We’re massive fans of Lego, it’s no secret. So when Lego Marvel Super Heroes arrived alongside the PlayStation 4, we had a double bout of excitement.
In the run up to Christmas there are major titles dropping left, right and centre to suit all tastes and various ages, with this latest Lego caper set to appeal to a wide audience. It’s got the style to appeal to the kids, the back stories to appeal to Marvel fans, while the cheeky, comedy one-liners and entertaining dialogue will keep a smile on everyone's faces.
Just like Lego’s always-happy Minifigs will Marvel Super Heroes keep a smile on the face when you play it? It's Lego. What’s not to like?
Whether you’re a fan of the Marvel comics, the movie spin-offs, or it’s never really registered on your radar, Lego Marvel Super Heroes will take you in whatever your awareness level.
The game is a 3D platformer of sorts, with simple puzzles thrown in. Think Mario with Marvel quirk, contained in slightly more "on-rails" levels played out over various locations and worlds. You can walk, run, swim, fly and, in the case of Hulk, definitely smash your way through this game.
All the favourite characters are here to play, each with various super powers. There are literally hundreds of characters that you "collect" along the course of the story mode. Heroes’ powers are broken down into various groups, such as fire, ice, kinetic, strength and so forth - we won’t spoil them all.
However, various characters can be lumped into a given category - Captain America’s ability to deflect laser beams with his shield, for example, is matched with Jean Gray’s ability to do the same via a kinetic-produced forcefield; the Hulk’s brute strength equally matched by Fantastic Four’s Thing. It’s a one trick pony in that respect.
On screen Lego Marvel Super Heroes main play is the ability to control multiple characters in turn by the press of a button. To progress through levels you’ll need to use a mixture of superpowers. It’s a simple yet clever concept that works really well when there are just two characters, but when you reach levels where you control four, maybe five or more the process of jumping between characters can feel a little scatty - even if you can use the directional stick to assist which direction you're "swapping" out.
The artificial intelligence is rather dumb too and tends to leave your other auto-controlled characters somewhat exposed, often getting punched up by other Lego nasties on screen. Seems they’re rubbish at fighting if you’re not behind the controls, not that it matters much because - and despite a number of hearts to represent your life - it’s impossible to "die". We suppose plastic figurines can’t really pass on to the great Lego bin heaven, but it makes the game incredibly easy. Potentially ideal for the kids then, even if the repeat punching and occasional creepy character - such as Venom - might be a push too far for the very young.
Controls are straightforward with often locked camera angles that are usually set to the right position - there are only the occasional irritations where you'll think you're jumping directly to the right but miss a platform or land in an electric pit. Not that it matters because you respawn a second later with full life again. It's only flying - if you're controlling an able character, such as Iron Man - that's tricky to control in the open-world sections and needs a re-think; not that it's impossible, it should just be better than it is.
Despite these minor moans the game is undeniably compelling because it looks absolutely incredible, largely because the makers have been a stickler - not Stickle Bricks - for detail. Almost every component of the game is made from Lego bricks, brought to life right in front of your eyes. It gives an authenticity and, to some extent, hilarity to the proceedings.
It’s all very playful, just as Lego should be. Watching Mister Fantastic turn into a giant Lego drill to unscrew a wall is endlessly amusing, the use of luminescent fire pieces with near stop-motion animation add a lick of brick-based authenticity, while the whole game is wrapped up in ongoing comedy dialogue. It’s all very well considered.
But it’s also a touch on the repetitive side. Once you’ve figured out which character does what it’s easy to spin through levels, but don’t lock yourself into the game for days at a time and it’s genuinely still fun for dipping back in to. The litmus test for this: did we want to play Lego again when we woke up again on day two; day three? The answer was yes - and that’s always a good sign.
Other integral gameplay touches include building objects to push forward in the game. Can’t work out how to stop that laser gun shooting you? Break some surrounding blocks up and reconstruct them into an off switch. Again, this is all rather "on rails" as the parts are specifically positioned, often obviously, for all to see. They jump around on the floor begging to be built, and there's a wonderful human element to watching a Minifig build using Lego. Later on the need to complete multiple constructions in a given level, switch flips, smash walls and so forth cumulates into something greater - because you need to see the bigger picture over all.
Sometimes the apparently obvious can confound, however. You might have knocked a block off the side of a wall without realising and need to back-track to pick it up to throw it through a wall. In another section we could see that a boss character needed fire to melt the back of his head, but targeting it to the stationary character was really glitchy and took an age to complete. Later in an underwater level we could see that Thor was the character to use to progress through a wall, but the usual target-based controls were doing nothing - before figuring out he had to be standing in a specific spot for it to happen. Sometimes this feels fussy.
There are some other glitches elsewhere too: some inconsistencies in text, such as being instructed that only Captain America's shield could be used by text prompt on screen when in fact Jean Gray was the only character available to do the same. And we got Mister Fantastic caught behind some blocks unable to escape, in a perpetual loop of jumping up and down. Restart!
Draw distance for some of the fuzzy-round-the-edge shadows can also be questionable, with them popping up in some of the downtown Lego city scenes. But if you're not looking you probably won't notice. In general you won't be looking to the furthest point either because everything on screen looks fantastic, particularly on the PS4 version we tested the game out on. High-resolution makes all the difference, it really does.
Lego Marvel Super Heroes is a playful title that’s a lot of fun. It’s repetitive in places, but there’s still enough here to keep you coming back for more. And although it’ll appeal to kids, there’s scope for more avid gamers looking for a laugh, as well as Marvel and Lego fans looking to see how Warner Bros Interactive has handled these much-loved franchises. The answer is with great care.
That’s what makes the game extra special: the attention to detail in how each virtual world is constructed from realistic Lego pieces and the hundreds of Marvel characters - from Iron Man to The Avengers, through to X-Men, Fantastic Four, Thor, even creator Stan Lee himself - feel legitimate and look great. It’s a game as playful with its visuals as it is with story and dialogue.
The more we played, the more invested we felt. Lego Marvel Super Heroes might be too easy and the repetition of ideas is clear to see, but there’s replay value in completing every part of every level with different characters.
Playing through the game in 1080p - that’s p for progressive display, not pieces - on the PlayStation 4 brought the whole thing to life in style. Not only is it the best Lego game to date, in the order of things it also blows Sony’s own PS4 exclusive Knack out of the water. Marvel-ous stuff.
Lego Marvel Superheroes is available now for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U and PC. It will be available for PlayStation 4 (as reviewed) and Xbox One at each respective console's launch. There are also Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita versions of the game that differ from the aforementioned platforms, and which aren't reviewed here.