Iron Man flies by a Lego Statue of Liberty in an open-world New York Image Credit: LEGO/Marvel

A cinema and comic book superhero universe wrapped in a layer of Lego’s visual aesthetic and humour, Lego Marvel Avengers (LMA) has more nods and winks for superhero fans than Hawkeye has arrows. He has a lot of arrows. #GNTECH got some first-hand play time of a demo build of LMA at an exclusive preview event, playing on a PS4 as well as handheld devices, the PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS. The game will be available globally on January 26 across platforms.

Lego LOLs

LMA pokes fun at the sharpshooting archer’s seemingly limitless arrow supply when he shows up at the Battle of New York carting a wheelbarrow full of ammo. Remember that battle? It’s the epic conclusion to the first Avengers film, where Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Thor fight off waves of aliens pouring through a portal in the sky. Players relive the city-levelling chaotic team-up combat on the ground and in the air. Other familiar sections are from Avengers 2: Age of Ultron (Hulkbuster vs Hulk in Johannesburg), Iron Man 3 and the Winter Soldier (a side mission called Buck in Time, where you help Buck get back his memory). Cut scenes from the movies are Lego animated and voices used are lifted straight out of the movies - but any tension is defused by the random insertion of props, costumes and other objects. When Iron Man confronts Loki at Stark Tower just before it all kicks off in New York, the Asgardian holds his own in a stare down with Tony Stark, while flipping burgers on a grill. Wearing a chef’s hat.

Same way to play

The core gameplay mechanic has remained consistent with previous Lego superhero titles going back to Lego Batman, which #GNTECH first played back in 2008. Beat up the bad guys, break objects in pieces to build tools and vehicles required to progress and laugh at the cut scenes. The PS4 demo we played re-enacted the opening of Age of Ultron, where the Avengers are mounting an assault on Baron von Strucker’s Hydra outpost in Sokovia. The cut scenes implement the same camera angles as in the movies, and yes, this includes the shot where all six heroes are leaping forward in slow motion. Game play sees the Avengers in pairs: Hawkeye with Black Widow, Iron Man with Hulk, and Captain America with Thor. Various combos can be executed between different tag teams; Thor smashing Captain America’s shield with his hammer and the Hulk throwing a laser-firing Iron Man up in the air being just two examples of moves that knock out surrounding enemies.

That's just from the main story mode. Side missions are driven by comic book story arcs, not all of them mainstream Hollywood superheroes. If you go with Agent Carter – Captain America’s love interest from the 1940s – you can do a cool side mission that’s actually set in the New York of her time. Everything is sepia tinted as Lego-ised pedestrians walk down the street wearing big moustaches and suits as Ford Pilot-like cars pass by, helping to immerse the player in that decade.

More than 100 characters are available or unlockable in the game.

Missions around the world

In space, you look down at a globe that lets you play missions from various epic locales such as Solvakia. Among the open worlds is New York, complete with Central Park, a Lego-ised Statue of Liberty. You can select from a hundred characters and variants, not all of them part of the Avengers universe. Ever heard of Moon Boy? This obscure Alaskan superhero is said to be an ancestor of Wolverine and first appeared in Devil Dinosaur number one in 1978.

Colourful characters

Pick Iron Man and you get to select from his ever-expanding wardrobe of suits. From the MK 1 (escaping the Afghan desert in part one) to the Superior suit (which picks him up near the end of the third film). You can choose from these in a Jarvis interface, a Lego version of Stark’s face in the helmet.

In tribute to Marvel’s most famous (real-life) face, you can even play as Stan Lee. The legendary mind behind everything good at the studio, Lee has his own selection of Iron Man-like suits – Iron Stan – and even a Stanbuster one. Put the controller down for a moment and you’ll see Lee pop out of the suit to rapidly key into a typewriter. 

Much of the inspiration for particular characters – particularly the obscure ones – came from fan posts and comments on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as well as below the line on news stories online. It was Marvel fans who demanded the “liquid-metal” Iron Man suit, while characters such as Jessica Jones and Luke Cage were included because they’ve been making a buzz recently, thanks to the Netflix show.

However, unlike the dark Krysten Ritter-starring mystery drama, everything in LMA is child-appropriate. “While we try to stay true to the authenticity of every character, we also have to keep our audience in mind,” explains Phillip Ring, Executive Producer of LMA at TT Fusion. The game is rated PEGI 7.

New York in your hands

It’s not all about the console; the handheld versions of the game still pack a punch.

Bounding across Central Park in giant leaps with the Hulk, landing atop a 20-storey building – I could do the same things on the Vita as on the PS4, although naturally not with the same sharpness of motion and colour. And due to the difference in processing power between the devices, the 3DS has slightly less traffic on the roads and pedestrians on the street than the Vita edition. But you get a system that does justice to open worlds more than most.

LMA promises to be a feast for fans of anything Marvel – on the big screen or in print.