THERE are three ingredients required to make an essential Lego game: an expansive cast of characters, a beguiling game world and, most importantly, a sense of fun.
Lego Marvel Super Heroes - Playstation 4 (also available on Xbox One, Playstation 3, Xbox 360)
Score: 8.7 / 10
The colourful, punchy broth of Marvel Super Heroes, rich in all three qualities, is a contender not only for the crown of the best Lego title in the series’ decade-long history, but one of gaming’s best comic adaptations in recent years.
For aficionados of Marvel, especially those who bemoan the twee look and formulaic combat and puzzle solving of the Lego franchise, such a claim may be tantamount to blasphemy. The rhythms of the latest installment may be familiar, but seldom has a game based on the publisher’s sweeping universe of characters been executed with the wit and affection of Traveller’s Tales’ effort.
Nearly 150 familiar faces inked by Marvel artists over the years are given blocky form, many of them obscurities known only to the most avid fans (Captain Britain) or thought to have been quietly excised from canon history (Howard the Duck). Cumulatively, they make for a boggling range of switchable characters, each blessed with their own skillsets.
Although several playable comic protagonists share what are to all extents and purposes the same abilities - such as the brute force of the Hulk and The Thing - crisp, beguiling visuals and charming animations lend each figure an individualistic flair, with the amorphous form of Mr Fantastic - constantly bending, stretching and morphing - a particular treat.
The art style excels with the power of the Playstation 4, and every sinew of the game is shot through with affection. It is evident that the developers are veteran comic book aficionados. Gamers who fall into that demographic will appreciate the myriad in-jokes and riffs on historic narratives, such as a nice early jibe about Wolverine’s obsession with his ancestry.
Elementary, but gratifying
However, those whose experience is limited to the characters’ forays in film are also catered for, with innumerable references to the various Marvel-licenced movies of recent years, while the main storyline follows an Avengers Assemble-inspired route designed to shoehorn in as many characters as possible.
As with previous Lego entries, the combat is elementary, rewarding a mash of the buttons rather than any considered controls. The action is nonetheless gratifying, thanks to the game’s force of personality. The environmental puzzles scattered throughout the game are never bewildering, but neither are they so straightforward as to be desultory. Arguably the greatest achievement by Traveller’s Tales throughout the Lego series has been appealing to a broad church of players, and Marvel Super Heroes is no exception.
Fiddly camera, staggering depth
There are cumbersome aspects to the game that will be familiar to long-term fans of the Lego series. The camera is fiddly and obtrusive in places, the flying controls for various characters are ungainly at best, while the hint system could never be said to be an exercise in subtlety. Co-operative play, meanwhile, is restricted to offline, a missed opportunity if ever there was one.
However, the vibrancy of the New York-set game world with its staggering depth of side missions and collectibles more than makes up for the faults. Some might argue that the Lego series is in danger of becoming ubiquitous, thanks to the prodigious licensed output of Traveller’s Tales over the past decade. But as long the studio continues to interpret its source material so imaginatively and lovingly, its success will be continued and deserved.