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An all-star cast of Marvel heroes and villains
Low stakes means low frustration
An all-ages co-op game with a ton of puzzles, secrets, and humor
Enormous amount of play time for your money
Takes time to get used to game’s puzzles and obstacles
Easy to die, but lacking penalty
Occasionally glitches with other characters
Many characters outside of Marvel Cinematic Universe may be unfamiliar
A complete Marvel story featuring dozens of recognizable characters, Super Heroes is a great game to fire up on a rainy afternoon with kids of any age, though a few elements haven’t aged well.
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is the best-selling LEGO game in a surprisingly crowded line, and arguably for good reason. It hit right at the height of post-Avengers Marvel mania, with a big rotating cast of recognizable heroes and a gentle tone that’s appealing to kids while still having a bit of black comedy for adults. There’s plenty of fun co-op gameplay, some challenging puzzles, and some nostalgia, as much of the game is punctuated by bittersweet appearances from the late Stan Lee.
If you’re playing from a disc, expect it to take around half an hour to install software on your Xbox’s hard drive, followed by a quick software update. After that, you can simply fire it up from the main menu as long as your disc is in the drive.
You can also purchase this digitally from the Microsoft Store, available from your Xbox One’s dashboard, and install it directly to your Xbox. This takes about as much time overall, depending on your connection.
The game is set in a low-stakes, kid-friendly version of the Marvel Universe, perched halfway between the comics and the live-action movies. The premise is simple, Doctor Doom is plotting to rule the world. By finding all of the Cosmic Bricks, special LEGO pieces that he’s obtained by shattering the Silver Surfer’s surfboard, he plans to build them into a superweapon.
Doom is opposed by Nick Fury, director of SHIELD, who deputizes various superheroes in order to retrieve the Cosmic Bricks before Doom can. This includes recognizable figures from the movies, such as Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America, Spider-Man, Hawkeye, and the Black Widow, as well as more comics-faithful versions of the X-Men and Fantastic Four.
Doom, in turn, recruits a small army of Marvel’s supervillains in order to get him the Cosmic Bricks. Each stage features the player taking control of a small group of 2 to 4 superheroes, to fight Doom’s minions, try to grab the Cosmic Bricks, and untangle the details of Doom’s plot.
Generally, the setting is bright and cheerful, suitable for any kid who loves the Marvel movies or cartoon shows. There is an early stage that’s a little spooky, but it’s not too bad. Again, it’s a little weird to see a kid-friendly version of some of these characters, particularly the Red Skull (a Nazi supervillain), but you can roll with it.
Like most LEGO video games, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is essentially a puzzle game hidden underneath a level of easy-going, unchallenging action. Enemies show up occasionally for you to pummel with your various superheroes, but they can usually be defeated in one or two hits each, at which point they fly apart into loose LEGO bricks.
While the combat can be surprisingly deadly, with characters flying to bits left and right, “death” in LEGO Marvel Super Heroes just means a moment’s delay and the loss of about a thousand LEGO studs, which you get by the hundreds for any incidental accomplishment. Smashing every object in the landscape, building a machine, defeating an enemy, or just roaming around New York will get you more than enough LEGO studs. Even a young or clumsy player can die countless times without any real penalty. It also means that even a little kid can contribute in co-op by roaming around breaking random stuff.
We often found ourselves wondering how we were supposed to figure a certain puzzle or obstacle.
The real heart of the game is in finding ways around the various obstacles it puts in front of you. Each character has a handful of special abilities which they can use to interact with the environment: Iron Man can fly and blow up tough obstacles with missiles, the Hulk is strong enough to pick up heavy objects, Captain America can reflect laser beams with his indestructible shield, and so on. You have up to 4 heroes in your group at once, and can switch between them with the push of a button at any time, with extra characters played by an indestructible AI.
Getting through a given area is a question of figuring out how to use your characters’ abilities in order to get around the problems in your way. It does take some getting used to. A lot of the solutions aren’t necessarily obvious, which requires a little bit of experimentation, as well as figuring out the weird logic that LEGO Marvel Super Heroes operates by. Sometimes, you need to wreck everything in your environment so you can rebuild the pieces into a useful device; other times, it takes some problem-solving skills. When in doubt, look for dancing LEGO bricks somewhere in the area. They serve as a gentle hint that you need to build those bricks into something new and useful.
