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Notes On A Game: Lego Marvel Super Heroes

There’s nothing like a pandemic to make you revisit old games for comfort (and I do enjoy the Lego games) – playing Lego Marvel Super Heroes again was a palliative for a world going crazy and certain governments going crazier, so I thought I’d capture my thoughts on the game.

The Silver Surfer flies over Earth but he is shot down and captured by Doctor Doom; the Surfer’s board is blown up into some ‘cosmic bricks’. Doom wants to assemble Doom’s Doom Ray of Doom so he can take over the world. Thus, in league with Loki, Doom gets supervillains to steal the cosmic bricks to make his ray work and the heroes have to stop them. And so the Lego action begins …

The first thing to know is that this game was released in 2013, meaning that the phase one MCU films had come out and been successful; this explains why Iron Man is the focus of the games (the character even does the same twist/shoot manoeuvre from the movies). He’s the main character and the most useful superhero to have around: he flies, he has bombs to destroy silver objects, he has a laser to destroy gold objects, he can hack computer points – you play a lot of the game as him to speed up the process.

The films are a focus of the game (Black Widow and Hawkeye are main characters, and the game goes out of its way to make Hawkeye useful) but it’s not just MCU – there’s a separate game for that. This game is about all the Marvel comic-book characters: the Fantastic Four and the X-Men are part of the game (although Wolverine is given greater prominence, with his senses playing an important part, and there are special switches that can only be turned on by claws), and Spider-Man and his villains play regular roles in the different levels – Spider-Man is needed for his Spidey sense and his webbing is needed a lot to pull things.

The game is centred around Manhattan – the base for activities is the SHIELD helicarrier, which is based above Manhattan, and the non-level gameplay is based in Manhattan – but you do get to visit other locations, such as Asgard, Atlantis and Asteroid M. The comic books feel like the basis of the game: the story is essentially a remix of the Marvel comics company-wide crossover from 1989/1990, Acts of Vengeance, because Loki uses the villains to get cosmic bricks so he can control Galactus to destroy Midgard.

The gameplay is standard Lego fare: you smash everything you can see to get Lego studs or things to build, solve puzzles and beat up the various goons despatched at you (octobots, various prisoners in the Raft, Extremis goons, ice giants, Hydra soldiers, Magneto acolytes) before fighting the boss. Some levels are slightly more grinding than others – if you don’t have a character who can fire destruction from a distance (e.g. Iron Man, the Human Torch, characters with guns) or who can destroy gold/silver objects, it’s a slog punching people individually, having to hit them several times before they die (I forget how much death there is – you literally blow people up with Iron Man firing bombs at everyone; anyone doing a special move or powering up destroys anyone nearby; and don’t press the ‘O’ button before talking to someone for a side mission or you’ll accidentally blow them to smithereens). As you play, Maria Hill provides you with information before each level and during Manhattan play; gameplay during levels is helped by Agent Coulson (voiced by Clark Gregg himself) giving helpful advice and hints on how to proceed.

The delight is in the details, the way in which the Marvel characters have been formatted for the Lego world: Reed can stretch through special gates, stretch into special shapes to perform specific functions and pull specific things with his stretchy arms; Captain America can throw his shield into specific units to unlock them and his shield can be used to reflect lasers and other beams; Black Widow (and Nick Fury) can turn themselves ‘invisible’ to motion sensors; Thor can hurl Mjolnir to break things and power it up with lightning to fire up electrical points. And, if you’ve played the Harry Potter Lego games, you will recognise the purple swirling TK effect when Sue Storm and Jean Grey put together Lego objects with their minds. (An aside: Professor Xavier is given telekinetic powers; in best ‘mansplaining’ voice, ‘Um, I think you’ll find that Charles Xavier is a telepath and does not have any telekinetic abilities …’)

Lego Marvel Super Heroes screenshot of Doctor Strange flying over Manhattan

The real joy in playing is after the completion of the story – I finished the levels at 14.3% complete – flying around Manhattan and doing side missions and getting gold bricks. There are many missions to accomplish – 250 gold bricks, lots of vehicles, races in cars and flying, and loads of characters to unlock (115) – and it’s so much fun. The only frustration is that there is a certain structure so that certain games and characters are only revealed after winning so many gold bricks – for example, Doctor Strange is a great character, who can fly and shoot beams and teleport through special gates, but he is only unlocked after getting 150 gold bricks, which involves a lot of missions.

A particular joy is rescuing Stan Lee from peril; it’s a delight to hear Stan’s voice when you free him, saying a variety of lines. My favourite is ‘There’s no limit to the scope of my cameo talent’; you also get ‘Excelsior’ when you get True Believer status for 100% Lego Studs in each level. It’s fun to find and help him (‘I made another cameo!’), especially as he is no longer with us, but it’s a shame you have to wait so long for him to be unlocked as a character because he’s great: he turns into Stan Lee Hulk, he flies around using Spidey webs, shoots beams from his eyes, has his own vibranium shield.

Missions in Manhattan range from putting out fires, helping an old lady across the street or helping her find her lost cat, locating a carrot for a soup, or riding escaped zoo animals back to Central Park, even obtaining a sax for Drax. You have to be Peter Parker to get some shots for J Jonah Jameson at the Daily Bugle; there are Deadpool missions to unlock his red bricks for extra features; you have to race cars around Manhattan streets (which can be frustrating on the time trials because there are so many cars on the roads that get in your way). Although not as frustrating as some of the flying races – the controls for flying are not good and it takes some time to become acclimatised; even a walkthrough says ‘flying races can be REALLY difficult given the somewhat wonky flying controls’.

There’s a lot of lovely background stuff that brings a smile to the face. Posters for Heroes for Hire with Power Man and Iron Fist, or posters exhorting you to Visit Wakanda. In a Deadpool mission, you visit Marvel Comics, where you can recognise a Lego Tom Breevort in his distinctive hat. Deadpool appears in the background of various levels, waving at you; when you rescue Stan Lee in one of the Deadpool missions, Deadpool says, ‘Him again? He’s in this game more than I am!’ Nick Fury, in the Deadpool mission where he’s the DJ for the Avengers party, says, ‘And you will know I’m the DJ when I lay my beats on you!’ In the final battle with Galactus, he says ‘Nom, nom, nom’ after eating; Reed Richards makes a reference to The Incredibles when he floats down like a parachute. The background chatter of New Yorkers as you travel through Manhattan – you will hear ‘Watch it, buddy’ a lot as you play the game and knock over plenty of New Yorkers. And, as a former biochemist, it was a delight to hear a character say ‘Gluconeogenesis’ in a Lego game.

One of the purest and simplest joys is to fly up and around Manhattan – pick a flying character (Iron Man, Phoenix, Galactus, Captain Britain), hit the X button twice to go extra fast and soar over Manhattan landmarks: Central Park, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Stark Tower, the Daily Bugle, Marvel Comics HQ, the Baxter Building, the X Mansion. I could do it forever – Manhattan and Marvel comics are so intrinsically linked, so it feels like you’re part of the world.

It was a blast to play the game again, unlocking your favourite characters, fighting familiar villains (Magneto, Green Goblin, Red Skull), visiting familiar locations, feeling immersed in the Marvel universe. The Lego nature makes it adorable and means you don’t have to worry about the real world intruding into your hours of game play. I want to avoid reality for a while – Lego Marvel Super Heroes certainly achieved that goal.

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