When a new Lego game releases, the staff at my local game store no longer have to ask whether I’m ordering it for my son, or myself. Lego and its gaming offspring may have begun as a children’s product, but it’s popularity and grasp has grown exponentially, so much so that when I picked up my special edition (with bonus key ring), I had to wait in line with all the other ‘kidults’. I love the fact the Lego games have always been simplistically fun, satisfying and the anarchist to my completionist tendencies. With that said, pairing the lively bricks with epic storylines and well known characters may never have been a bad move, but the games have had their setbacks.
With the release of Lego Marvel, my inner child was ecstatic at the thought of playing as Lego Iron Man, and yet, my “gamer side” was cautiously holding it’s breath. It’s true that Traveller’s Tales have included some degree of innovation with each new Lego title, but there has always been at least one component in the games that was left wanting. Early on in the franchise, there were simply too many cases where what little was lacking was enough for me to rage quit, which something that happened often. Fortunately, TT has taken these gripes on board, and we have seen improvements with each new endeavour; most notably the inclusion of split-screen for two players!
So after carefully placing Lego Loki with his keychain-gang I started Lego Marvel, pretty sure I knew the level-boss-collectible process by now. As I’d hoped, the attention to detail, giggle worthy pop-culture references and cross between puntastic and tongue in cheek humour did not disappoint. However, from the first level it was clear that something was evidently different this time. For those of you that have played previous titles like Indiana Jones or Batman, you’ll understand how those stages felt very “side scrollish”. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it became predictable. When TT released Pirates of the Caribbean and DC it was clear that they were working on varying the levels with depth, options and locations, and when it worked, it was fantastic; when it didn’t though, I’d find myself hyperventilating in frustration over a seemingly simple task that became impossible because of the camera angle or character being inexplicably stuck. Often when they tried to diversify the levels (Think Pirates Brethren Court level) it created headaches for the players, following a set of tasks was infuriating if the character couldn’t stand on a ledge without dying for instance. At one stage, while playing split-screen I had to go to my happy place and summon every scrap of patience so my son and I could finish the %*#@&!$ Pirate ship, Savvy?!
After trying not to get my hopes up for the latest title, I am very happy to report that I experienced none of the aforementioned issues with Lego Marvel. From the very opening level with Hulk and Iron Man, it was pure character fuelled action. It follows a story which succeeds in working in everyone, with such examples as Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, Agent Coulson and Galactus, as well as villain specific minions and frequent cameos from Stan Lee. Additionally, each chapter also includes a brief intro without all the endless talking heads, which roughly explains the random hero choices for the level, before lunging the player into a fresh clobbering excursion. Unlike Lego LOTR whose open-world was epic, but levels were ultimately too linear; Lego Marvel has thrown the entire level/boss script right out of the Shield helicarrier window, and bravo to them because it works!
With every Lego release there has been improvements, but there was only one in particular that I was crossing my fingers for this time. As a two-player game, it’s remained fun and accessible until one of you needs to precision aim at something just off screen. To achieve this, one player would have to go and hover around the other to try and move their screen or drop out and let the other player do it alone. Unfortunately, this hasn’t improved, although the occasions for it to happen were much less often than it’s predecessors. Additionally, another change I would like to see is the hint bar along the bottom either disappearing after the first chapter or at least having the option to turn it off. Overly obvious hints and reminders become distracting and annoying, which was still the case when my 8 year old was playing. Fingers crossed that the next instalment will indulge me!
Having said that though, the gameplay, level diversity and character involvement is so dynamic that Lego Marvel can easily be forgiven. The innovation that was implemented was surprisingly useful, and gave fighting swarms of fragile minions another level. The Combo or kill streak meant that every quick succession kill created a combo chain up to 10x; this meant that every stud you collected for the next few seconds was multiplied by your combo value. While the time to grab studs was very short I found that positioning myself near the higher value ones and timing my stud-spree meant fast big bucks and the True Believer achievement on nearly every level. The fights were made more enjoyable by the constant stream of hero swaps, I found myself flicking between them all to see their combo moves and special attacks, up until I got carried away and killed my player two one too many times.
Not being a lifelong Marvel fanatic, I was really pleased with their selection of super heroes, but at several points, as uneducated in the history of Marvel as it is, still questioned why particular characters were thrown together, or why Spiderman was so determined to defeat Magneto for example. While the Team theme seemed to be a basic answer, I quickly forgot to care as I was distracted by Stan Lee’s cries for help from under a vending machine or by how fun it was to speed through the city as Iron man, in the Mark 42 suit naturally. For those die-hard fans though; go easy. Yes, they stayed true to the personalities, costumes and even suit generations, but they did take some liberty with a few of the characters. Really though, some of the characters NEEDED upgrades, otherwise they were quite literally one trick ponies, and had little point in being there. Black Widow became completely invisible, and the invisible woman had strong psychic powers, other than that there was very little artistic license.
Whether playing single-player or co-op, I’ve always found the single character actions to be pretty tedious; the constant need to swap characters makes some levels feel like they were built to please some sinister deity that survived on the eye-rolling produced by ANOTHER unnecessary swap. Lego Marvel still employed several character specific items (Like blue metal for Magneto), but managed to remove much of the chore associated with it. On Story Mode stages with three or four characters, I prepared myself to be annoyed, but it felt more like team work, and less like we-haven’t-used-him-in-a-while nonsense. Dumping Captain America and Thing on a desert island could have been a joke, but it was smooth and fast paced with only enough swaps to keep it fun.
Over time, all franchises will update their look, but Lego doesn’t have to follow that rule; after all, they WANT them to look square. What might have been unnerving on the original Lara Croft is actually true to life for Lego characters. The presentation in the games is that of bright and involving scenes and exploration inducing scapes. While the Batman ones were so literally dark at times it was a struggle, it’s good to see TT has pulled it back into the fun zone. Easily one of the best parts of Lego Marvel was the improved look and manoeuvrability of the open world aspect, making every building top, park and alley easy to enjoy and navigate. The accompanying music I’ve always enjoyed, it never grated or became too repetitive even if it didn’t really stand out much at all either. Lego Marvel took a leaf out of the Stark Says book and upped the sound and cinematic to be more immersive and a few times -downright impressive. A rocket rising from the Central Park lake to build itself is cool enough, but by overlaying it with heavy rock music and spinning aerial shots TT has produced some memorable cut scenes..
Finishing the main story felt like an achievement, so much that it almost makes you want to stand there with the Avengers and friends and say “You’re welcome, Earth.” However, in true Lego style, it does not end there. Deadpool is still hanging around with secret levels, there are gold bricks, mini kits and unlockables galore still to go. Make sure you listen to Deadpool and attend Tony Stark’s after party that man can entertain. Marvel and Traveller’s Tales have made something fun and breezy, that takes the Lego franchise onwards and upwards, and I am looking forward to what comes next. For now however, I have New York and Stan Lee to save! EXCELSIOR!