As an ode to the ever expanding Marvel universe, Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 is practically without peer. The characters you'll play, the locations you'll visit, and the references you'll come across span the length and breadth of the comic juggernaut's history in comics, TV, and film, extending to the genesis of Marvel as Timely Comics way back in the forgotten mists of time (the 1930s). In fact, outside of the exclusion of X-Men and Fantastic Four characters (for some undisclosed and surely byzantine legal rights reasons), this game is the most Marvel any Marvel game has been so far.
It's also pretty much the most Lego game any Lego game has been so far, which is to say all of the charm and wit and ease of play of this long-running series is here, but also all of its little faults and idiosyncrasies. Outside of the dizzying array of heroes and villains you'll (eventually) be able to play, Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 adds little to the franchise in terms of innovation or transformation. There is only more, but more doesn't necessarily mean better.
What's here, though, remains appealing, particularly if you have some kiddos to share the experience with. The aforementioned charm and wit of the Lego formula is becoming predictable and creaky after almost two dozen entries, but manages to retain that sense of simple joy inherent in seeing Lego-fied versions of some of your favorite pop culture characters bash around in a brightly colored world, quipping their cute little quips all the while. Seeing a Lego Ms. Marvel embiggening while geeking out that she's fighting alongside Spider-Man is simply delightful, as is seeing teleporting Inhuman dog Lockjaw flopping onto his back for a belly rub.
The game is filled with little charm bombs like this, but if you read that previous sentence and came away with questions like "Who or what is a Ms. Marvel?" and "There are dogs in video games, now?", then perhaps some of this appeal will be lost on you. Needless to say, your familiarity with all things Marvel will impact just how cute you think all of this is. And the cuts here run very deep. From the inclusion of cowboy characters from old Timely/Marvel series like Kid Colt and Arizona Annie, to more recent characters like Spider-Man Noir from the Noir Universe (this Spidey uses guns, guys!), Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 seems tailor-made for the Marvel super fan.
That's not to say those whose Marvel knowledge comes only from the recent big budget films (but who did see the last Thor movie and thought the rock guy was pretty funny) will be left clueless amidst a series of complex comic references. The game anchors it's main narrative on the cinematic versions of the Guardians of the Galaxy, with Star Lord, Rocket, Groot (both baby and full-grown), et al racing to Earth to help stop megalomaniac-from-the-future Kang the Conqueror from doing his thing (ie, conquering). It's a doomed quest, as Kang quickly achieves his raison d'etre, ripping the fabric of the time-space continuum and creating Chronopolis, a mish-mash of worlds from different time periods and Marvel realities.
From here, it's up to the heroes of the Marvel universe to band together and stop Kang. The gameplay here will be instantly familiar to anyone who's played a Lego game in recent years; it's bash bash bash on enemies and the environment using simple combat mechanics, before solving various environmental puzzles that may or may not involve bashing things some more (or alternatively using a specific character's special abilities to progress). To its credit, the many characters in Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 do sport some interesting abilities, so much so that you can for the most part look past the cookie-cutter nature of most of them and find individual heroes with unique skills. The combat, though, remains stakes-free. There are no "lives", and dying simply means regenerating in the same spot not even seconds later. Dark Souls this is not.
But that ease-of-use has always been the main appeal of the Lego games, especially for parents. As is usual with this series, the entire game can be played in co-op, and it's fun to partner with a developing gamer through these relatively stress-free adventures. The puzzles here can sometimes get a little obtuse, but that's exactly why it's a great shared experience. Your little ones can have fun running around and mashing buttons playing as the Invincible Iron Man, while you do the legwork of figuring out how to actually progress through a level.
There's also an impressive amount of things to do in Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2. Apart from the hundreds of available characters (most you'll have to unlock) and the approximately dozen hours of the main campaign to work through, the "world" of Chronopolis is also expansive, functioning as an open world where your heroes can find little sidequests, missions, racing events, and other activities when you're not chasing the main storyline.
Of course, these other activities aren't all enormous fun, but if you're a Marvel nut or a completionist (or both), then this game's basic cheerful gameplay and demeanour will make all of those extra pursuits worthwhile. Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 is reverential to its source material, even if the game that surrounds that adoration is starting to sag somewhat. After all these years, the Lego formula is still a winner--but only barely.