I’m officially done with Lego games.
That’s the opener I want. It’s the opener that every fiber of my being is screaming for me to commit to. It’s the opener that a game riddled with bugs, lazy gameplay choices, confusing prompts, mediocre level design and intolerable levels of repetition deserves.
And yet, for as much as I was so disappointed with Lego Marvel’s Avengers, I know I’ll return to the blocky, plastic franchise in the future. I’ll be too curious to see if developers can revitalize Lego’s digital efforts. I’ll be too eager to awkwardly laugh at attempts to shoehorn humor into a known story. Perhaps most of all, I’ll return because the core gameplay still has that hook we’ve seen countless times before: “Dammit, I need to collect more Lego studs.”
Oh Lego, you make it so easy to hate you, but so hard to let go.
First, the basics. Lego Marvel’s Avengers () is technically a spin-off from 2013’s Lego Marvel Super Heroes. Instead of Marvel’s wider canon, this is — unsurprisingly — focused on Marvel’s Avengers franchises. It not only takes players through blocky recreations of both Avengers films, it also contains Captain America: The First Avenger, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier in its many levels. If you’re a fan of Marvel’s cinematic universe, there’s a lot to like here.
The typical Lego flair is present in almost all of the game’s various set pieces, from the grandiosity of the New York hub to the thrills of the train sequence from Captain America. Backgrounds are 3D recreations of the locales, and while nothing has come close to the entirely block-based splendor of The Lego Movie Videogame, these are certainly pretty enough.
Unfortunately, Marvel’s films are known for their visual density and there are numerous moments where the challenges of recreating a set piece from a film plays havoc with conventional game design. Too often the game forces players into corridors or behind parts of the environment, obscuring characters from view, while the clash between the blocky, destructible objects and the cartoony style of the sets can make certain scenes far too busy. Details can be lost and objectives would be easily missed were it not for the series’ nagging identifiers. There are also invisible walls everywhere, with some impeding player movement simply to force them to take a predetermined path: Why can’t I fly Iron Man over that tiny bump? Why do I have to walk ten steps around it?
Cutscenes, however, are glorious. Lego Marvel’s Avengers nails the plastic sheen that The Lego Movie evoked so well. Even in comparison to Lego Jurassic World, there’s a complexity and tactility to the plastic Marvel characters and a richness to the animation that made rewatching scenes from films we’ve all seen before a treat.
Well, almost. Of course, it would be ludicrous to expect the original actors to reprise their roles just to repeat their lines for a game, but I’ll never be satisfied with Lego’s penchant for culling audio directly from films for use in their games. It’s always too muffled, or robotic, or echoey, or at complete odds with the crisp audio of properly dubbed in-game characters. Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill), Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson) and Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter) recorded original audio for Marvel’s Avengers, and while it’s welcome, it only makes the differences with the culled audio that much more obvious. Plus, the editing and shoehorning to fit with the game’s slightly altered plots can be downright painful at times.
What also doesn’t help is that Marvel’s Avengers delivers perhaps the the franchise’s weakest humor to date. Hindering them greatly is that Joss Whedon did such an incredible job of peppering both Avengers films with witty, humorous dialogue. There’s little Lego can do to increase the comedy. Attempts — such as Nick Fury constantly sucking on a pink slushie — feel hackneyed. Some punchlines do land, though. There’s an inspired slapstick routine when Bruce Banner first transforms into The Hulk onboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier: He bangs his head multiple times, stubs his toe, even stands on a rake, all conspiring to make him angrier and angrier before he finally changes into the big green brute.
Unfortunately, these moments are few and far between. Lego Jurassic Park transformed films that frequently relied on horror into a broad, laugh-out-loud comedy, but the same isn’t true here. Instead, it’s all a little bland.
That same theme carries into gameplay. It’s somewhat troubling that just a few levels in, I was already on autopilot. It certainly doesn’t help that I ran into a game-breaking bug in the first level: Captain America was blown into a pile of rubble and nothing I did could free him. I had to quit and restart the entire level, which is hardly the best introduction to a game.
Once you get going, the gameplay is an odd mix of slow, complex and boring. Combat feels laborious, with enemies dispatched by hammering X (I reviewed the game on Xbox One) until they fall apart, or by tapping B for a takedown. These takedowns are cool, usually accompanied by a quote from the character, and kill the enemy in one go — but they take far too long to animate. Each character also has a unique ability: heat lasers, explosives, invisibility, etc., but keeping track of each can become overwhelming. Who do I use to break through those silver barriers again? Coulson, Fury or Hill? (It’s Coulson, for future reference.)
And on top of all of this, the puzzles are perhaps the simplest I’ve ever seen. Button prompts are reduced to either following three directions on screen, Simon Says-style, or moving a cursor and clicking on a predetermined point. You can still build items to work through certain tasks, but they’re so obvious as to be insulting. Not once was I stuck during my time with Lego Marvel’s Avengers — bugs notwithstanding — and that meant I rarely felt challenged by it.
But… I still played it. I worked through every level — even if I was on autopilot. I went back in free play and mixed up my characters, exploring every corner of every level for traffic lights, special bricks, purple studs, and Stan Lee. (Yes, the Marvel creator moves from cameo to recurring guest star here — a fact he references, amusingly.) Bashing every object in sight to collect the studs that spill forth remains as satisfying as it ever has been. Completing everything isn’t difficult, but it’s time-consuming and rewarding. And that’s including unlocking every character in the game’s impressive roster, everything from out-of-costume heroes to less well-known Marvel characters to even Lou Ferrigno the actor and Lou Ferrigno’s Hulk.
And that’s the dichotomy of this game. I wouldn’t recommend it. I didn’t particularly enjoy playing it, either. Instead, I’d suggest you pick up a copy of the Lego Movie Videogame and rent the various films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Still, I played Marvel’s Avengers to completion. I was compelled, like with every Lego game, to uncover its many hidden treasures. There’s nothing new, revolutionary, or even particularly fun here, and co-op play is almost insulting in that it frequently leaves the second player with nothing to do.
But it’s testament to just how compelling the core concept is — smash stuff, get studs, repeat — that we’re still playing Lego’s games after so many entries. Now, if only a developer could do something innovative with that central hook. That’s a game I really want to play.
Lego Marvel’s Avengers is available on PC, Nintendo 3DS, Wii U, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.
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