Where other people get hyped for the latest Battlefield, Call of Duty or FIFA instalment each year, we do things a little differently here at Everybody Plays. For us, we don't usually find ourselves getting excited about Panzerschrecking Nazis, or testing out the latest in "movie studio-style advanced shadowing and occlusion techniques to benefit character rendering and overall pitch presentation". Snore. What really gets us going though, is cutesy, blocky renditions of our favourite film characters, and a silly, slapstick storyline from the masters at Traveller's Tales - yes, our most hyped game of 2017 was LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 - a sequel to one of our favourite LEGO games of all time.
As is always the way with these things, the game begins with time and space as we know it in trouble in Marvel-land, as a nefarious time-travelling bad guy by the name of Kang the Conquerer, who sounds uncannily like LEGO City Undercover's Forest Blackwell, is rounding up all his favourite places and eras and merging them into his ultimate destination, Chronopolis. Taking in everything from the Avengers' Manhattan, to medieval England and Asgard to name but a few, many a famous (and not so famous) Marvel face find themselves displaced under Kang's dictatorship, and decide to fight back. By rounding up the shattered shards of something called the 'Nexus', they can restore order to the galaxy, putting an end to Kang's conquering fun and freeing the citizens that have been trapped in his bizarre citadel. With everyone from The Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers and Spiderman to the more obscure spanner-headed dog Lockjaw, Wasp and Black Panther getting in on the action, there's something for everyone, whether you're just a passing Marvel fan or a die-hard comic book nut.
In terms of structure, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 very much sticks to the tried and tested LEGO formula, with 20 levels (plus ten pretty substantial bonus levels) packed full of light platforming and puzzles, along with plenty of bad guy bashing, a smattering of slapstick humour, and full support for drop-in, drop-out co-op. While there is a central, open world hub packed with quests to complete, the individual levels themselves here are proper, self-contained LEGO levels, with minikit pieces to collect, stud bars to fill, and a Stan Lee in Peril to find - unlike the more open levels we found in LEGO Ninjago (for more on that, check out our full review).
With a story that mostly involves travelling to various Marvel destinations in search of Nexus shards, the good guys end up dividing themselves into teams of three or four to cover Chronopolis quicker, giving you the option of which team you fancy going with first. Over the course of the game, you'll find yourself battling bad guys on the roof of a runaway train with Star Lord, fighting your way through futuristic Xandar as a winning combo of Rocket Racoon and Groot, and battling your way through the wild west as a rootin' tootin' version of Captain America to name but a few. As is traditional, different characters have their own special abilities, and you'll need to make use of everyone's special powers to get through each level, perhaps using the sheer strength of Drax to shift fallen debris, blasting through shiny metal barriers with Rocket Racoon's rockets, or using Star Lord's built-in jet pack to reach high up areas. We promise not everything in this review revolves around The Guardians of the Galaxy too - it's just a coincidence!
However, we can't help thinking that LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 possibly takes the obscure Marvel references a bit too far. Sure, the original LEGO Marvel Super Heroes had a fair few cameos, but the story largely centred on the Avengers, with the odd special appearance from the X-Men and Spiderman thrown in for good measure - and almost every character got their own intro and personality. By contrast, the sequel throws in Ravonna Renslayer, Eson the Searcher, and The Presence as fairly major characters from the off, with little to no explanation as to who any of them are in the story, or what they're doing, leaving us scratching our heads. To make things more confusing, the game also often refers to characters by their "real" names rather than their hero names, with Giant-Man routinely being referred to as 'Hank' in dialogue, leaving us with no idea they were one and the same until about half way through the story mode.
We're a long way off being classed as a hardcore Marvel fan - and indeed, Marvel aficionados will likely appreciate the little nods and references way more than we do - but we are a die-hard LEGO game fan, and this is the first one we've struggled to get into. Having all and sundry turn up makes for a bit of a confusing story mode too, as you have no idea of the significance of Man-Thing joining up with Kang, and why She-Hulk seems so bothered, let alone who the likes of Attuma, or Kraven the Hunter are - there's too many faces to keep track of, and too much presumption you're the biggest Marvel fan in the world, meaning you're never entirely sure of who's on what side.
That's not to say we can't appreciate some new faces, though. We were especially fond of Squirrel Girl in the original Marvel Super Heroes, and while she's sadly lost her giant mech transformation, she has brought along some friends for the sequel, in the form of Chipmunk Hunk and Koi Boi. Both crop up in a rather entertaining little quest involving a MODOK cosplayer, interviewing goons to figure out a password and a gatecrashed charity fundraiser. Gwenpool is also great fun, with her over-enthusiastic voice acting and tendency to leap into various cut scenes and story segments for added hilarity. Even some more familiar faces get some fun new quests - one of the first ones we did involved helping a director set up for the premier of Hulk: The Musical, which was as… unusual as it sounds (although perhaps a bit disappointing that it had no lyrics).
Given that Kang the Conquerer has been going round recruiting every bad guy going, most levels end with (or are even entirely) a boss fight - because, of course, what better way is there to track down Nexus parts than with a good pummelling? In between the usual LEGO traditions of building random stuff out of piles of LEGO to take out said bad guy, the 'boss' characters in LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 seem to have developed a bit of an annoying habit - being temporarily invincible. While, to some extent, invincibility in bosses is a long standing tradition, usually acting as a prompt for when you need to construct something to bop them on the head, or need to try a different tack of attack, it does feel like it's a little overused here. The issue is more that bosses now seem to do it when there isn't anything obvious you need to do next - one annoying one alternated between being invisible and being invincible, with nothing to tell you you actually had to attack all his minions AT ONCE, using one character's ranged attack, to get him into an attack-able state. The odd one or two cheap bosses we could forgive, but in LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 it seems to be almost every boss, and it's more than a little annoying.
There's also a handful of technical issues along the way, mostly once Chronopolis opens up into one big world, rather than separate districts for Western Town, Manhattan Noir and the like. Marked slowdown makes running around town a bit juddery, with some areas stuttering more than others, especially in co-op. And, speaking of co-op, the latest LEGO game bugbear raises its head once more - a distinct lack of an on-screen indicator showing whereabouts your co-op companion is in relation to you, which makes finding your friend a bit of a trial and error affair. For some reason, you also don't appear to be able to set waypoints to any of the myriad quests, collectibles, or objectives in the game's main hub until you've finished the entire story, either - something which really gets in the way if you fancy a break from the levels, or a collectible hunt in the town. We should also note we've had a couple of game crashes, and one strange error where the character creator just showed a load of blank pages - although going back out and in again did rectify it. In fact, said character creator is one of the more impressive bits of kit in LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2, letting you set a myriad of both active and passive abilities and attacks to your custom super hero, alongside the usual build your own character pieces.
We're a little conflicted about LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 - what we were expecting to be the ultimate in LEGO-y fun this Christmas has actually turned out to be not as good as the tie-in LEGO Ninjago: The Video Game, which was the game we were expecting to be the less impressive of the two. That's not to say LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 is bad either - far from it, in fact. Running around town as Groot is as much of a blast as we'd hoped, and finding some new favourite LEGO-ised Marvel characters is great too (#TeamChipmunkHunk!), while some of the technical upgrades are real life savers (if you stand by an object that requires a special ability, opening the character select screen will automatically select the character you need). Marvel fans especially will appreciate all the little nods and references to obscure comic books and characters here, and while it does make the story a little harder to follow for non-fans, the light-hearted nature of LEGO games means it doesn't matter too much, and there's still a lot of fun to be had here regardless.