With Christmas all over and done with now, it's time to turn our attention to the games we'll be playing this new year - and arguably one of the biggest releases this side of Easter is the next in a long, long line of LEGO games, LEGO Marvel Avengers. At a recent event in London, Warner took the time to show off not only the "big brother" home console game - but the handheld version too. A rather different game with different levels, LEGO Marvel's Avengers on the 3DS and PS Vita brings the handheld version closer to the home console take than ever before - and is a pretty impressive game in its own right.
In fact, you could say we have a bit of a soft spot for handheld games in general, spending a substantial amount of our playing time on either the 3DS or PS Vita - so the fact that so many handheld versions seem to get glossed over makes us pretty sad pandas here at Everybody Plays. With a refreshing change from convention, LEGO Marvel Avengers may not quite be the definitive version of the game, but it tries it's best - and for the benefit of being able to get our LEGO fix on the bus, we're willing to let some stuff slide. There was one thing Warner Bros forgot though - we've looked in every corner of the internet (and supplied press kit), and as of the time of starting writing, there seems to be a bit of a handheld screenshot drought. So, with a game to gush about, but no screens to illustrate its glory, what is a poor writer to do? The answer? God bless Microsoft Paint. Thanks to my questionable art skills, you won't have to brave this preview with naught but your imagination to guide you, as we have our very best artists impressions to fill in the blanks!
Generally speaking, the smaller, more portable format of the 3DS and PS Vita have meant the LEGO games have had to make a few concessions over the years - or at least take a slightly different route. While the lack of two player co-op is a bit of a downer, the handheld's somewhat less impressive power means they couldn't handle the large, open world hubs that the console games seem to have a particular penchant for - at least, until now. Through some sort of programming wizardry, the folks at Cheshire based TT Fusion have somehow managed to squeeze a huge, brand new hub world for LEGO Marvel Avengers on to a handheld, for the first time ever on a portable console. While it's not quite the sprawling Manhattan metropolis of the Playstation, Xbox and Wii U entries, the open area does come with its own helping of missions, bonus objectives and side quests for you to complete outside of the more traditional LEGO levels.
And as anyone who's played the previous LEGO Marvel game will tell you, there's only one hero you can use to get around the streets of Manhattan - and that's Hulk. Having grown rather attached to Hulk in the previous game, where we killed way too much time running and smashing our way through the Manhattan streets, studs flying everywhere, we decided to take the big green destruction machine for a spin on the more pocket-sized screen of the PS Vita. And, because we were playing as Hulk, it seemed appropriate that our first stop off in the new hub world would be a Smash Challenge. Slap bang in the middle of a basketball court, it challenged us to do 15,000 studs worth of damage for a gold medal. Oddly enough, just standing around mashing a button doesn't actually seem to help all that much here - while you'll cause some destruction, you won't do as much as if you simply put your head down and run. Like a big green bull in a concrete jungle china shop, we tore up a trail across Manhattan, taking cars, pensioners and benches with us, nabbing ourselves a gold with time to spare.
Although LEGO Marvel's Avengers may see many heroes returning, many have been given the once over, and now come complete with new moves, abilities or skills. Somewhat brilliantly, Hulk is one such character, and not only is he as strong as a tank, but now he can also jump like a rocket too, with the help of the brand new super jump ability, which lets you launch 'big figs' like Hulk miles and miles up into the air with a touch (or rather, a hold) of a button, before coming crashing down rather destructively - time your leaps and landings, and you can leap from one end of Manhattan to the other too, like a giant green rocket-powered kangaroo.
Of course, a new hub world's all fine and dandy, but the meat of a LEGO game is still in it's levels - and LEGO Marvel Avengers level's are the same mix of scenery smashing, enemy bashing and light puzzle solving we've come to expect from the series, albeit in a more bite-sized, portable form. Kicking off the new story mode, which spans both Avengers films, you find yourself slap bang in the middle of the Avengers: Age of Ultron intro, in a snowy Russian-ish forest on the hunt for HYDRA terrorist Strucker and Loki's stolen sceptre. A high-octane intro to the second film, which played up to each of the Avengers' strengths with a rather explosive battle sequence, it may seem like a bit of a strange place to start the story off, but we've been assured in a recent interview that it makes perfect sense, with the events of the first Avengers film covered via a series of flashback-style sequences. Other Marvel universe films will be getting a brief look in too, with levels inspired by the 'Phase two' films Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier films.
And so we found ourselves thrown head-first into combat from the get go, beginning with good old Cap. Facing off against some men on the snow-covered cliffs above him, we decided to go all fancy on them, and reflect their bullets back at them with the help of Captain America's shield - at which point some more 'help' arrives, in the form of Black Widow. Showing precisely why everyone complains about women drivers, she crashes straight through the middle of the scuffle in her car, which we waste no time in smashing to bits and rebuilding into a bouncy pad to get us up onto the aforementioned cliffs and on our way towards Strucker's castle. During our little cliff top jaunt, with us (as Cap) and the computer controlled Black Widow dispatching enemies left, right and centre, we got a quick peak at some of the new team moves too, which let the Avengers team up to deal even more damage to enemies via a number of showy moves. In the case of the Captain America and Black Widow combo, the blink-and-you'll-miss-it move involved the acrobatic Scarlett Johannson mini-fig backflipping off of Captain America's shield to take out a number of the surrounding enemies.
Further on up the cliff face, we run into everyone's favourite Avenger, Iron Man, who's taking on a number of flying enemies all on his lonesome - and while he might appreciate the ego trip of taking both down single-handedly, we decided to lend him a hand, holding a button after smashing some stuff up to build a giant magnet, which sucks in the pair of airborne bad guys, while Tony presumably sets his thrusters to evade so as not to meet the same magnetic demise as his foes. Mere minutes later, Hulk appears, having one of his crazy destructive flip outs - and a team move of a different variety saw Black Widow calming down her explosively tempered boyfriend with a little lullaby, turning him back into the gentle Bruce Banner instead, whom we happened to need to work one of the computer panels to progress.
Taking a leaf out of some of the more recent LEGO Ninjago games, each level in LEGO Marvel Avengers has it's own unique set of challenges to try for, which range from simply completing a level, finding all the hidden collectables and collecting a certain number of Lego studs along the way to the more inventive, character and stage-specific objectives. In the case of the prologue level we loaded up, these included defeating a number of enemies by deflecting with Captain America's shield, and destroying the final turrets in the ending sequence without taking any damage. While not really particularly revolutionary or anything, these extra objectives do add a nice bit of replay value for the completionists out there, sometimes requiring you to go about doing things in a bit of a different way.
While it may not be as graphically impressive or multiplayer-centric as it's big console brother, LEGO Marvel's Avengers is shaping up to be a great companion game that offers a different take - and a different set of levels - on the same story. For a slice of LEGO on the go, this is one of those games we'll be double-dipping when the game launches later this month, on the 29th January.