Forward: I am the Codex Admin. And I. Am. Back.
You know what I miss? Pure, wacky, unadulterated, unrestrained fun.
You know what I found in LEGO Marvel Super Heroes? Pure, wacky, unadulterated, unrestrained fun.
I’d been in a rut for the longest time, if I’m being honest. Not only in the sense of what to do with my particular range of abilities, but what to do with myself on a daily basis. Eating, sleeping, watching TV – all a monotonous routine.
And then I came across my copy of LEGO Marvel, and joyous celebration was had.
For you see, being one of the most recent entries in a long line of LEGO game adaptations, LEGO Marvel is the refinement and distillation of a quietly brilliant formula: combine straight-forward platforming, clever puzzles that harken back to classic adventure games, and collectable hunting into a single family-friendly experience. It draws influence from games old and new, and offers experiences that anyone who comes across this game can enjoy.
Everything about the game is intricate, that much is clear off the bat. Despite being part of a genre and style that certain gamers would call “childish” or “simple”, the trick here is that it simply seems simple; take the character list, for instance. It isn’t just a matter of dropping several famed Marvel characters into a world and sitting back, but rather culling from every corner of the comic universe and narrowing down hundreds of characters to an impressive 155 – from heroes like Ant Man and Polaris, to villains such as Magneto and Dormammu.
Then, as if the sheer act of gathering these characters together was not enough, developer Traveller’s Tales goes a step further and actually does something with them. The company I rarely associate with interesting storytelling, manages to tell an interesting and delightfully eccentric story.
Mysterious Cosmic Bricks are raining down all over the planet. The threat of Galactus, a god-like being who eats planets, looms over all. And a consortium of iconic Marvel villains have banded together to take advantage of the dire situation. Enter our heroes.
The previously noted ensemble cast turns out to be important, as the act of characters teaming up and separating to deal with specific crises drives the plot – all while the broader story about the intended use of the Cosmic Bricks churns away behind the scenes. The Avengers, the Fantastic 4, SHIELD and company all play a part in working to thwart the forces of evil.
From my perspective, it’s a glorious and unexpected homage to pulp adventure stories – and therefore, right in line with its comic book origins. The heroes are larger-than-life characters with an inspiring drive to succeed, the villains are dastardly and over-the-top without undercutting their genuine threat to the world, and the whole story plays out as a globe-trotting quest complete with one-liners and thrilling action.
It’s less about theme or message, than it is about the interplay between characters and the fun that can be had when the unique qualities of comic books are embraced rather than rejected. It’s about letting us beat the living bejesus out of Abomination as the Hulk. It’s about letting us run around an underwater base, or an island fortress, or even the sentient Statue of Liberty. Hell, the whole concept of the finale – wherein the boundaries between friend and foe, good and evil, break down in favour of “Let’s save our own asses and worry about the details later” – feels right for something that is an extension of a beloved comic book universe.
It is firmly about fun, and not screwing that up. Not graphics, not edgyness, not “cinematic quality” – fun.
This extends to the rest of the game, by the way. Outside of the story, most of my time was spent soaring around the open world recreation of New York City, and most of my actions revolved around doing activities to gain either Gold Blocks or Tokens.
Gold Blocks are effectively the milestone markers of LEGO Marvel, as they unlock the game’s various side missions and contribute to overall completion. Tokens, on the other hand, have more immediate and practical applications – they unlock new playable characters or drivable vehicles which can then be bought with the series’ currency of Studs.
It’s a lengthy post-game for those in the business of 100% Completion: 250 Gold Bricks, 115 Character and Vehicle Tokens, numerous in-mission collectables, the task of getting True Believer status (re: collecting a set number of Studs) for each mission – to say nothing of the Stan Lee In Peril encounters.
Ah, yes, the obligatory Stan Lee cameo – although in this case, he is more of a supporting or secondary character. He crops up often enough that it feels that way.
But it all manages to stay fun, even if it comes down to busy work at times. The key here is character, something Marvel and Traveller’s Tales both know well. To get all of these items, to see all you can in this game, you must rely on the extended cast and their varied abilities – which means finding a combination of characters that appeal to you personally.
I came down to two standouts: Wizard, because of his all-around usefulness and distinctive purple costume; and Howard the Duck, because… he’s a duck in a suit who quacks when he jumps and carries around a rocket launcher. Some things are just awesome.
Awesome – I think that word summarizes it all. Deadpool playing the part of narrator and cameo character, without sacrificing his fourth-wall breaking charm? Awesome. The game containing both a complete story AND an extensive line-up of characters that puts even past LEGO games to shame? Awesome. Alternate costumes or even alternate incarnations of certain characters? Awesome. A range of side missions showing off other famed characters that didn’t make it into the main story? See above.
Even with some instances where the game crashed or the camera got stuck in an object, even though the demands of a constant open-world on TT’s game engine must take its toll, I still came away from this game smiling. Sometimes funny, sometimes inspiring, sometimes just worthy of a “Holy shit, is that really…?” or a “Wow, that was cool!”
And again, Howard The Duck with a rocket launcher. Nuff said.