Lego Marvel Super Heroes

Year: 2013
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PC
Publisher: Warner Brothers
Developer: Traveler's Tales
Genre: Action/Adventure
Review Date: 12/21/13
Rating: ***

This Lego adventure is essentially the same as "Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes" (2012), except with a cast of Marvel comic book characters. Loki is up to his usual tricks and comes up with a plan to get revenge against Earth by having Galactus destroy the planet. He manages to dupe Dr. Doom and Magneto into helping him, while Nick Fury and The Avengers dedicate the resources of S.H.I.E.L.D. towards saving the world. The story is actually quite good and much better than the giant Joker robot plot in "Lego Batman 2." Unfortunately, the characters are considerably more annoying than their DC counterparts, and the comic book styled dialog quickly becomes annoying to the point where you want to turn the volume all the way down. Just like "Lego Batman 2", you complete Story mode to unlock Free Play mode, and the open world sandbox of New York City is full of vehicle races and side missions. These range in difficulty from super easy to ridiculously hard, with very little in between. Fetch quests simply involve following a trail of Lego studs to a person or object, and then returning along the same path. Ground races are overly difficult while aerial challenges are infuriating and virtually impossible due to difficult control issues. Ground races against other characters are heavily biased against you and can only be won if the other character crashes or gets stuck in a piece of the scenery. The initial go-kart race against Maria Hill is especially frustrating because there are no obstacles to hinder your way, and even at full speed, she crosses the finish line before you can even get through the second checkpoint. Curiously, after about ten increasingly aggravating attempts, she just gave up, like a sympathy algorithm kicked in or something.

Production wise, the game looks fantastic, and traveling through New York City is a fun and seamless experience. The game fixes the single biggest problem that "Lego Batman 2" had, by including a city map that's actually useful. Unfortunately, as a continuing trend with the Lego games, "Lego Marvel Super Heroes" is the buggiest and least stable Lego game I've played to date. Apart from the frequent game crashes, some of the puzzles and challenges can get into a bad state where you need to restart the game. For example, there's a mission where you have to telepathically assist a character in climbing the Empire State Building, and two sets of rungs were missing which made the task impossible. Revisiting the mission later in the game reset it with the proper configuration. There are some puzzles that require you to activate switches telepathically, but they don't always register. There was also a mission where I had to clear the subway of some bad guys and the mission wouldn't finish because the last enemy was stuck in the ceiling. And I had to revisit a certain scene where Stan Lee was in trouble six different times before he actually responded correctly. These experiences tend to drain the fun out of an otherwise highly enjoyable game.

Similar to "Lego Batman 2", the Marvel characters are fully voiced. The voice acting is quite good, and Maria Hill's delivery is by far the best of the bunch. Unfortunately, the writing is overly juvenile and the snarky dialog is extremely grating. Tony Stark and Peter Parker are the worst offenders, which is unfortunate because they're also the game's two biggest stars. Things get even worse once you start exploring New York City, as the overly chatty citizens repeat the same annoying lines over and over again. These are cute for about the first five minutes, but listening to someone say "watch it, buddy!" every ten seconds for twenty hours is maddening. Another problem with the dialog is that it doesn't blend with the sound mix very well. In comparison to the bass heavy sound effects, the dialog is overly soft, which means that if you want to hear what the characters are saying, you have to crank up the volume. The result of this is that every crash, smash, and explosion will shake the walls of your living room and undoubtedly invoke the wrath of any neighbors in the near vicinity. The game is chock full of in-jokes and Marvel references, so comic book fans will be delighted by all of the details that are woven into the game. I was thrilled to run into a Lego Tardis while traveling to Asgard, and there's even a "Snakes On A Plane" joke made at Nick Fury's expense. Stan Lee himself makes numerous cameo appearances and is always finding himself in situations that require your assistance. It's a cute homage to the man, and he hams it up appropriately.

If you've never played a Lego game before, this one can be rather daunting because it comes with no instructions. You get the basics down through in-game tutorials, but things like character selection, character unlocking, and mission selection are not obvious. Certain characters like Spider-man, Hulk, and Venom have alternate forms, which doesn't allow you to access the character selection screen at all. This makes character management more tricky than it should be. Naturally, the character roster is heavily populated with male characters, but there is a good selection of female characters to choose from. You can almost play the game with an entirely female cast, with the exception of someone who can fire missiles (like Ironman), turn into sand (like Sandman), change shape (like Mr. Fantastic), and travel through toxic portals (like Venom). She-Hulk can perform all of the same strength feats as the super-sized strong characters, but she can't fight them due to her normal size. Ant-man has the ability to shrink, which is totally adorable and actually made me shriek with glee the first time I did it. There are various different characters classes, including "smart" characters who are able to operate computer terminals. While it's a minor nit, this distinction annoys me, because it implies that all of the other characters are stupid. Another character class is "web-slinger", which to any comic book minded person means Spider-man. However, this is not the case, and I was stuck on a certain level for a long time before figuring out that Reed Richards is inexplicably a member of the web-slinger class. So are Hawkeye and Black Cat. While this isn't technically a flaw, it's a poor design choice and is a major mental hurdle for those with pre-existing super hero knowledge.

Ultimately, like many of the previous Lego games, "Lego Marvel Super Heroes" is a mixed bag. It makes excellent use of the source material and can be a lot of fun to play. Unfortunately, stability issues and certain design decisions take away from the raw fun and tend to leave a bittersweet final impression.