brick A to slot B’ it is much trickier to create intricately sculptured physical riddles that satisfies all age groups.
As standard, there are lots of Easter eggs, unreachable objects and immovable doors to prise open once the game has been completed and free play mode is available, allowing a second play through with previously unusable characters, lending the game another level of replay value.
The countless side activities include anything as pedestrian as sorting people into a line using mental powers, to small go-fetch quests, all the while trying to track down the illusive gold bricks and secret characters spread throughout the city. It’s not exactly orb collecting from Crackdown but few things are that pleasurable.
Gameplay relies on a basic combination of a number of buttons which even the most inexperienced of gamers should be able to master after two shakes of a Nightcrawler’s tail. Case in point; this is the first game which I and the good lady missus have played through together from start to finish and bar the odd mild spike in difficulty, we both managed it.
The game however, doesn’t feel quite as polished as some other Lego titles and it can be a little buggy at times, with characters occasionally falling down into features and not being able to escape. This ‘bugginess’ succeeds in highlighting my major gripe which concerns the save system of these games, which could do with a little work. Even for a semi-competent adult such myself (Ed- ha! you wish!), the save system sometimes defies explanation, with checkpoints not registering save games and bug forced reloads resulting in you being dumped back at the start of the level. Not cool guys, not cool.
The game’s most direct competition, Lego Batman 2, has a more interesting main hub in Gotham City, which is a much more striking and graphically pleasing environment than New York meaning some of the sections feel like a pallid re-tread of the 2012 title. Not to say of course that the game looks poor, it’s just not quite as good that’s all.
Overall, Lego Marvel Superheroes is another solid addition to the existing bricks and blocks video game canon; vibrant looking, fun to play with well-judged puzzle challenges and a huge cadre of Marvel heroes to pick from. It also represents quality value for money with its open world set up and replay value of the main story threads and side missions. It only suffers in comparison to Lego Batman 2’s slightly more interesting and vibrant take on the meta-human universe (chalk another one up to DC), however if you love comic universes or Lego Games in general you can’t go far wrong with this title.
(Xbox 360 version)