More than once I have written about games which allow the player no agency, forcing gamers down a single path, restricting movement that it would allow in other places, and requiring things to be done its way. Sometimes, games can get away with this, either by telling a brilliant story or having exquisite bits of gameplay or something similar. LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, the latest in the ever-expanding LEGO game universe, tries hard and comes close to succeeding, but unfortunately, those missteps (and more) tend to outshine the fun.
This is a huge game, with tons to do and lots to unlock, and one that begs that you go back and play levels over and over and over again in order to hit that 100 percent completion. However, all too often the reminders of how much stuff still exists for you to explore within individual levels come off as rather desperate, pathetic requests for you to stick around.
What Marvel Super Heroes does do, is provide you with on screen representation of the full Marvel universe or, more accurately stated, far more of it than can ever be seen at in one film. While there is certainly talk about how, down the line, somehow, the bits of the movie franchises owned by FOX and Sony could, somehow, be melded back in with the properties Marvel has kept, any such crossover event is, at minimum, a very long way off. These limitations do not exist within the game. Consequently, very early on, there’s Iron Man with Spidey together and it isn’t too long before Mr. Fantastic and Wolverine put in appearances.
The downside of this is that it feels as though all these characters have been crammed into a single game solely because they can be – the story is cobbled together of bits and pieces and doesn’t really hold your interest in any way. No, it exists in order to push you to various places and play as various characters, not because it is, in and of itself, truly interesting.
When you play as a character within the story mode, you unlock them for use in free play. This means that once you beat a level, you can go back to it later with any of the characters you have already unlocked and use characters you haven’t used in the level before so that you can get all the bonuses therein. See, in order to get all the bonus items within a level you need characters with certain super hero abilities… characters you are never, ever, given the first time through (so that you are obligated to return to the level if you wish to truly complete it).
All of the above make the game feel as though it isn’t about saving the universe or protecting humanity or stopping New York from suffering at the hands of super villains once more, but rather about pushing you, the gamer, to collect more things. It is a game which places more emphasis on the accumulation of stuff than it does on anything else. The cynical people in this world will say that no one should be surprised by this as it’s a game using licenses from a toy company and an everything you can imagine company, but it is certainly a disappointment and I don’t subscribe to such a cynical worldview.
There is a whole lot of cute stuff that happens in Marvel Super Heroes, and there is a wit to it that is enjoyable. However, those bright spots get buried under everything else it offers, or purports to offer.
Making matters worse is the disappointing button layout. Some buttons on the control pad go completely unused while others are required to pull double-duty depending on where exactly your avatar is at any given moment. Consequently, you may mean to jump to the controls of a floodlight, but because you aren’t facing in the precise direction you need to be facing at the precise distance you need to be standing, rather than taking control of the floodlight, you swap which character you’re playing, going from Wolverine to Hulk (more than one good guy tends to be present on scene at a time, and you choose which to control) and moving you away from your objective.
Furthermore, because there are so many characters with so many abilities, the game demands that you use all of those present on the first play through of a level. So, Captain America has to throw his shield to hit certain switches while other switches can only be moved with Wolverine’s Adamantium claws. Computers can only be accessed using computer experts like Iron Man. Big things can only be moved by big guys, like Hulk, who, unfortunately, can’t put together LEGO pieces to build objects. Sometimes you need guys who control webs/chains (like Spider-Man). The list goes on and on.
There has to be a way to have these character switches occur that would make them feel like a natural part of the game. After all, it makes sense conceptually – different super heroes have different abilities. Rather than it feeling natural, however, all the switching between characters feels artificial and is an annoyance more than it is an enhancement (in ways that it hasn’t in other franchise titles like LEGO Star Wars).
At its core, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes has some fun things going on and is a great idea. On the PS4 it looks fantastic and the voiceovers are fun. All of that base level of good, however, gets buried under the unnecessary frills. For lack of a better comparison, it is like ordering a dish at a restaurant and finding that while you’ve ordered something that should be delicious, the sauce covering it has turned it all into a mostly disappointing mess.
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is rated E10+ (everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Cartoon Violence. This game is also available on PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Wii U.