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Agents of Smile: An Hour(ish) With Lego Marvel Heroes

Marvel At This

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Mr Fantastic, most boring of all Marvel superheroes, has just turned into an enormous pair of bolt cutters in order to let Captain America through. Not so boring now eh, Reed?
The Hulk is tidying up New York with a dustpan and brush.
Iron Man is worried that all of this is cutting into his hot tub time.
Controlling Spider-Man is just like I’ve wished every other Spider-Man game was like, but wasn’t.
The Sandman is able to conjure more whirling Lego studs on my screen than I would ever have thought possible.
Captain America, um, has a shield. Well, he’s always been a problem, so we’ll let it slide.

Yesterday, I’d probably have said something about how Traveller’s Tales Lego games are Quite Nice but I’m bored to tears of them now and same old same old blah. Today I’m saying WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

I’ll defer to Lego old-hand John for the Wot I Think, ‘pon his return from Welsh holidays next week, but as the game’s out now on PC I thought some insta-impressions would be in order. I’ve put a couple of hours in, and you can be damn sure I’ll be going back later.

Two things struck me immediately:

a) Good lord it’s weird to see logos for Marvel and DC owners Warner Bros on the same screen. What if what if what if what if that meant that one day there could be a Lego Marvel vs DC what if
b) Every frame of this game looks like it cost tens of thousands of dollars. But in a very different way to a similar effect in Call of Duty singleplayer campaigns – this is an explosion of colour and imagination and silliness, as opposed to COD’s grim hyper-detailed reality. Lavish. Preposterously lavish.

In terms of which Marvel Universe you’re in, it’s a hybrid of the everyone-in-the-same-world, full-on spandex comics one and the SHIELD-led, very glossy movie Avengers one, all parsed through the now-familiar but certainly not exhausted Lego Star Wars affectionate satire filter. Everyone is positive all the time, everyone is wisecracking all the time, and internal logic is about as consistent as the Sixth Doctor’s coat.

With full access to all Marvel characters, unlike the sad trifurcation of the movies (Avengers with Disney, Spider-Man with Sony, X-Men and Fantastic Four with Fox), the game wastes no time in offering dream-team possibilities. Hulk and Spidey, Cap and Mr Fantastic, neo-Nick Fury chatting to everyone…

Wish fulfilment all the way, in other words. It’s slick fanfic free with official blessings, no rights issues, no continuity worries and what looks like a functionally unlimited budget. A certain degree of my teenage Marvel fandom has been chased out of me by both age and the characters’ latter day media ubiquity, but so far this unabashed celebration of the House Of Ideas very much brings it all back.

It’s more than possible my innate preference for Marvel over DC colours how much I get out of this versus last year’s Lego Batman 2: DC Superheroes, but it does seem that Traveller’s Tales are concertedly Going Large here. Letting us play as the Hulk, the strongest one there is, in the very first level is a statement of intent if ever there was one. Also, just look at how this game shows aquaphobic Spidey foe The Sandman:

Picture all those studs whirling and swirling around your screen, as you swing/fly/thunder through it. Honestly, it’s a next-generation shmext shmeneration moment if ever there was one. A similar level of absurd detail may be found even in less dramatic scenes – standard labs and parks and whatnot, crammed with glinting items to recklessly destroy. It’s all so very shiny.

That first level, with Iron Man, Hulk and Spidey all in play, is an enormous spectacle, and even if things do slow down somewhat with a Baxter Building incursion and a more familiar Find The Button setup on the next one, it still kicks of with a ten thousand foot skydive from the top of the SHIELD helicarrier. Also Mr Fantastic gets to turn into a giant kettle and a giant screwdriver and a sort of flying squirrel and… Well, money, money, money, visibly being spent in vast quantities. It’s glorious in its opulence, and to its eternal credit it generates at least as many ideas and sight gags as it does expenses.

What I would say is that the game feels much more like stylised Marvel than it does like Lego. It’s much more studs and massively mutated minifigs than it is bricks and building. That’s fine, though. I don’t really know why I said it.

The main thing I’m coming away with is a question of what the point of a game starring a single superhero is any more. By concentrating on just the archetypes and the most distinctive traits of Marvel characters writ large, this game doesn’t risk getting them wrong or characters wearing thin. Whereas the movies and the comics depend on character development, an especially tall order as headcounts steadily increase, this game is completely free to just get on with the action. Of course, it might all turn desperately dull in a couple of hours of time, but going on what I’ve seen so far, it seems like a true Phase Two for the Lego games.

Jesus Christ, I very seriously considered ending this article with an ‘Excelsior!’ Just shoot me.

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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