Full disclaimer: I love Marvel comics, and I love LEGO and its many videogame spinoffs. Yet for some reason, 2013’s LEGO Marvel Superheroes didn’t grab me the way I thought it would. It turned out it just felt a bit too bloated, and the story a little too bland after the success of LEGO adaptations like Batman’s second game and a Lord of the Rings trilogy that balanced a more open LEGO game world with the silly humour and sight gags that made the franchise what it is. Marvel Superheroes fell flat in both departments. Here we are, just a couple of years on from that and Traveller’s Tales has returned to the Marvel license, giving it another shot at joining the best of the best in LEGOdom with Marvel’s Avengers.
Whereas Superheroes spread its load among the wider Marvel comic book universe, incorporating an impressively large range of factions within them, Avengers focuses on the titular team that has seen many a friend and foe over the years. It also blends the Marvel Cinematic Universe with those connected to the group that have yet to feature on the big screen. This means the story, and indeed the locales, are lifted straight from the blockbuster juggernaut movies. These include both Avengers Assemble and Age of Ultron as the front and back-end of the game’s campaign, but interspersed with them are parts of both Captain America films, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World (and some more).
To Traveller’s Tales credit, they haven’t simply shoved the films into chronologically ordered stages, instead, they are molded into a singular story, with flashforwards and flashbacks to keep things fresh. Smartly, the weaker movies in terms of action are not leaned on quite so heavily, with only the better set pieces generally cleaved from them (so you won’t have to endure too much of Thor: The Dark World). It works really well, and the traditional LEGO game humour is used far more effectively here than it was in Superheroes. Traveller’s Tales seems to get the best gags out of established stories, hence why Superheroes kept missing the mark. That obstacle has been cleared, but in the time between games, the landscape has changed significantly.
Marvel’s Avengers has the unenviable task of being the first LEGO title to follow the toys-to-life game LEGO Dimensions. Does a traditional LEGO game have a place in a post-Dimensions world? The cynic in me suggests that the only reason Avengers exists at all is because of a licensing issue between Warner Bros and Disney. After all, why would Disney allow a competitor to not only use their characters in a rival product to their own Infinity range, but one that would allow the mingling of said characters with DC’s roster of heroes and villains? Cynicism aside, Avengers is a pleasing alternative to the expensive beast that is Dimensions. It’s still a far nicer prospect to collect characters in-game rather than shelling out for physical versions to plonk in it, not to mention you get a healthier chunk of game in which to use them. The game itself has taken the lessons learned from recent titles and seemingly distilled the results to create a rather good LEGO game.
There’s no denying that on a basic level, this is still the LEGO game you played dozens of times before. You still smash up bricks to find things and collect studs, you still solve small-scale puzzles using character abilities, and you still replay areas to mop up collectables. As ever, it’s the small, subtle changes over time that have kept things interesting, and that remains just as true with Avengers. The notable addition is new teamwork moves that give unique special moves to different combinations of two characters. These seek to replicate some of the nifty team up moments you’ve seen in the films like Thor’s Mjolnir and Cap’s shield (combining to make a concussive soundwave) or Iron Man shooting Hulk to get him angrier, and therefore stronger. These specials are especially pleasing when used in co-op (which was very likely the point) and add to the existing team moves nicely. Avengers also retains the Resogun-like shooter sections first featured in LEGO Batman 3. Again, small touch, but it does break up the usual LEGO format.
The hub world stuff remains pretty similar, but rather than just restrict it to an open world New York, Avengers features smaller hub worlds in several locations, closer to Dimensions’ setup. There’s still a rather sizeable New York hub, but breaking up the available areas into smaller chunks adds more variety and circumvents some of that late-game boredom. It still feels substantial, but not as hefty and cumbersome as it once did. There’s something more compelling about exploring these areas than there was in other recent LEGO titles. Probably because there’s far more things to see and do for a Marvel fan.
Quests from some of the quirkier characters in the Marvel universe are among the most chucklesome, and there are some genuinely interesting surprises to find once you’ve gotten the story stuff out of the way. There’s characters in Avengers that I had forgotten about as they’re so obscure, and then there’s new blood with the likes of the current Ms Marvel, Jane Foster’s Thor and of course the ace Squirrel Girl sitting alongside cast members from Agents of Shield. It’s a far more fascinating roster than last time thanks to this diverse mixture of the different corners of Marvel’s history. As fan service goes, this is easily the best Traveller’s Tales has done in many a year.
Problems? Well, as alluded to before, it is that same, safe, dependable and easy to play LEGO game you’ve played before at heart, all twee and kid-friendly. It’s been over a decade since LEGO Star Wars started the franchise and Traveller’s Tales still seem reluctant to truly change things up on a core level. Still, the games remain enjoyable, they’re fantastic family-time fodder and when they put as much work into the details as Marvel’s Avengers has, they are a great thing to get stuck into for a few hours at a time. That dedication to the source material is what lifts LEGO Marvel’s Avengers above the ageing, humdrum nature of its game style and makes it essential for families and Marvel fans alike.