The best thing about LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is that it delivers almost everything a Marvel fan could want. From Abomination to the Wizard, this game is an A-to-Z love letter to the Marvel Universe that starts with the Silver Surfer gliding across the title screen and ends with a credits song that could not have been better chosen. A few technical glitches and some carryovers from the franchise history keep it from being an outright masterpiece, but it easily ranks as one of the best superhero games I've played in years.
It starts with the characters. Where LEGO Batman 2 offers a sizable roster of heroes and villains, the campaign in LEGO Marvel delivers more playable heroes in a much more coherent story about collecting cosmic bricks around the world before villains do. The first mission starts with Iron Man and Hulk, but the selection of playable characters soon grows to include the rest of the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, loads of X-Men, and even Spider-Man. You'll even switch hero’s mid-way through many of the missions, with Cyclops and Jean Grey rescuing Storm and Iceman during an assault on the X-Mansion, or the Human Torch flying in to assist Black Widow and Hawkeye as they infiltrate a Hydra base. The entrances and exits are all handled as part of the story, which gives you a chance to play several characters who all feel like they're part of a single narrative.
The same is true of the villains. You can start by chasing Doctor Octopus from the Baxter Building to the Daily Bugle, but you'll soon be flying off to thwart Dr. Doom's plans in Latveria and taking the Rainbow Bridge to stop Loki from stirring up the frost giants in Asgard. I particularly liked how each mission played out as a sort of protracted chase, with the heroes in pursuit of folks like Magneto or the Red Skull, while battling lots of lesser villains like Pyro or the Leader along the way. As great as it all is, telling such an earth-shattering story without major characters like Dr. Strange or Sub-Mariner present feels off.
The puzzles in the LEGO games are almost always solved by matching the right power to the right problem, and the Marvel take on this mechanic is particularly inventive. Take Black Widow for example. She, like Invisible Woman, can spoof security cameras, but Widow also has the acrobatic skill of Captain America, which enables her to access remote areas of the levels, and the brains of Tony Stark, which lets her use certain consoles that would be off limits to other heroes. Throw in a gun, and you've got a very useful character made up of a number of different power sets. Storm and Thor, for instance, can both use electricity to power up stations, but Thor can smash open walls while Storm can put out fires. Even though there are only maybe a couple dozen powers to share among them all, the various combinations of powers ensures that no one feels entirely redundant.
You will get a few power sets that seem a bit out of place; Captain America's ubiquitous shield switches seem a little arbitrary, as does the notion that Wolverine should be really good at digging and climbing. There are also a few that make sense but aren't particularly well implemented. The special sixth sense shared by characters like Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Daredevil is really more for recognizing what walls you can climb than for keeping those characters out of danger.
I finished the main campaign in under 12 hours, but I've been coming back to collect extra characters and bricks for days after. In between missions, there's a massive open-world map of Manhattan to explore, from the Statue of Liberty and Battery Park to the X-Mansion up past Harlem. There's also the massive SHIELD Helicarrier floating over the East River. The city has loads of attractions, complete with characters to collect and challenges to beat. Over the course of the side missions, you'll help Heimdall take out frost giants on the docks or battle Sentinels in the streets.
Experienced gamers won't find many of the open-world puzzles and challenges to be much of a contest; for the most part, you'll simply need to identify the type of task you're facing and then just go hit the right steps in the right order. It's clear that the challenges are aimed at LEGO’s young demographic, so gamers craving a challenge will be let down here. Still, if the allure of putting Daredevil on a motorcycle and having him race Ghost Rider through the Upper West Side sounds fun, the difficulty is sort of incidental. The rare exceptions are the timed challenges, or those that require you to search out objectives that aren't in the immediate vicinity of the challenge.
The biggest pain is the inconsistent, confusing flight system. It attempts to use the same control scheme from the missions where the up and down motion of the thumbstick moves your character toward or away from the camera. Now you'll use face buttons to control the pitch of your character's flight. The problem is that the button you use to ascend is also the button you use to accelerate, and I frequently found myself flying into the side of buildings or massively overshooting my objective. Even with a week or so of playing, it still seems weird to me.
Even with that one chief complaint, there's just so much to love about LEGO Marvel that I've been playing it a few hours a day for over a week now and am still finding new charms. From unlocking Gwen Stacy and making her jump off the Brooklyn Bridge to watching the heroes dance at Tony Stark's house parties, this game is full of the moments that make Marvel one of the best brands in entertainment.
It's a warm and witty, multi-layered approach to the brand that ties in hundreds of Marvel's most iconic characters, settings, and stories. The world is rich with content, and I've found myself up late every night for the past week playing for "just one more hour."