Platform: PlayStation 4
Review Date: 12/25/17
"Never underestimate the science of punching."
Equal parts enchanting and aggravating, "Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2" features an all-star cast of Marvel characters that are thrown together in a desperate attempt to keep Kang The Conqueror from taking over Earth. An unfortunate blunder on the part of the heroes allows Kang to create a convergence of various worlds which he calls Chronopolis, and the Avengers call on the help of Cosmo the talking space dog and a celestial called Knowhere to defeat Kang and restore order.
While the Lego brand retains its signature charm, this entry definitely feels forced and tiresome. The cast primarily focuses on the most recent batch of Marvel movies and TV shows, including "Guardians Of The Galaxy", "Dr. Strange", "Spiderman: Homecoming", "Black Panther", "Thor: Ragnarok", and "The Inhumans." Unfortunately, I'm not a fan of any of those, which makes it hard to identify with and relate to the characters. The voice acting ranges from poor to very good, and the "Guardians Of The Galaxy" characters are universally awful.
After completing the tedious Story Mode, you can replay those levels in Free Play Mode to track down minikits and locked characters, or you can freely roam around Chronopolis to complete various races, challenges, and side missions. Special pink bricks can be unlocked by completing Gwenpool's side missions, which are lighthearted and absurd. Gwenpool herself is quite funny and charming, and acted extremely well, but her sarcastic wit and exuberance can become grating after a while.
The music is very good throughout the game, with the sole exception of a terrible cover of ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky." It was bad enough that the Guardians movie butchered it so badly, but having a bad cover is even worse. Like previous Lego games, the audio levels are inconsistent and all across the board, which calls into question whether QA was involved at all. The game is also buggier than most, and it crashed several times on me. The UI is flaky and the world map is often inaccurate and misleading. And for some inexplicable reason, the map indicator points in the exact opposite direction that your character is facing, which is constantly confusing. Progress in Chronopolis is often not saved, which forces you to replay various sections. Similarly, some missions and puzzles break while you're playing them, which forces you to reload your game. Boss battles are tedious exercises in button mashing, and only about 10% of your hits actually register. One time I knocked a boss off of a ledge into a pool of lava, which forced me to reload the game because he wouldn't die and I couldn't reach him without dying myself. So just be sure any bosses are away from any ledges before you decide to engage them.
Just like previous Lego games, the character and minikit detectors don't work very well (or at all), and there were several occasions where I was standing right next to an object and the detector indicated nothing. You can purchase pink bricks in Gwenpool's room, but more often than not, the bricks would be invisible. You can still scroll through them and purchase them, but you just can't see them. Weird. The most interesting and commonly encountered bug is when you finish one of the game chapters and end up in the center of Kang's Citadel, which is full of floating garbage, purple lights, and no way out. Fortunately, you can fly through the walls to escape, assuming you have a character that is capable of flight. The races are devious and nearly impossible to complete, which is made worse by the absence of an invincibility brick. The longer races are impossible to finish without destroying your vehicle, because there are so many obstacles and other cars in the way. The web-slinger races are by far the worst, and it literally took me two hours to chase down Green Goblin 2099 with Spider-man and Spider Gwen. That was infuriating and happened very early in the game, so you had to complete that before moving on to the next chapter. There are also a handful of puzzles that are literally impossible to complete, so hitting 100% on this game isn't even an option. I started getting annoyed around 80%, and spent an additional two weeks getting up to 98.5% before calling it quits.
The game makes some incremental improvements on the formula, which eliminates some pain points. You can bring up the world map anywhere in Chronopolis and fast travel to any region or replay story chapters with just a few simple clicks. You can summon vehicles and place them anywhere instead of having to visit a vehicle station. Swapping characters that have alternate forms can be done with a double-button press, which is a nice feature. This may have been available in previous games, but it wasn't documented anywhere. The checkpoint system was removed, which is good because it never worked in any of the other games that implemented it. James Jonah Jameson introduces each chapter and his animation and acting is very well done. It's a vast improvement over the horrible lighting that Maria Hill suffered in the previous "Lego Avengers" (2016) game. Interestingly, the game still includes character customizer missions, but they're so awkward and unintuitive that the UI actually blinks to tell you which pieces to use. It's a hilarious approach to addressing a fundamentally flawed design. Does anyone even use the character customizer? It's surprising that they didn't remove those missions altogether. Purchasing unlocked characters is simple and painless, which I've come to take for granted in recent Lego games. That hasn't always been the case.
The game looks great and the presentation is wonderful. Instead of reusing Manhattan from the previous Marvel games, the various areas of Chronopolis are beautiful and diverse. These include a snowbound modern Manhattan, a futuristic Nueva York, a delightfully desaturated Manhattan Noir, ancient Egypt, Wakanda, The Old West, Xandar, Hala, Sakaar, Asgard, Medieval England, the Hydra Empire, the floating city of Attilan, and the underwater city of Lemuria. There are nearly 200 characters to play as, ranging from the familiar to the obscure to the absurd, but the X-Men and Fantastic 4 are once again notably absent. A frog version of Thor is especially entertaining, and his delivery is hilariously terrible. Even though the male characters outnumber the females by about 2:1, nearly every male character has a female counterpart with the same abilities, which is quite refreshing. Only Starlord's gravity mine appears to be unique to his character. Seeing a female version of MODOK called MODAM is definitely a highlight. It would be nice to have a feature that automatically filled your Free Play party with only female characters, but it's not a huge hassle to swap them all out with characters of your choice (which is what usually do). The dialog is generally pretty awful and repeated to the point where you want to turn the volume off, which I did several times. However, the game does a wonderful job of using Kang to poke fun at Donald Trump, which is a delightfully subversive reminder that he is universally despised.
I have a strong love-hate relationship with the game, but no matter how annoyed I got, I kept coming back to it to try and finish up any remaining challenges or unlock any additional characters. Having a walkthrough handy is a must if you want to track down some of the game's most hidden and obscure items.