Seemingly, nothing can stop the juggernaut that is the Lego series. Over the years, we've grown to love their cutesy and comical platforming interpretations of popular films, each one bigger and better than the last (with the exception of Lego Indiana Jones 2, anyway). Lately though, the folks at Traveller's Tales – who've been making the Lego games for decades – have had something of a change of direction, instead deciding to craft their own stories rather than relying on Hollywood's finest. As the game's producer, Matt Ellison explained, "Basically, it's just loads of heroes, and loads of villains coming together. It's an original story that we made in collaboration with Marvel, so we're able to go to all the iconic locations we wanted to go to".
In order to get all those characters together, though, they needed a plausible reason for them all to team up - and what better reason is there than the reliable "global search for important items". The game begins with a cutscene in which the Silver Surfer manages to crash his surfboard, spraying powerful Cosmic Bricks far and wide. Fearing they may fall into the wrong hands, Nick Fury calls on all the Marvel heroes he can to recover the bricks, before the nefarious Dr. Doom can swipe them and cause chaos. It's a story that bears no relation to any of the Marvel films, but one that more than serves its purpose - and as always, points the way to that familiar mix of platforming, smashing and puzzle solving, with plenty of hidden collectibles to go OCD over.
At the recent giant German games event, Gamescom, we got the chance to sit down with a brand new version of the upcoming game, this time being shown on the PS4, one of the many platforms the game's set to launch on later this year (you can read our hands-on impressions from our last time with the game here). This time round, our demo began atop the SHIELD helicarrier, which forms a permanent fixture high above the LEGO version of Manhattan below. Although it contains a room where you can input cheat codes, and another for viewing the comic panels you unlock while playing the game, arguably the most interesting thing aboard the Helicarrier is the character creator, which lets you create your very own super hero from the best bits of all the others, as Matt explained. "If you wanted to create a character that has, say, Wolverine's claws, and Thor's hammer, you can [give it that], and your character would have those abilities." Letting you mix and match your super powers to suit, the character creator takes things to "another level" in LEGO Marvel, and we can only imagine the combinations you'll be able to create. However, although it may be where you start, the Helicarrier isn't actually the main "hub" area of the game - instead, the huge, sprawling LEGO recreation of Manhattan below is. "The Helicarrier is always here, floating above Manhattan, and you can either fly up to it, or jump down to the city at any time", Matt explains, which we took to mean there'd be some sort of transition. But there isn't. All you have to do is run up to the edge of the carrier and leap off, and you'll start free falling towards Earth. Passing through circles of studs as you go, you'll fall for what seems like miles as the LEGO Manhattan comes into view through the clouds, before touching down on the ground mere seconds after having left the Helicarrier, ready to explore the LEGO City. It's pretty impressive - and very, very cool.
As the hub, LEGO Manhattan solves a kind of dual purpose - although it's where you can access the game's missions, it's also a huge adventure playground full of all manner of LEGOy goodness. Landing in the park, we come across a padlocked gate in-between us and the Baxter Building that houses our next mission. Playing as Captain America, we don't have much luck smashing the lock - but this is where our other character, the super stretchy Mr. Fantastic comes in. Thanks to a handy grate in the wall, the human ball of rubber can squeeze himself through to the other side, where he can then transform himself into a giant pair of bolt cutters and lop off the lock to let Captain America through. Or he can change into a giant, blue, Fantastic Four teapot, depending on his mood. With full support for drop-in, drop-out co-op, as with every LEGO game, the entire game's been designed from the ground up for co-op play, letting two siblings (or any other combination of people) play through together. While on the 360/PS3/PS3/Xbox One, the game plays in split-screen when more than two people are playing, on the Wii U, one player will be able to use the GamePad, while the other uses the TV, in a rather nice touch for those who're planning to pick it up on the Nintendo console.
Of course, it wouldn't be much of a super hero squad with just Mr. Fantastic and Captain America – which is why the Lego team are promising almost 150 different characters, both heroes and villains. Of course there's the mega popular playboy philanthropist Iron Man, complete with rockets and flying skills, as well as Spiderman, who's capable of swinging across the room from his webs – but there's plenty of more obscure characters for Marvel aficionados too, each of which has their own special ability. Along side fan favourite Deadpool, there's Squirrel Girl who can call in an army of squirrels to attack enemies, Ice Man, who skates across the screen rather than runs, whilst Rocket Raccoon does exactly what he says on the tin, running around with a giant grin plastered across his cute raccoon face with a rocket launcher tucked under his furry little arm. Then there's the Green Goblin, complete with glider and pumpkin bombs, as well as the villainous Magneto, hovering inside a massive electric ball – Fantastic Four side-kick robot H.E.R.B.I.E and the suit-wearing Howard the Duck are also thrown in for good measure. And of course, it's impossible to have a Marvel story without an appearance from comic legend Stan Lee, who's seemingly cherry-picked the best of the super powers for himself – he's borrowed Spiderman's web swings, stolen the Human Torch's flame attack, nicked Wolverine's indestructible adamantium skeleton and taken the Hulk's transformation as his own, complete with tie and glasses.
Lego Marvel Super Heroes soars onto pretty much every platform imaginable on the 15th November this year – we can't wait. As always, the co-op will be restricted to the home console versions on the Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii and Wii U, while the DS, 3DS and Vita versions will be strictly single-player only.