Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Playstation 4, Xbox One, Switch
Hey, remember the last time you settled in for a Marvel movie? Wasn’t it a blast to watch your favorite heroes solve counterintuitive puzzles, tell badly written jokes, and engage in boring, low-stakes combat?
That actually might not be what you expect from a Marvel movie, but this is what Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 provides.
Just for kids?
While playing this game, it occured to me I might have been the wrong person to review this game because it’s clearly intended for kids, but is that really a valid excuse for low quality? Nintendo has been putting out fantastic kid-safe games for almost thirty years, and they don’t cater to just one audience. Breath of the Wild could be played by children and it’s one of the most brilliant games of the year. I still have a blast playing Mario Kart with my friends’ kids when I visit them.
You could also argue that the jokes in LMSH2 are bad because they’re written for children, but Pixar doesn’t have any problem with comedy that works for a wide age range. Really, there’s no excuse for a game like this, except as a weak cash in on two mammoth IPs.
Weak humor and gameplay
The game reveals its writing weaknesses up front when it introduces the Guardians of the Galaxy, the funniest entry in the Marvel universe. I know that a game like this couldn’t afford to hire Chris Pratt for Star-Lord’s voice over, but they could at least write a few good jokes for the new guy to tell. But nah, we get low-rent pseudo-Pratt shouting generic lines like “Not cool!” when an enemy starts shooting his ship. By the end of this short sequence, I was hoping someone would make a block pun. You know, because Legos. That’s how laugh-starved I was.
The game’s weaknesses also extend to the mechanics. Managing multiple characters in a real-time combat situation is awkward and difficult. Often times, your buddies will just stand there while you’re being swarmed. So it’s a good thing that most fights can be solved by hammering the attack button as fast as you can. Sure, different heroes have different powers, but what difference does it make when enemies present no threat? Even when you die, you just blow apart into bricks and then return moments later.
Sadly, the combat is a joy compared to the puzzles. The game gives you flying heroes and puzzles that require moving non-flying heroes to higher elevation, but for some reason, never allows you to carry ground-bound heroes to the next area. In one extremely frustrating sequence, I needed to get Captain America up to a higher platform, and Thor, floating in mid-air, could do nothing but stupidly stare at him. No hand up. Nothing. How did I solve this problem? Sitting Thor and She-Hulk on two triggers, which caused two Lego boxes to collapse and spray parts everywhere so Captain America could build a fan that would blow him upwards. So much for that much-vaunted Avengers teamwork.
Stranger Game Design
Here's an example of the kind of frustrating gameplay LMSH2 regularly delivers. A bridge is broken, and the heroes, White Tiger, Ms. Marvel, and Spider-man, need to get across. Ms. Marvel can fly and Spiderman can use his webs to swing around. But when you try to cross the gap with either of these powers, an invisible wall shoves you back, and almost as if to taunt you, flashes a rainbow at you. It was like the designers were laughing, “Nice try kid, but you have to do this MY WAY.”
How do you cross the gap? You have to blow open a car to get Lego pieces, so you can build a doohickey that Spiderman can string a tightrope between. Sure, I get that White Tiger can’t fly and needs an assist, but again - why can’t the flying heroes carry her? You can’t provide me with mobility options and then prevent me from using them because you have some contractual obligation that requires Legos to be involved in every puzzle! Why can’t I attach spider webbing to literally any other part of the bridge? Why do I have to build something out of Legos to use a power that I already have?
LMSH2 encourages you to break everything in the game to get those little Lego bonus dots. They have a very short expiration timer and often spray all over the place, so if you’re playing single player, you sometimes can’t grab them all before they vanish. Who thought this was a good idea? Why give me something and then deny it to me? I get that it was designed for multiplayer, so slower kids can get a bit of the reward, but they should limit the spray radius in single player.
Casual Doesn't Mean Bad
I understand this is a casual game. Being casual doesn’t excuse lousy game design. If anything, you need to work harder to build a casual game because you have to build something fun, creative, laid back, and straightforward, all at the same time. Hardcore masochists like me will spend hours trying to kill a giant robot in Horizon Zero Dawn for the tiny shot of dopamine you get from a hard-fought victory. Casual gamers need rewards more frequently and with less effort, but delivered in a way that doesn’t insult their intelligence or deny them obvious solutions. That actually takes more work - work that Warner Brothers didn’t bother to put in.
Oh, and I hear you saying: “You can save this game for the kids in your family!” Look, I have ten little nieces and nephews in my family and I wouldn’t subject a single one of them to this game. Not in a world with Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart, Super Mario Odyssey, and Rayman. If there’s one lesson I want to make sure to teach young people, it’s that life’s too short for bad games.
LMSH2 manages to squander the promise of both of the game's prestigious licenses. Legos and super heroes have delighted kids and kids-at-heart for generations. Super heroes taught you that anything was possible while Legos taught you that if you can dream it, you can build it. I would contend this game teaches a terrible lesson to children: “Do it my way, kid, or you’ll never get anywhere. But here’s a rainbow for trying.”