Developer TT Games has Lego games down to a science. It should have; it's now been almost nine years since the studio first reconstructed the Star Wars universe in endearing virtual Lego bricks. In video game terms, that's light years.
Fast forward across the entire lifespan of Xbox 360, and Lego Marvel Super Heroes is about to put to bed the console generation it helped welcome, and you can tell TT Games has made an effort to give a proper send-off.
If you're any kind of serious Marvel fan you'll probably have already Googled this game's character list. It's simply immense - there are no fewer than 155, and that excludes DLC. Bursting at the seams, it has more Marvel characters than the original Pokemon Red and Blue games had critters. Merely unlocking them all is half the fun, because you are collecting characters from entire universes - The Avengers, X-Men, The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and loads more.
Despite the complications in dealing with multiple star franchises, the game's single-player campaign manages to pull it all together with an amusing plot. At the outset, it launches into chaotic Lego brick-exploding battles, rapid-firing super heroes at the player as if they came free with packs of Cheerios. Spider-Man, The Hulk and Iron Man kick off proceedings with a fight against Sandman and Abomination at Central Station. Then Mr. Fantastic and Captain America join the fray. Then Human Torch, Thor, Jean Grey, Cyclops, Wolverine - they just keep coming.
As the campaign unfolds, you head from one iconic Marvel landmark to another, from Stark Towers to Asgard - tackling super villains at every step. You'll take on Doctor Doom and his mighty 'Doom Ray of Doom', before showdowns with Doctor Octopus, Loki, Magneto, M.O.D.O.K and even the Statue of Liberty. Yes, the actual statue.
Clearly, the series hasn't forgotten its sense of humour. Slapstick cut scenes and a script full of consistently charming wit are amusing enough to make even the most hardened cynic crack a teethy grin. Younger gamers are bound to find it hilarious.
All of this is grounded within an open-world hub in the form of bustling Manhattan island. Before each mission starts, you're let off the leash to explore, skydiving dramatically from the SHIELD Helicarrier to the streets below. From there you can commandeer vehicles from helpful citizens, compete in timed races, take on sub-missions offered by numerous NPCs or just explore the open city seeking out tokens (which can be spent to unlock more characters).
It's fun to burst around the city as Human Torch or Iron Man, but this is where some small niggling issues arise. Flight in the open-world setting is given increased speed to compensate for the distances you're required to cover, but the controls can be touchy. Car handling is also twitchy and imprecise. Navigation through the town can be cumbersome because of this.
The main missions are triggered by entering the building, or area indicated on your HUD, and it isn't long before the game settles into its fixed gameplay patterns. Players enter a building, moving from one room to another, activating a series of character-specific switches while constructing and operating Rube Goldberg-like Lego machines as your angular heroes chase a villain towards a major showdown. Each set-piece is beautifully realised, and the waves of enemies and giant bosses ensure the action remains intense throughout. As always, drop-in-drop-out co-op also serves to enhance the fun.
"When you strip away all the superhero fanfare, you are left with a 12-hour conveyor belt of switches"
Lego Marvel Super Heroes certainly starts with a bang, but the campaign begins to show a lack of imagination. Repetition quickly sets in, and will inevitably begin to take its toll on core gamers who won't see many deep nuances in the experience. At it's heart, when you strip away all the superhero-themed fat and fanfare, this is essentially a 12-hour conveyor belt of switches, packaged with a bundle of clearly labelled keys shaped as Marvel characters. It's the same level design formula you've come to know and expect from TT's Lego games, but now feels like it's at an evolutionary dead-end.
Signposting is comprehensive and persistent, so getting through its intricate array of mechanical Lego levels requires little strategy or skill. Winning is simply a matter of identifying the next switch (be it a Shield switch, a claw terminal, a breakable wall, a buildable contraption or a blockade of ice), selecting the character required to bypass it and pressing 'B'. To that extent, the shiny, Marvel-branded outer shell is merely a vehicle for churning out this rather basic and repetitive gameplay mechanic over and over again.
Don't expect the formula to change. Simple, lighthearted and approachable fun has been the mantra of the Lego games series since the critically-acclaimed Star Wars trilogy, and Marvel Super Heroes is no different.
The lack of challenge makes it perfect for younger players, while the Marvel characters will only broaden its appeal. It's destined for success.
But for everyone else, it's a shame that a game based on one of the world's most creative toys and set in one of the wackiest collections of fictional characters ends up being so predictable.
A toy box crammed with super hero figurines, let down by a lack of imagination and flair
- Vivid, detailed visuals
- A celebration of everything Marvel
- Fun in co-op
- Predictable, repetitive design
- Occasionally cumbersome controls
- No real challenge