With Marvel releasing films almost weekly, it feels like the superhero craze of the last decade is starting to reach critical mass. The comic-book giant’s huge catalogue of heroes and villains seems inexhaustible, yet LEGO Marvel Superheroes 2 puts them all to good work, using and dispatching them with the cold-heartedness of a Disney executive who just realised his director might dare to deviate from the script a little.
Granted, it’s great to see the weird and wonderful characters of Marvel getting a LEGO incarnation. You can tell when Stan Lee started to run out of ideas when you see names like Man-Thing, Spider-Gwen, and Man-Ape - and those only scratch the surface of the villains you’ll fight and the heroes you’ll meet. Chief among the former is Kang the Conquerer (played well by Peter Serafinowicz) who has taken portions of 16 different universes and melded them together to create Chronopolis.
Chronopolis serves as the sandbox for LEGO Marvel Superheroes 2, and while it certainly is a colourful one - containing sections ranging from New York 2099 to the Wild West - it’s disappointing to see that almost none of it is made out of LEGO - and that goes for most of the levels, too. LEGO Worlds proved that the PS4 can handle the power of rendering loads of individual bricks, so the fact that Chronopolis is mostly just normal textures seems lazy and is a detriment to the experience.
The open world is littered with different activities, from preventing pretty crimes to mini boss fights against obscure villains, as well as plenty of collectibles. Unfortunately, it's not a compelling world, and considering that this is a LEGO game there's no real reason for anything other than a small hub world to be present in the game. The only thing that Chronopolis really adds to the game is increased journey times between missions, which is a minor inconvenience.
Still, the different backdrops do lead to some fun missions in the main story. One memorable level takes place in New York Noir, set in the Roaring 20s, in which Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel team up with Daredevil, Iron Fist, and Spider-Man Noir to storm Fisk Tower and take down Kingpin. The whole level has an old-timey filter laid over it with a jazz score playing, Spider-Man Noir constantly self-narrating, and multiple characters waving their fists as if they were cast in a silent film. The boss fight with Kingpin is excellent too, involving dancing, a car with really bright headlights, and a boombox. It's a classic example of TT Games’ charm manifesting itself.
Yet that's one of the few highlights of the main campaign, as boss fights are consistently underwhelming but for a select few. It's less “villain of the week” and more “villain of the minute” with many levels containing multiple forgettable encounters. Most fights follow a strict formula: defeat a boss’ minions while it has its shield up, punch the boss a view times when it reveals itself, rinse, and repeat. Very rarely do they contain some sort of puzzle - most of the time they're simply tests of how quickly you can hit square.
Button-mashing is a theme of the game in general: whether it's smashing crates to get parts for a build, smashing crates for studs, or punching goons, you'll be - ahem - pushing square many, many times. In the odd event that the game slows down and gives you an actual puzzle - often in its best moments - you'll only be allowed to deliberate for a few moments before the solution is presented to you, and that's if you're lucky. Most of the time the game lets you know the solution as soon as the puzzle is revealed, either by the camera focusing on it for so long that you can't possibly miss it, or by a character telling you about it. We understand that the game is partly aimed at kids, but the amount of hand-holding in the game is almost suffocating - at least an option to turn hints off without turning off the whole HUD would be nice.
Speaking of the audience, TT Games seems to be confused about its own. While there are huge amounts of the aforementioned hand-holding, the sheer number of characters in the game also makes it pretty hard to keep track of which character has which power, and this can really over complicate proceedings. LEGO Marvel Superheroes 2 is far too easy for adults, but for kids there are way too many things to keep track of. As well as the different characters, there are also massive selections of collectibles - gold bricks, pink bricks, True Believer rewards for getting a certain amount of studs in a level, secret characters, and one Stan Lee to save in each level; the latter being a fun idea as LEGO Lee is voiced by the man himself.
The voice acting, jokes, and dialogue in general, however, are pretty mediocre. While there are some good performances (Kang in particular) most of the heroes are forgettably voiced - Star-Lord and Spider-Man will induce plenty of groans with their endless bad quips, and we're not even sure whether they're tongue-in-cheek or not. Again, we understand that the jokes are often meant for kids, but the story will be pretty hard for children to follow since heroes and villains constantly enter and leave, throwing around Marvel terminology that even we didn't get at some points. Although there are some legitimately funny moments - the ending is a highlight - they're still a far cry from the early days of LEGO games when the humour was visual and clever. In fact, they're a far cry from the earlier games in almost every aspect, and while change in good, in LEGO Marvel Superheroes 2’s case it isn't always positive.
Playing LEGO Marvel Superheroes 2 is a constant battle between being pulled in by TT Games' charm and being pushed away by the repetitive gameplay. For every excellent moment there are seemingly multiple forgettable ones, but if you can stomach the lows of the story, then there are some fun times to be had. Still, this middling effort shows that the LEGO series is in need of some revitalising changes.