Imagine being a young kid playing with his or her favorite superhero action figures. Iron Man soaring through the air, defending the floor of the bedroom from the tyranny of Doctor Doom, while Wolverine and Sabretooth duke it out on the dresser. To the child, the floor is the streets of a big city, the dresser a skyscraper, and every sound-effect explosion from the kid's mouth is a real rocket crashing into a building. Lego Marvel Super Heroes feels like it's come right from the mind of that imaginative child, creating a superhero story worthy of afternoon playtime.
Taking a cue from Lego City Undercover, Lego Marvel Super Heroes encases its adventure in an open-world replica of New York City bulging at the seams with things to do (and things to destroy for some coveted Lego coins). There’s no rush in starting a mission; once your destination is set and you gain control, the Lego world is your oyster. After skydiving off of the SHIELD Helicarrier to reach the city (one of the coolest parts of the game, by the way), you can take Lego Iron Man for a quick jet through the skyline or take hold of Doctor Doom (once you unlock him, of course) and wreak havoc on some unsuspecting citizens in Central Park.
That being said, the fun of exploring the open world doesn’t exactly translate to the story missions. Each plays out virtually the same way: fight a wave of enemies, construct a switch or platform to advance, fight another wave of enemies, more construction, fight a boss, ad infinitum. Monotony abounds during the story, to the point where it felt more like a tutorial for the abilities you’ll use in the open world. Boss battles, which are to a one entertaining, are the light at the end of the tunnel to this repetitive gameplay; it's just a shame the drudgery leading up to these epic fights weighs them down.
Thankfully, trademark Lego charm makes it all more bearable, and the laughs are heightened by some clever comedy bits. You’ll smile as The Thing constantly gets interrupted during his catch phrase. Walk into Deadpool’s room on the Helicarrier and you’ll enjoy the glimpse at his insanity. Even the many Easter eggs will make you laugh, like a passerby on the street who exclaims “Something about that big rainbow road in the sky…it makes me want to race!” then wonders why no one knows what he’s talking about. These instances--especially moments in which you'll have to save Mr. Stan Lee himself--fill Lego Marvel with personality, and it works every time.
You'll face plenty of iconic villains in Lego Marvel Super Heroes, but the biggest one you'll encounter (sorry, Galactus) is one that has plagued video games forever: The Dreaded Technical Problem! First, while walking through the city streets, you’ll notice that the NPC AI has no clear direction or boundaries. Many times during the adventure an intersection will fill up with pedestrians that somehow get stuck under cars in the middle of the street. It’s as if they all became Nostra-Lego, predicted some kind of superhero mayhem, and assumed crash positions under cars before anything actually happened. None of it made sense.
Even worse than pre-mayhem mayhem are the moments where heroes would glitch into the environment, getting stuck on something and running around without actually moving. Most of the time another hero is able to break the offending piece and the level can continue, but this behavior can still hamstring your enjoyment. At one point toward the beginning of a level, Lego Wolverine stuck to an unbreakable gate, requiring an ultra-frustrating level restart.
Lego Marvel Super Heroes couldn’t slay all of its technical villains, but there’s plenty of fun to be had despite those shortcomings. How often do you get to control legendary Marvel superheroes in an urban sandbox, flying around and destroying things as you please? Couple that with truckloads of pieces to collect and heroes to unlock, and Lego Marvel Super Heroes will serve as a terrific ally in the fight against boredom. Excelsior!
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.