Over the last ten years, TT Games has turned famous movie characters as varied as Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter and Indiana Jones into total blockheads for their respective LEGO video games. With the arrival of “LEGO Marvel’s Avengers” it’s Captain America’s turn, and Black Widow’s, and, well… Thor was already kind of a blockhead. The new game converts the Marvel Cinematic Universe into a simple but still fun game for every major console, Playstation Vita, PC and Mac.
For those who’ve never played a “LEGO” game before, they feature cartoony, arcade-inspired beat-’em-ups/third-person-shooters that will remind classic gamers of “Street Fighter” and “Double Dragon,” only cuter, and new school players the “Disney Infinity” or “Skylanders” games, only funnier. Not to mention that since everything is made of plastic bricks, you also spend plenty of time smashing things into bricks, as well as reassembling other piles of bricks into structures, vehicles and other pieces of machinery needed to get to the next brick-filled area. All this needs is The Hulk, Cap and Iron Man singing The Commodores’ “Brick House” and the circle will be complete.
The “LEGO” games also feature dozens and dozens of characters that can be unlocked and played with, including some you might not expect for a game so closely tied to the movies. For instance, while this game has both Thor and Captain America, it also has the Jane Foster version of Thor and the Sam Wilson version of Captain America. There are even three different versions of Stan Lee, including Iron Stan and the Stanbuster. Granted, you don’t get to play with them the first time around, you have to beat a level to unlock it for other characters, but this just gives you an excuse to play missions a second time.
“LEGO Marvel’s Avengers,” like previous “LEGO” games, also allows you to switch between characters on the fly. Though you can also play this co-op, with the option to drop out at any time, at which point the game will seamlessly switch back to letting the remaining player swap characters at will.
Having so many characters is also important because like their comic counterparts they each possess their own special skills. At the game’s start, for instance, you’ll need to be Black Widow to destroy a nearby tower, but will then have to switch to Hawkeye so you can attach a rope to the tower, a rope you’ll use to swing over a stream that instantly turns you into a popsicle. Later on, you’ll need The Hulk to tear the cover off the wall of a laser grid, and then have to switch to Iron Man so he can cut the right circuits with his handy laser. And that’s just during the first mission.
What makes “LEGO Marvel’s Avengers” a bit different from other “LEGO” games — especially 2013’s “LEGO Marvel Super Heroes,” which told an original story — is that it’s based on the Marvel Studios films. Though it expands upon them, every mission is based on a major set piece from both 2012’s “The Avengers,” 2015’s “Avengers: Age Of Ultron,” and others. While some of the dialogue comes directly from the films, Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill), Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson) and more recorded new lines for the game.
“LEGO” games are also intentionally lighthearted. Not surprising, given that everyone looks like a little kid made of bricks. But because this follows the films so closely, “LEGO Marvel’s Avengers” is as much a parody of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the “LEGO Star Wars” games were of that galaxy far, far away and the “LEGO Lord of the Rings” and “LEGO Hobbit” ones were of Middle-Earth’s turbulent history.
Of course, having such close ties to the films means that most of the comedy in this game is more physical than intellectual. The game is full of silly slapstick bits or sight gags, most coming up during the cinematic cut scenes. This works well because it’s tough trying to beat guys up while keeping your eyes on the henchmen in the background of a scene. Like most parodies, you really need to watch the movies before you play this game or some of the gags may either confuse you or go right over your head.
The action in “LEGO Marvels’ Avengers” doesn’t stray far from TT Games’ other “LEGO” games. You still spend the majority of your time smacking bad guys, destroying boxes, and reassembling bricks into switches that open doors to the next area full of punchable people and smashable stuff. Where it differs is in adding some tricks gleaned from the movies. For instance, characters can now team up for special attacks. Just as Thor and Captain America created a shockwave in “Age of Ultron,” so too can Hawkeye and Black Widow do a move where the former tosses the latter into the air that allows her to rain down punishment from above. Though it does sometimes go off script; I don’t remember Black Widow and Nick Fury having personal cloaking devices in any of the movies.
There are also moments that throw this series’ tenets for a loop. In one of the better ones, you can switch on the fly between playing as Cap, who’s doing the usual punching and breaking routine, and Iron Man, who’s flying though the air, shooting targets, but from a side perspective that makes this part feel like the ’80s arcade game “Defender.”
As fun as LEGO Marvel’s Avengers may be, it’s not without its faults. For starters, if you’ve never played a “LEGO” game before, or haven’t played one since 2005’s “LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game,” you might find yourself a bit lost, as the game doesn’t do a great job of explaining itself. Which can get especially frustrating when one of Hydra’s tanks keeps shooting you while you’re trying to figure out how to get Thor and Cap to do the aforementioned shockwave attack.
The combat can also, at times, feel a bit shallow, and thus get a bit redundant. Attacks being driven by hitting just one button is the culprit here, though the type of attack your character does depends on the context. Hawkeye, for instance, will shoot an arrow if he’s far from an enemy, but will smack enemies with his bow if they’re close — and you also have special attacks that allow you to throw guys like you’re a WWE superstar. But, as the player, you still spend most of your time pressing the same button over and over and over.
But the biggest bummer is that while this has some funny bits, it’s still not as funny — or as perceptive in its comedy — as the “LEGO Star Wars” or “LEGO Indiana Jones” games. Most of the gags are silly, and will elicit a chuckle or two, but most of the comedy relies on slapstick and is more about silliness than insight into the characters. Or, to put it another way, it’s too much like a “Scary Movie” sequel and not enough like a “Robot Chicken DC Comics Special.”
If you’re a kid, or you have a kid and are going to play this co-op with them, “LEGO Marvel’s Avengers” is as much fun as the last “LEGO” game you played. Well, unless it was “LEGO Dimensions”; this is much better. And it’s better still if you’re a big fan of the Marvel movies, especially the “Avengers” ones. But if you’re not a kid, don’t have kids, or you’re thinking you’ll play this after your kid goes to sleep, you’ll also have fun with it, you just won’t find it as funny.
“LEGO Marvel’s Avengers is available now for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Xbox 360, WiiU, PC and Mac.