Digital bricklayer Traveller's Tales' move into the toys-to-life genre with Lego Dimensions was a great leap forward for the decade-old franchise, mashing up multiple fictional properties like a kid with a bucket of Lego bricks on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Fair or not, this can't help but make their return to their movie adaptation wheelhouse with Lego Marvel's Avengers feel regressive.
This is especially true because the studio's previous excursions into superhero licenses — highlighted by the second Lego Batman (a Justice League sandbox in all but name) and the exceptional comics-based Lego Marvel Super Heroes — had innovated by telling original stories.
Lego Marvel's Avengers, on the other hand, goes back to the fan service formula of lightly mocking movies by using the Marvel Cinematic Universe as its source material. Specifically, they take on both Joss Whedon's Avengers flicks as well as bits of Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World and both Captain America films. PS4 users also got early access to a downloadable Ant-Man level and a Captain America: Civil War character pack.
While it's fun to play through slapstick and sight gag-filled recreations of these movie moments, they just don't yet have the nostalgia factor that fuelled Lego Star Wars or Lego Indiana Jones. Instead, you just know the story beats, even if they're structured with flashbacks and flash forwards, and remember the ripped-from-the-film dialogue. (There was some new dialogue recorded by Hayley "Agent Carter" Atwell, and S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Clark Gregg and Cobie Smulders, but not by the big stars.)
The more impactful moments come when the game goes off-script, like when it breaks from linear storytelling to turn locales like New York, as well as smaller areas like Asgard, Sokovia, Barton Farm, Washington D.C. and S.H.I.E.L.D. base, into open-world hubs with side missions. It also includes non-movie stars like Muslim teen Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl, Jane Foster's Thor and upcoming Netflix street-level heroes Luke Cage and Iron Fist among the over 200 (!) playable characters.
As ever, the game is built for co-op, so either you play solo and switch between a pair of heroes or you play with a friend. The latter option is great, especially if playing with a kid, but the split-screen isn't ideal, so it might be best to consider the Wii U version, as it gives one player the TV screen and the other the gamepad controller screen to work like online multiplayer despite being on the same couch.
For fans of Marvel's Cinematic Universe and Lego gaming — and I am both — Marvel's Avengers is enjoyable even if it feels overfamiliar. Still, it will be remembered more as a lark, like Age of Ultron, than a landmark like the first Avengers film. (TT Games/Warner Bros. Interactive)