For the longest time, TT Games has been developing video games based on the Lego license. Early on, Star Wars dominated the franchise, but more recently, original titles like Lego City Undercover and new licenses from DC Comics have been the main attractions. Now TT has turned its eyes towards Marvel Comics, the home of heroes like Iron Man, Captain America and Spider-Man. While the formula remains almost entirely intact from the very first Lego title, Lego Marvel Super Heroes is the culmination of years of hard work and fine tuning, and is the best Lego game to date.

Lego Marvel Super Heroes is an amalgamation of Marvel's movie and comic book universes. The story is wholly original however, and casts a wide net when recruiting heroes and villains for its narrative. Initially, things kick off when Iron Man and the Hulk are called in to investigate a disturbance at Grand Central Station. There, we discover villains like Sandman and the Abomination are causing a ruckus trying to find a Cosmic Cube. It appears these mysterious black bricks have appeared all over the world, and the villains have united to find them to unlock the ultimate power. With Dr. Doom seemingly at the center of all the madness, it isn't long until the Fantastic Four are called into action, with more Avengers like Hawkeye and Black Widow, and X-Men like Storm and Cyclops, joining the fray when needed.

TT does a great job incorporating all the various well-known and lesser-known Marvel characters into one single place, providing a narrative that's both fun and friendly for fans of all types. Obviously, die-hard Marvel zombies will get the most out of appearances from the likes of Howard the Duck and the Acolytes, but even casual adorers of the film franchises will find plenty to like when getting to play as Lego versions of their favorite blockbuster heroes. Like Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes before it, there's a non-stop parade of cameos from not only characters like Venom and Stan Lee, but locations like the Avengers and X-mansions as well. Though Lego Marvel's overworld is a Lego-fied Manhattan, the story will have you bouncing around the globe to locales like Latveria, or other worlds like Asgard. Each is brought to life with stunning clarity, and the combination of real world environments with Lego bricks offers TT an opportunity to really put a unique spin on the Marvel Universe.

While there are plenty of new characters and places to visit, there aren't that many changes to the core mechanics. Those of you familiar with the Lego video game series should now be used to wandering around an area, beating up some enemies, putting some special items together from piles of bricks and progressing through to the next area. Where Lego Marvel is different is in the sheer amount of abilities each different character has at his or her disposal. Heroes like Iron Man and Storm can fly, while still dealing out damage with regular attacks. Of course, they also have special charged attacks to deal more damage to bigger enemies, or open previously blocked areas. Mr. Fantastic can bend into new shapes. Spider-Man can use his spider-sense to find hidden objects. The Human Torch can melt down gold doors with his fire. Each character has at least three or four special abilities, and TT does a nice job making sure you use everyone to the best of their ability to progress through the game.

Of course, this tactic does shine a light on the lack of variety. While there are hundreds of characters to unlock and play as, there are really only a handful of different abilities needed or used when traversing the game's worlds. One mission may have you playing as Jean Grey, who can use her telekinetic abilities to move objects in the world, but the Invisible Woman's got the same tactic tied to her power set. Likewise, many of the clawed characters like Beast and Wolverine play similarly, as do people like Nick Fury and Black Widow. After a few hours, it becomes obvious every world could technically be completed with the same characters over and over again, and the various characters are just skins for those abilities. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as familiarity with puzzle solving elements is important for progression. However, it does get somewhat repetitive and boring to see the same platforming elements used ad nauseum, just under the guise of being different based on the characters provided at that moment in the story.

There are some extra elements added in the open-world area of Manhattan. You can freely explore the world whenever you want between story missions. Throughout New York, you'll find side quests like races and short escort missions to take part in during downtime. You can swap characters anytime in the open world area, and you can even explore places like the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier if you want. As good as the main game is, the open-world experience is disappointing. Sure, there's plenty to look at and do, but none of it is very interesting. The open-world is also a lot glitchier, with NPCs frequently getting stuck in the world, or not responding to you when prompted on quests. It can be cool to drive or fly around, taking in the Lego versions of places like the Baxter Building or Marvel's offices, but the real crux of Lego Marvel lies in its story, not in the optional areas.

Even if the Manhattan segments aren't quite up to the standards of the closed areas, Lego Marvel's presentation is still rather impressive. No Lego game has quite looked this good, and the character animations are above and beyond anything we've seen from the long-running franchise in the past. Rather than just leaving melee as bland, simple combos, characters all have unique animations for special moves (which require no extra effort on the player's part). Cap twirls his shield, mesmerizing foes before finishing them with a big punch. Cyclops blasts optic rays at enemies feet, making them to a two-step before finishing them off. The Hulk does his best Bamm-Bamm impersonation, using enemies as the club. Getting to see all the heroes pull off these attacks is well worth the price of admission.

TT Games has had a lot of time to get good at making Lego video games. The developer's talents really shine through in Lego Marvel Super Heroes. Though it took a long time for Marvel to get in on the action, the wait was well worth it. It's not without its flaws, but Lego Marvel really does set a new bar for Lego game excellence.

This review was completed using a purchased retail copy of Lego Marvel Super Heroes for the Xbox 360.


8.5 out of 10 arcade sushi rating