There's no getting away from fanboys, not least when new console hardware is being released.
The world of gaming isn't the only industry affected though. For over half a century now, comic fans have largely been divided into two major camps: Are you a fan of Marvel, or DC? Of course, if you have any sense whatsoever you'll say Marvel. But then, I grew up with Marvel. I read the comics (which I now have a horrendously large amount of, much to my partner's disdain), I watched the 90's X-Men and Spider-Man animated series' with an almost religious fervour and these days every film and game relating to that fantastic universe instantly hits the top of my most-wanted list the moment it's announced.
As you can imagine then, I was looking forward to Lego Marvel Super Heroes: the latest title from Lego game stalwarts TT Games and publisher Warner Brothers and a celebration of what the so-called House of Ideas has built. And for the most part I wasn't disappointed.
As I said, I'm a Marvel fanboy. TT Games is too, because Lego Marvel is absolutely rammed to the hilt with fan service. Whether you like the films, the cartoons or the comics, you will find something here to appeal to you. TT Games has performed a wonderful job in bringing the Marvel Universe to life. The Lego games of recent years have always been crammed full of playable characters, but here there are 140 to choose from - assuming you can find and unlock them first, of course. We're not just talking the usual suspects such as Spider-Man, Captain America or the X-Men. Even obscure characters like Squirrel Girl are playable (she defeated Magneto once, so don't underestimate her). And if a well-loved character isn't playable, it's likely they crop up or are referenced somewhere else in the game - like the presence of a certain living planet on the title screen.
So it has fan-service then, and lots of it. And TT Games has certainly done its research. But how does it play? Well if you've played any Lego game by the developer in the past - Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, etc - then you'll know what to expect. Each playable character has specific abilities, and you're limited to playing certain characters throughout the course of the story. After completing a level, you're free to return to it and play any previously-unlocked character, whose abilities will allow you to locate all of the various secrets in that level.
TT Games has really pushed the boat out here though and if you chart their history on the Lego series, there's a clear sense of progression. Originally, Lego games took place in isolated hub worlds. While they previously merely experimented with the open-world format in titles such as Lego Batman, they since expanded on it with Lego City Undercover and now there is a sense that confidence in experimenting with open worlds has reached its peak with this latest title.
The city of New York presented in Lego Marvel is huge, at least in comparison to any previous game by the developer. While you will spend much of your initial time moving in a linear fashion from story level to story level, you'll quickly notice that the hub city you spend your time in on the way between them is crammed to the rafters with icons of all descriptions.
However, the Marvel Universe doesn’t simply extend to the city of New York alone. There is a vast amount of locations that I found myself wishing to see rendered in that familiar blocky Lego form, but never showed up - despite numerous references to them throughout my playthrough. It’s tempting to think that the developer is holding them back for a sequel, but with so much attention to detail given to the character selection and other areas, there is bound to be some people left disappointed by the lack of appearance of areas such as Wakanda, The Savage Land and others; even though they are referenced at various points throughout.
The Lego games have never been stingy when it comes to providing you with things to collect and unlock, but here the developer has really gone to town. Aside from the aforementioned 140 unlockable characters, there is a vast array of side-missions, unlockable vehicles, bonus levels (including one where you save Marvel Comics itself from an invasion by Howard the Duck, who is demanding more comic coverage), gold bricks to collect, comics to find and read, races to complete, and many more. The game is utterly stuffed with content and don't be surprised if you finish the story and find your completion percentage at a measly figure around the low twenties. It's not until completing the game's 15 story missions that the game really opens up and lets you loose on the world, which is as much to the game's benefit as it is to its disadvantage.
For all the wealth of content presented to you, you'll often find yourself wishing that you could spend your time between missions exploring the city and pursuing all of those tempting icons on the map. But you won't be able to in the majority of cases - either because you don't have the character you need for them or because the game makes it a bit annoying to switch characters until you have completed the story missions.
Unlocking new characters with new abilities has always been a simple joy in these games in the past, but with such a huge cast to choose from here, it can be a bit irksome, even after you’ve completed the story and have free reign to roam as you please. Also, while character-swapping points are liberally scattered throughout the world, their placement still makes completing many tasks impossible unless you're able to swap the character you're playing as on a whim post-story.
The other major bugbear is the AI. Never the strongest aspect in the Lego series, here there is a sense that despite the vastness of the world presented to you, TT Games has overreached and not caught up to years of criticism about this area. If you're escorting a computer-controlled character back to someone, they could get stuck behind scenery and become lost; this will require you to restart the quest. Vehicle traffic in particular seems to have no sense of awareness, blindly following paths with no regard for the fact that Magneto is hurtling towards them at speed on the Spider-Cycle - something that will cause many a restarted race (of which there are many). So the game falls down in that regard then, and it's disappointing that an area which the series has long been criticised remains such a large factor.
There are a few other problems too. Bugs rear their head from time to time; in one early level, Hawkeye got stuck in a loop falling through the floor, dying and respawning over and over again. It was only resolved when I reset the console and reverted to an earlier save, resulting in the loss of about 30 minutes of progress. Thinking back to some of the game-breaking bugs in Lego Batman, I know first-hand how frustrating this may be for some players.
The Lego series has also always been aimed at younger players, with a good degree of fan-service and references that give it a wider appeal to older ages. But younger players may find themselves frustrated by some baffling design choices - the lack of a Legend on the map, for instance. With such a dizzying array of icons, it feels like an oversight that there's no sort of description to explain what each type is. While you'll pick a lot of it up with time, I can't help but feel that the primary audience may have difficulty.
In addition, a lack of signposting can cause frustration. While you're never left with any doubt where you need to go to get to the next level between missions or in side-missions thanks to a handy breadcrumb trail, a lack of tooltips or clear indications at your destination can often have you scratching your head and wondering what on earth you're supposed to do or where to go next to move things forward. Again, not so much an issue for older players, but something that children could easily become frustrated with over time.
All in all though, Lego Marvel is a fantastic game. It has a huge amount of fan-service that is finely judged to appeal to any lover of Marvel, it has a large amount of ambition, and a wealth of content ensures that if you stick with it, you won't run out of things to do anytime soon. It's just a shame that a combination of poor AI, signposting and bugs can lead to frustration.
Version Tested: Xbox 360
Also available on: PS3, Xbox One, PS4, 3DS, Playstation Vita
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Like all the Lego games, the fanservice is a big aspect of it. If you don't like Marvel, the appeal will be greatly lessened.
The poor AI can become greatly frustrating; I imagine that without the charm of the license, many people could give up. That's not to say it's a bad game by any means - it isn't - but they've had many years now to sort the issues out, so I'm reluctant to give them a free pass on it.