Over the years, the LEGO video game franchise has expanded into something of a phenomenon. It all started in a galaxy far, far away when British developer Traveller’s Tales took it upon itself to re-imagine George Lucas’ sci-fi blockbuster Star Wars in brick form. After much critical praise, the studio decided to do the same to numerous other brands, including Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Batman. Now it’s been given the freedom to apply its formula to the Marvel franchise – but how does the format fare?
At its plastic centre, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is a fusion of beat-‘em-up and action platformer that’s geared towards the abilities of all ages. Straddling a family-friendly vibe, the game is light-hearted enough for younger players to enjoy, but still has plenty under the surface to appeal to older audiences and fans of the source material. The story opens with the Silver Surfer being captured and subsequently dropping special ‘Cosmic Bricks’ that contain immense power. Unsurprisingly, the dastardly Doctor Doom is up to no good, as he formulates plans to use the abovementioned blocks to power his ‘Doomray of Doom’. It’s therefore not long before the Avengers are called in to do what they do best: fight crime.
The game’s story pans out pretty much as you’d expect a LEGO game to: it’s comical and bizarrely engaging. Many of the characters are written exactly as they would be in their comics or movies, with the Hulk arguably being the funniest. There are some great gags that employ Bruce Banner’s cumbersome alter-ego, and it’s hard to stop yourself from laughing hysterically whenever he appears on the screen.
Throughout the campaign’s 15 levels, the super heroes will travel through a variety of key locales from the Marvel Universe. Whether it’s the streets of Manhattan, the Baxter Building, the Daily Bugle, Stark Tower, or the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, the developer’s paid an outrageous amount of attention to detail. When initiating missions, you’ll occasionally free-fall from the abovementioned airship, which will never fail to get your adrenaline pumping. The Manhattan environment is quite a large area, and the heroes here can drive cars, boats, and fly planes. Of course, you can also choose to navigate the environments in free-roam by using the abilities of certain heroes, such as Iron Man and the Human Torch. It’s impressive just how much detail has been embedded into every environment, and it’s sure to have Marvel fans grinning from ear-to-ear.
This is especially true of the characters, to which Traveller’s Tales has really done its homework. The game features over 100 heroes in total, and they’ve all received an outstanding level of care and attention. Every character has the kind of combat moves and animations that you’d expect, while some are even augmented with some pretty neat specials. Captain America, for example, can deflect laser beams and block fire with his trusty shield, while Spider-Man can employ his Spider-Sense to detect hidden environmental objects. These specific abilities can be used to further your progress through the game, forcing you to switch between them on the fly and ensure that you give the entire cast some playtime.
The combat is simple enough for anyone to pick up the controller and play. You’ll execute all of your attacks with the Square button, while the Circle button will dish out your special moves. Depending on your character, you can even mix up projectile and close-quarters combat as you please. The former is performed by holding down the attack button and using a reticule to lock on to enemies. Upon smiting a villain, you’ll see a multiplier appear on the screen. As is customary for the LEGO series, the more foes that you destroy, the higher your multiplier will increase and the more studs that you’ll earn for destroying them. In addition to this, some characters have specific finishers that add to the satisfaction of beating down foes. For instance, the Hulk will grab an enemy, slam them on the ground, and then slap them until they break into pieces. It’s both hilarious and just plain awesome.
As in previous games in the franchise, you’ll be collecting studs scattered throughout the levels, as well as in the aforementioned Manhattan free-roaming environments. During these missions, collecting a certain amount of the bits-and-pieces will fill up a meter and will allow you to earn the ‘True Believer’ status for that stage. This will help you to unlock many of the game’s hidden characters. Comic book legend Stan Lee is also hidden throughout the various environments for you to find and rescue, which is a pretty comical inclusion in the game. Additionally, there are a set number of interactive objects within the world that will reward you with collectibles upon finding them all.
An appreciated feature is the ability to save mid-mission. Each level is broken up into sections and at the beginning of each area is a computer that you can access to record your progress. The stages will take you about 20-35 minutes on average to complete, so it’s nice to be able to save as you work your way through them. Of course, drop-in/drop-out co-op also makes a return, adding to the title’s enjoyment. It’s unfortunate that it’s limited to local multiplayer only, though, as there’s no online mode to be found here at all.
Visually, the title looks extremely clean, crisp, and colourful on the PlayStation 4. The characters animate fluidly, and the environments have sharp textures, while the frame-rate is locked at a silky smooth 30 frames-per-second. Sadly, it’s not an enormous improvement over the PlayStation 3 version, so you may be tempted to stick with that iteration if you can find it for cheaper. Granted, there are additional details noticeable in some of the areas, but the draw-distance remains disappointing despite the added horsepower of Sony’s next generation machine.
The audio, however, doesn’t disappoint, with top voice actors such as Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker putting in top performances as Captain America and Hawkeye respectively. The sound effects will be familiar to fans of previous LEGO games, while the orchestral score matches the epic scale of the Marvel universe. There are some particularly catchy tunes in the game, such as the one that plays as you prepare for your next mission in the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier.
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is arguably the most ambitious entry in Traveller’s Tales’ long-running series, and it’s an extremely enjoyable one at that. The developer’s delivered a title that will appeal to casual players and die-hard Marvel fans alike, which is a laudable achievement. Granted, the game doesn’t do much to take advantage of the PS4’s supercharged hardware – but when the core action’s this fun, we’re not even sure that the Hulk would be able to get angry about that.