You shouldn’t be surprised if you get stuck for a few minutes here and there. We often found ourselves wondering how we were supposed to figure a certain puzzle or obstacle, particularly when they involved brand-new mechanics that hadn’t been mentioned up to that point. There’s one particular encounter in an early stage, when two enemies show up in the distance wearing nearly indestructible armor. Apparently, we were supposed to realize somehow that they could only be damaged by a particular move using a specific character in the group, but their figures were too small for us to recognize the visual cues, and we received no hints about it from the game. Initially, we thought they were a glitch.
That said, it does get easier as you progress and become used to the game’s design. Even major boss fights are essentially puzzle encounters with a single, dangerous moving part, as you need to figure out how to use your environment to stun, slow down, or stop a supervillain in his tracks. One can be blinded by shining a spotlight in his face, which requires you to climb nearby towers; another requires you to wait until he’s stuck in place, then bop him on the head.
It’s a far cry from other Marvel games, where these enemies would just be a big sack of health and outgoing damage, requiring you to figure out a pattern and counterattack. We actually prefer this approach to other similar games, such as Spider-Man on the PS4.
The entire island of Marvel’s New York is built from LEGO bricks, ranging from foliage to skyscrapers. When items are destroyed, they break apart into LEGO bricks, which can be kicked around a little further. You can’t accuse the developers, Traveler’s Tales, of not committing to their theme.
You can watch every animated scene for a lot of background jokes and incidental humor, such as Deadpool randomly appearing every so often, the Hulk ineffectually helping with cleanup efforts, or Nick Fury constantly eating on the job. It’s all designed to look and feel like a bunch of professional animators and actors playing with a few thousand dollars’ worth of LEGO toys. In that, it succeeds.
The characters are all well-animated and full of individual personality—watch their idle animations if you leave them standing around for a few seconds—with a full cast of their typical voice actors from other media. Steve Blum plays Wolverine, for example, as he does in “Marvel vs. Capcom” and several animated movies, while Laura Bailey reprises her role as Black Widow from the “Avengers Assemble” cartoon. Your typical mission control is Agent Coulson, played here as he is in the Marvel movies by Clark Gregg.
The characters are all well-animated and full of individual personality.
If you know your voice actors, there’s a funny level where you play as Captain America and the Human Torch, both of whom are played by Roger Craig Smith, so he spends the entire stage talking to himself. It even works as an MCU joke, since Chris Evans played both Captain America and the Human Torch in separate Marvel movies.
All in all, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes does look a little simplistic in motion, as befits a game built entirely from LEGO, but the developers have distinctly gone the extra mile. It doesn’t really take advantage of the extra horsepower of the Xbox One, but it is a cross-platform release.
The current base retail price for LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is $19.99. Unlike its sequel, it has no downloadable content or extras. Aside from a couple of extra characters, you simply pay and play.
You can comfortably expect to spend upwards of 40 hours on the game if you intend to unlock everything. Each stage has a number of secrets and collectibles hidden inside it, many of which can’t be obtained on your first trip through the game. You’ll need to revisit the stage later, in free play mode, with character powers that weren’t available on your first trip. For example, rescuing Stan Lee in the Stark Tower level requires you to come back later with Sandman in your group. Untangling all the secrets and goofing around with every character will keep you busy for quite a while, especially if you’re aiming for 100% completion.
The same basic LEGO formula is at play in most of its games: you smash the landscape for studs, rebuild parts into useful machines, and solve occasionally oblique puzzles with character-specific abilities or equipment. As such, the primary competition for any LEGO game is one of the dozen or so other LEGO games, which transpose most or all of the model onto a different intellectual property. Nothing else is quite like it.
If a multiplayer experience with the Marvel heroes is what you’re after, the Disney Infinity games feature Marvel characters with a similar kid-friendly approach. For older kids, the recently re-released Marvel Ultimate Alliance, now digitally available on Xbox One, is an old-school dungeon crawler from 2006 that emphasizes pure action and supports up to 4 players, but is firmly aimed at a teenage or adult audience. Its sequel, Ultimate Alliance 2, isn’t quite as good, but will serve to scratch the same superhero itch.
A good balance of fun and challenge
The puzzles can be oblique and the action is unchallenging, but LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is an entertaining time-killer of a game that will entertain younger kids, while giving the adults a few chuckles along the way. It’s one of the better deals out there for your entertainment budget, and the cooperative play lets you hop and bop around with your kids for a few solid weekends.
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