With his slick armor, explosive weapons, and cocky attitude, Iron Man tends to get all the attention when he’s fighting alongside his superpowered friends (like in The Avengers). That’s why I wasn’t surprised when, even in just Lego brick form, the billionaire playboy still managed to hog the spotlight in the latest Marvel game.
Scheduled for a fall release on almost every current system — Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii U, PC, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo 3DS, and even the DS — Lego Marvel Super Heroes brings together Iron Man, Deadpool, Black Widow, and over 100 other Marvel characters in a huge adventure designed by developer TT Games. You’ll use the superheroes’ different abilities to try to stop Loki and the rest of his villainous cohorts from collecting the mysterious Cosmic Bricks.
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TT Games showed a 20-minute demo (one I couldn’t play) of Lego Marvel Super Heroes during last week’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco (a meeting that was literally next door to the new DC Comics game I also saw that day). Producer Phillip Ring played as Iron Man, the Hulk, and Spider-Man as they ventured into the Lego Marvel version of Grand Central Station in New York City.
Seeing the Hulk smash things into dozens of Lego pieces and a blocky Iron Man flying through the air as he obliterates enemies with his energy blasts invoked the kind of charm and childish delight that’s only possible with the Lego games. It seemed like an ideal digital playground for players to pit their favorite superheroes and supervillains against each other.
One point Ring kept stressing during the demo was the importance placed on representing the legendary rivalries in the Marvel universe, both to satiate comic book fans and simply to serve as “cool boss encounters” for those unaware of the characters’ history. The first example was the Hulk versus Abomination, who are both larger than the traditional Lego “minifig” size. That difference was clearly apparent in the way they fought each other: They lifted cars and traded powerful punches in a button-mashing minigame that left the Hulk victorious.
Lurking inside Grand Central was Sandman, whose ability to shape sand into anything he wishes turned the train station into his own Manhattan desert, preventing the player from reaching him at the end of the building. Tall sand walls and dozens of Sandman’s minions littered the screen as Ring switched between Iron Man and the Hulk to fight them off. This is where it looked like Iron Man had the advantage — he can fly around thanks to his armor’s jets, avoiding enemies on the ground while blasting them with his signature unibeam.
However, even though Iron Man can fly, he can’t just skip straight to Sandman; you have to bring your whole gang of heroes with you. And that requires a bit of teamwork. Ring had to build a water cannon, but neither Iron Man or the Hulk can use it. So he transformed the Hulk into his scientist alter-ego, Bruce Banner — his huge green limbs amusingly pop like a bubble back into their human form — so he could shoot the cannon. Once the wall solidified with the mixture of sand and water, he turned back to the Hulk again so he could smash through it.
Ring then skipped a few scenes later to bring us outside of the station as Spider-Man joined the fray. The wall-crawler can swing through levels by using his web shooters and can also use his spider-sense in certain areas (shown with shiny red and blue particles onscreen) to find and activate items. By this point, Sandman had become a building-sized version of himself with an impressive amount of Lego blocks swirling up and down his body.
Ring had to leverage the different abilities of Spider-Man and the Hulk (with Iron Man still flying around) to finally defeat him. He used Spider-Man to create a web rope so that Bruce Banner could climb to the top of a platform, smash something there as the Hulk, and turn back into Banner to use another water cannon. Sandman crumbled after he shot him with two more cannons scattered in the level.
The mission ended with a cutscene of S.H.I.E.L.D’s Nick Fury (voiced by a Samuel L. Jackson soundalike) and Agent Coulson (bizarrely marrying the Marvel films with the universe of the comics) talking to the heroes about the Cosmic Bricks. They cracked funny one-liners that stayed true to each of their personalities, like Spider-Man complaining about having too much homework to do or Iron Man asking Fury if the next mission will cut into his “jacuzzi time.”
Ring concluded the presentation by saying that you’ll visit more than just New York (including an open-world portion of Manhattan), such as Thor’s otherworldly home and locations familiar to X-Men fans. Each area features a different mix of characters — the one following Sandman’s has Wolverine and Captain America teaming up — because TT Games wanted to cover as many Marvel characters as it could in the storyline.
“We wanted to make sure that … every time we bring someone in, it feels like they’re adding something to the gameplay,” said Ring. “Something to the experience that you didn’t have previously.”