Attractive build needs stronger foundations
When I was working in video game retail, for many years one of the safest answers to the obligatory “What game should I buy my kid?” question was: “How’s about talk to your child and learn about their interests.”
Hang on, no it wasn’t. It was to point them in the direction of TT Games’ LEGO series. The puzzle-platformers were, for many years, a solid guarantee of entertaining adventures, amusing comedy, basic puzzle-solving and good, wholesome fun for kids, adults and pop culture fans alike.
But, in recent years, the series has struggled. It has been treading in stale water and lacking invention. The writing, particularly the comedy, became lazy. Assets and locations were re-used time and again, PC ports have had terrible issues. This downward trend hit rock-bottom with 2016’s LEGO: Avengers, a buggy, rushed and painfully unfunny title (unless you think someone waving a banana every two minutes is the pinnacle of comedy).
Undaunted, Warner Bros. and TT Games have returned with LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2. The latest title brings with it a revamped look, an original story and some fresh minifigs to play with. Let’s see if the ageing series can rebuild a masterpiece, or whether the time has come to perhaps deconstruct the franchise for good.
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 (PS4 [reviewed], PC, Switch, Xbox One)
Developer: TT Games
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Released: November 14, 2017
The new story sees an A-list of Marvel heroes team up to take on Kang the Conqueror, whose nefarious scheme sees him using time manipulation to bring chaos to the universe. LEGO Marvel 2 puts the narrative focus on some fresher faces, with Wasp, Captain Marvel, Dr. Strange and the Guardians of the Galaxy among the leads, while series stalwarts like Iron Man and Thor take up supporting roles. It’s immediately refreshing to see missions led by White Tiger and Kamala Khan after spending previous games flying around as Tony and Co.
It’s also wonderful to return to a fully-scripted original storyline, forcing a break from the series’ recent habit of sampling fuzzy audio directly from movies. Disappointingly however, the dialogue here appears rushed, with acting ranging from Kang (excellent) to Captain America (shockingly bad) and is featured within a terrible, poorly-optimised audio mix. On the bright side, there’s a good hit ratio on amusing gags — and barely a banana in sight.
Alongside the two-player co-op action, a new competitive multiplayer mode has been created. Players are able to take their favourite Marvel minifigs into battle, fighting it out in a straight-up brawl, where collecting Infinity Gems will give your hero (or villain) tactical advantage. Though it isn’t anything momentous, it’s a fun distraction from the main event.
Having rehashed LEGO Marvel Super Heroes wholesale in order to create LEGO: Avengers, TT Games have realised that their universe needs shaking up. Once the game’s opening act is complete, the storyline calls for the creation of “Chronopolis.” This new hybrid universe consists of various Marvel locales, such as Wakanda and Asgard, situated alongside eras such as 1930s New York and the Wild West, all blended together to create a colourful, time-hopping new hub-world.
Chronopolis is both the game’s biggest addition and its best asset. The new hub looks great, has contextual music, and is packed to the brim with puzzles, races and mini-missions, handed out by a who’s-who of Marvel stars. The unfortunate downside of this expansive environment is some distracting pop-up, as the game desperately works overtime to load-in characters, vehicles, special effects and buildings.
At Lego Marvel 2‘s core, behind the exciting new environments, fun story and fresh team of heroes, lies gameplay sadly unchanged from the mid-2000s. Stages are still a rudimentary case of just mashing the square button until everything is destroyed, then constructing the item that opens the door/pulls the lever/builds the bridge. Proceed to the next area, mash square, repeat. All whilst being bombarded with paper-thin enemies that are more a nuisance than a threat.
Making their eye-rolling return are clumsy button contexts. For example, not standing on the exact spot when trying to climb into a vehicle might lead to you switching characters, or maybe growing in size. Perhaps an attempt to charge your weapon will instead result in you picking up an item. I understand that the point is to make the controls streamlined, so as to be accessible to everyone, but the lack of responsiveness has always been a series flaw, frankly creating more issues for younger players than they solve.
Also unwelcome are the randomly unruly cameras, dead-brained A.I partners and awkward-depth-perception platform jumps. It’s frustrating to see TT Games overhaul the game’s hub, story direction, multiplayer modes and presentation style, yet leave the series’ core mechanics, and the problems that they’ve created for years, completely intact.
Despite these frustrating negatives, the additions and aesthetic tweaks are a positive sign that lessons are being learned, with series invention somewhat on the agenda. It’s still a solid title for whiling away the hours, whether with younger players, less-experienced gamers, or just your good self on a lazy afternoon.
The latest marriage of LEGO and Marvel is a mixed but promising step-up. Its star-studded story, inventive hub-world and new presentation style all add much-needed freshness to a stale format. However, technical issues, clumsy controls and overwhelming déjà vu remain. LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 still has the power to entertain, but while the game’s chronological theme has allowed the brand to stride confidently into the future, its core mechanics remain rooted firmly in the past.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]