There are some things that are just meant to be together: blueberry bagels and cream-cheese; Han Solo and Chewbacca; Justin Bieber and lots of fire. The combination of one of the most beloved, ingenious toys of the millenium, LEGO and the epic might of respected prolific publisher Marvel comics is another.
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is all sorts of awesome and possibly the best LEGO game to date. Which is no mean feat, considering developers Traveller's Tales have produced some brilliant plastic-brick themed titles over the years - ranging from Star Wars through to Harry Potter.
The main reason Marvel Super Heroes excels is due to the plethora of fodder sitting in the Marvel canon. The game takes full advantage of the wealth of storylines, characters, settings, and potential fanfare humour at its disposal.
The cast alone is staggering, with over 100 heroes and villains, including: Iron Man, Wolverine, Doctor Doom, the Hulk, Magneto, Spider-Man, Captain America, Gambit, Black Widow, Thor, Silver Surfer, and Deadpool. Even some of the lesser-known, non-mainstream Marvel personalities are here, including: Squirrel Girl, Union Jack, Malekith the Accursed, and - even more surprisingly - Howard the Duck (who was an obvious, controversial middle-finger to Disney’s Donald Duck back in the 1970s.)
The characters not only make an appearance, but are all playable and offer their own unique gameplay variations. Iron Man can fly, shoot homing missiles, and blast a powerful unibeam from his chest. Spider-Man can web-swing, use his spidey-sense to detect hidden areas, and crawl up walls. Mr. Fantastic can stretch and contort his body into an array of useful shapes to access hard-to-reach areas. Wolverine will literally slice up enemies into little LEGO bits. And the Hulk... well, he smashes stuff.
In their compact, joint-restricted little LEGO bodies, it’s incredible just how much individuality and charm each character has. Spider-Man will crouch prone or suspend himself upside down with a web-sling when he’s static; Iron Man will utter smart one-liners, and Loki is oozing the same swarmy ego that we’ve grown to love from the movies. The level of detail in Marvel Super Heroes is staggering. It’s sure to please comic-book fans of all ages, regardless of your dedication to Marvel folklore.
On this topic however, all of this character depth does come at a small, single-studded cost. The original LEGO games were iconic in the fact that every character was mute, relying on semi-slap-stick facial expressions and comedic gestures to convey emotion. Even the original LEGO Star Wars games - which followed a comprehensive storyline - were devoid of any dialogue. But in recent years, Traveller's Tales have brought voice-acting to their LEGO games and while it’s executed well in Marvel Super Heroes, it’s hardly a Joss Whedon-esque script.
In some cases, the voice talent is spot-on - such as in the case of Nick Fury, Loki, and Deadpool. But others - like Iron-Man / Tony Stark and Doctor Octopus - fall flat, with many puns and one-liners generating little more than a smirk.
However, there is no shortage of humour throughout Marvel Super Heroes. For every joke that strains, there are dozens of visual gags and subtle references that hit the mark. I actually laughed out loud when I heard about Doctor Doom’s Doom Ray... of Doom - a central plot device that our heroes must band together to help disable.
Like the earlier Batman game, Marvel Super Heroes features medium-sized mission-centric maps; but also a massive open-world environment of a semi-fictitious Manhattan, complete with a giant LEGO Statue of Liberty and also comic-book locales such as the Daily Bugle, The Fantastic Four HQ, and Stark Towers. Players can navigate however they wish around this activity-filled setting, and there is no shortage of things to do.
You might want to take control of Thor and fly up to the floating S.H.I.E.L.D. heli-carrier (does anyone else wonder why these guys insist on super-sized, highly vulnerable flying aircraft that can be disabled by a single arrow?) You can leap off a skyscraper and free-fall as Mr. Fantastic, using your own rubbery body as a parachute. Or maybe take control of the deranged Deadpool to take part in some insanity-filled side missions. You can even visit Asgard, complete with translucent rainbow LEGO bricks, or check out the X-Mansion and hang out with Professor Xavier and beat up Cyclops.
When you’re not smashing things, you will also be building things out of LEGO. As before, Marvel Super Heroes features gentle puzzles that usually revolve around constructing and activating certain objects in your virtual LEGO world. In nearly every instance, there is a team-orientated strategy that is required to progress, and these are indicated by glowing surfaces that help you recognise which character can interact with them.
For instance, green glowing objects can usually be destroyed or picked up by the massive Hulk, while silver objects can be affected by Iron Man’s weapon technology. It means that you will either need to switch characters by pressing the triangle button, or have a friend beside you controlling the other character on screen.
While the actual puzzles are fairly basic, it can sometimes take a while to figure out where to go and what to do - simply because there is so much activity on screen at any one-time that distinguishing what is an interactive object and what is just a pile of random bricks can be a tricky task.
While Marvel Super Heroes might not be the best game to truly see what the new PlayStation 4 console can deliver in terms of graphics, the visuals here are still stunning. It captures the adorable charm and flavour of LEGO and - despite the occasional dodgy camera-angle - it's by far the best looking game Traveller's Tales have delivered to date. It’s not going to move PS4’s single-handedly, as gamers can get a similar experience on current-gen consoles, but for those looking at their first console and LEGO game experience, it has been worth the wait.
It's also a great game in terms of value. Marvel Super Heroes features a mind-blowing amount of collectibles and hidden rewards in just about in every corner of the screen. Players will explore and smash bricks for hours just to unlock some of the ridiculous cast of characters, and - thanks to clever split-screen drop-in/out multiplayer - is even better with a friend by your side. For Marvel comics readers, there is an amazing fan-fare dedication to enjoy here and for everyone else, it’s an action-packed, casual, and thoroughly fun experience.