You May Not Marvel at Lego Super Heroes

Why the latest entry in the block-building franchise engenders a serious case of deja vu.

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"Sand for brain," Abomination mutters angrily under his breath when his partner in crime commits an evildoer's faux pas. The duality of that comment elicits quiet chuckles in the demonstration room. The hulking bad guy insulted Sandman's cognitive abilities and made a factual statement about the makeup of his cerebellum. A delightful pun. Such humor made frequent appearances in the brief demo of the Lego-themed Marvel adventure. Sandman growls, "I've already won, hands down," while trying to smash Spider-Man with his giant, sand-crafted hands. "He threw that car like a toy," Iron Man quips after having a Lego car tossed his way. It's this simple humor that stood out in Lego Marvel Super Heroes, mostly because the action was all too familiar.

The Marvel universe is overflowing with superheroes, evil villains, and innocent bystanders continually scanning the housing markets of cities not overrun with battling bullies. Lego Marvel borrows from comic books (and popular movies) to build its cast of recognizable characters. In the only stage shown thus far, Abomination and Sandman have formed an uneven duo as they hold unfortunate passersby hostage. The police department is obviously no match for the ruffians who rule the roost, which means any disciplinary action falls on the shoulders of those blessed with not only superpowers, but a tendency to stop evil in its tracks.

Hulk and Iron Man team up to smash minifigs, and they make jokes along the way. Later, Spider-Man joins the team, and he is also more than happy to provide some levity while he slings his webbing around. The developers said that combat has been thrust to the forefront in Lego Marvel in an attempt to show what these enhanced people can do, though the focus on bashing doesn't seem radically different from how Lego games are normally structured. Nameless henchmen run toward your powered-up team, and Hulk easily tosses a car or block of pavement their way, or Iron Man unleashes a swarm of homing missiles. Spider-Man likes his criminals sticky, so he wraps them in a tight cocoon before kicking them in their Lego noggins.

Once the good guys' progress is halted, it's time to solve puzzles. In the level shown, sand is everywhere, so you often have to figure out how to pass beach-based barriers. Spray some water toward a wall, and it solidifies, and then you can just bash through it with Hulk. The huge green guy was the focal point of the presentation. He represents a class of giant character called bigfig. These characters are stronger than the average superhero, but lack dexterity. When you need to build a Lego structure, you have to switch to someone with more nimble hands. This could be Spider-Man or Iron Man, or you could just say "Serenity now," become less angry, and turn Hulk into Bruce Banner. What Banner lacks in might he more than makes up for in smarts.

The hands-off demo certainly looked fun, but it also seemed very familiar. The Lego series has existed for eight years (starting with 2005's Lego Star Wars) and hasn't changed much in that time. The action combines platforming, puzzle solving, and combat in colorful worlds. Dozens of characters are available, most of which are squirreled away behind unlock requirements. Building is a side activity: you simply hold a button over dancing pieces that magically form into a predetermined structure. And a lighthearted tone keeps things feeling silly, frequently poking fun at the source material.

Of course, don't forget about the source material. One of the cornerstones of the Lego games is that, aside from Lego City Undercover, they are always based on a popular license. You might be aiding droids in Star Wars, or running from boulders in Indiana Jones. Maybe you're solving the Riddler's puzzles in Batman, or pining for giant eagle rides in Lord of the Rings. Possessing the Boy Who Lived in Harry Potter was fun for a spell, and now you can play around in the Marvel universe. Accessibility meshed with likable portrayals of beloved franchises leads to a winning combination. But how long can that formula be entertaining? Is there a point when bashing enemies and climbing ropes in a familiar world lose their appeal?

Witnessing the single level on display, it appears Lego Marvel doesn't veer from the established formula of its predecessors. However, it does seem to tap into the core appeal that has made the Lego franchise so popular. The humorous take on well-known characters is instantly endearing, and seeing how deep the developers will dive into the expansive cast of heroes and villains is certainly intriguing. The developers said that Wolverine would make an appearance, and would even square off against his (unnamed) nemesis. That Sabertooth might appear in the game created a mild stir in the demo room. And, maybe, those character cameos are just enough to ensure the same formula doesn't get too tiresome.

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