The opening level of Lego Avengers is easily one of the worst in all of the Lego franchise. Depicting the opening action sequence of Avengers: Age of Ultron, it’s meant to serve both as tutorial and hype builder, giving you control of each of the titular superheroes in turn as you endeavor to learn how the game works. Hooray, now you’re Thor! And there’s Captain America! Black Widow here to save the day! It’s a sound idea that’s utterly undermined by poor execution, and as a result, it’s a pretty good first indication of how the rest of the game plays out.
Quick primer if you’re not up to date on how Lego games go: you’ll smash bricks, build things, collect studs (the in-game currency) and use tools (both canonical and goofy) to Lego your way through various scenes from the Avenger universe. Each level highlights different characters, each of whom boast different abilities; Tony Stark can fix things, Captain America can put out fires, Hawkeye has a bunch of different arrows, and so on. Hop-in/hop-out co-op lets you team up with a buddy whenever you like, but if you’re on your own you can simply swap between controlled characters to access whatever speciality needs tapping at any given moment. It’s a formula that’s worked exceedingly well in any number of Lego games so far, and while that basic framework is in place in Lego Marvel's Avengers, the result feels phoned in.
On the positive side of the Avengers equation is how the game weaves the many different threads of Avenger hero movies together, such as flashing back to Captain America’s first solo outing when Nick Fury comes to recruit him to defeat Loki. If you’re not a fan of the Marvel Universe - well, honestly, then I don’t know why you’re playing this game because the only pleasure to be gleaned is from appreciation of how Lego Avengers handles its source material - you’ll still be able to follow along and figure out who should be doing what to whom.
On the negative side is...pretty much everything else. Lego Avengers tries to cram too much into too small a space, and as a result, none of it works terribly well. You’ll use the same button to use your character’s special move, execute “finishers” on enemies, and interact with the environment, and in many cases you’ll wind up doing one when you’re trying to do another. The game would’ve been far better off skipping the bonus-raising finishers altogether; they make it a lot easier to rack up the studs you need to achieve Total Avenger rank, but the non-stop respawning enemies you get in exchange simply aren’t worth it. The steady barrage of bad guys is less of a problem if you’re playing with a pal who can keep them off your back,but if you’re on your own, you’re going to die a lot. Trying to find the exact spot you need to be standing in to flip a switch while henchmen are smacking you over and over is aggressively unfun.
For the most part, Lego Marvel's Avengers uses lines of dialog lifted from the movies to further its plot along, but when that’s not enough, it enlists the aid of Agent Phil Coulson and Peggy Carter to help out. Their sparkling delivery highlights how drab and awkward the rest of the dialog feels. The tone of the Avengers movies is far different from the playfulness of a Lego game, and that disparity shows every time a hero opens their mouth.
Finishing a level is a tedious slog as you force your way from one poorly-designed environment to the next, always kind-of-sort-of knowing what you’re meant to do but being baffled as to how you’re meant to do it. Lego Avengers is terrible at communicating with you - about your objectives, your next destination, whether you’re hitting the right buttons, anything. Epic fight scenes between the likes of Thor and the Hulk are meant to play out like dramatic QTEs, but because neither the button prompts nor the onscreen action ever changes in a significant way, you can’t be sure if you’re impacting the action or not.
Time and exploration are all it usually takes to figure out what needs doing, but too many sections make that nearly impossible by sending an unending series of finishing-move-obsessed enemies at you. You’ll run around and whap buttons and eventually you’ll do the right thing, but the sense of victory that should be yours to claim is shoved aside by the annoyance that’s been building the entire level.
The best Lego games succeed because they maintain a pleasant balance between fun minor characters and the stars of the show, so that you always feel like you’re an important part of the adventure, no matter what minifig you’re controlling. Lego Marvel's Avengers achieves a similar kind of homeostasis, except in this case, all the characters achieve the same relative level of suck. I’m not entirely sure how anyone could turn controlling lightning, shooting lasers from your hands, and flying into soul-sucking chores, but it probably has something to do with a tesseract.
Even when it’s following the plots of the movies from which it takes inspiration, Lego Marvel Avengers feels flat and uninspired, superheroism and Lego collection by numbers. Smash this, build that, listen to jarringly out of place Nick Fury dialog clip, shrug, move on.
Everything about Lego Marvel's Avengers feels just a little bit low-rent, a little bit slapdash, a little “A for effort.” It’s a clunky, cludgy mess that hopes you’ll have so much fun watching the Avengers assemble (and disassemble) that you won’t notice how badly it’s been put together. Die-hard Marvel fans (especially of the young variety) will undoubtedly enjoy getting to Hulk Smash no matter what, but everyone else should seek out one of the many truly excellent Lego games to get their own brick-building fix.
This game was reviewed on PS4.