There are two ways to look at LEGO Marvel Super Heroes. One is context – here is a game that lets you stomp around as Doc Ock, take Spiderman to Asgard, tear through the skies in Tony Stark’s private jet, take The Thing skydiving from the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, and trek gleefully through a beautifully detailed LEGO rendition of New York City. It’s got a complete open-world, a plethora of playable Marvel characters, and plenty of silly self-aware superhero banter from excellent voice actors. What more could you want from a Marvel game?
In execution, it’s another story. This is by far the most bug-ridden, confusing, and downright frustrating LEGO game yet. I’ve lost count of how many times a character has gotten stuck in geometry. I’ve lost count of how many times a mission failed to advance for unknown reasons. I’ve even had a few system freezes. At least ten times I was forced to quit to the system menu and reload from a checkpoint. Compounding with these issues, though, is the obscure and sometimes misleading visual cues within levels.
It’s not just having key gameplay objects hidden behind walls. It’s not just having overcrowded environments that fail to highlight key interaction points. It’s not just incorrect onscreen “hints” that tell you false information. It’s all of this. This is a game designed around the bombastic and expensive superhero setpiece moments of recent movies, not a game designed around player-experience.
It would be a failure if it didn’t succeed in its attempts to show you incredible sights and sounds, and that’s something it does well, fortunately. There is tremendous love for Marvel characters apparent in every detail of the characters, from Iron Man’s triumphant twirl-jump to Spider-Man’s matter-of-fact announcements of “My spider-sense is tingling!” to Hulk’s cries of “Hulk Smash!” I am by no means an expert on comic books or comic book fans, but I feel confident in saying that Marvel fans will find little fault with a game that includes 150 playable characters from Marvel’s many decades of comics.
When it works, it works beautifully, and the game’s open-world New York City is the game’s saving grace. LEGO New York is what turns this game from the most badly-executed LEGO game of all to one of gaming’s finest virtual playgrounds. There’s a LEGO Statue of Liberty(she winks once in a while!), just about every fictional Marvel skyscraper you can imagine, and S.H.I.E.L.D. call-in points everywhere that let you drive, fly, and boat your way around the city using unlockable Marvel vehicles. Every rooftop has something to find, be it a short challenge for an unlockable character or vehicle, or a gold brick challenge, or maybe just some free LEGO studs (money, if you’re one of the 3 people who’ve never played a LEGO game).
Perhaps that’s why I let out a sigh whenever I had to go back into another mission. The missions can be such a struggle to complete, and the confusing dillema of whether the game is glitching up or merely failing to show you the way makes progressing a real chore. It doesn’t help that the game’s solution for pacing in boss battles is to throw more grunts at you between openings. Combat is as simplistic as ever, and the game’s eagerness to show you impressive and lengthy attack animations strips precious seconds of interactivity from the the player. It’s a far cry from the immediacy of all the LEGO Star Wars titles, which always valued swift, responsive attacks rather than showy acrobatics of cartoon violence. You can only watch Hulk whip enemies back and forth like a toy so many times before it loses its appeal.
Co-op gameplay is as fun as ever, but it’s important to call to attention the precision movement required in some sections. Certain parts of the game will be difficult for players with less game-literacy, which might pose problems for younger children or parents who don’t typically play games. My time playing with an inexperienced player proved difficult, and ultimately they gave up playing after a short time. On the other hand, playing with a person comfortable with a game controller elevates the game tremendously, as is the case with all LEGO games.
Other parts of the game also seem rushed or overlooked. Flight mechanics, while extremely rewarding in the open-world sections, present problems as they use extremely simplistic, inaccurate controls. Prompts for character abilities refer to only one character, but ignore the similar or identical abilities of another. For example, the game tells you that a “web-slinging character” is needed to pull certain walls down, but fails to point out that Hawkeye has the same ability to pull down walls with his arrows, which could lead to confusion. Spider sense (or similar) abilities are fairly redundant in gameplay terms, and only reveal potential use of other abilities rather than being useful in and of themselves.
It’s a bit of a mess, but it’s such a beautiful, insane, and enjoyable mess part of the time that I can’t help but love it. Yes, it’s got far more glitches and issues than should be acceptable in a modern game, but it’s also got hilariously self-aware writing, a great voice cast, and some of the silliest situations yet seen in a LEGO game. So hurrah to this fun, frustrating, beautiful and unfocused game, and to the first playable Stan Lee.