LEGO DC Super-Villains Review
By the instruction book
Well, we’re here to talk about the fourth entry in a subseries of an annualized franchise. This isn't about Black Ops 4 though, but rather the more family-friendly LEGO DC series. This is the second licensed LEGO game we’ve gotten this year, with LEGO The Incredibles having been released a mere four months ago. Such a blistering release cadence isn’t anything new for Traveller's Tales and their licensed LEGO games, which typically see at least two releases every year. It’s been 12 years since the release of the original LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game which codified the licensed LEGO game formula that’s still used to this day.
LEGO DC Super-Villains is the 24th LEGO game since the licensing agreement began. The kid-friendly franchise prides itself on its enormous character rosters, currency collect-a-thons, and simplistic synthesis of platforming and puzzle solving through linear levels. Over time, the developers have found minor ways to spice up that original formula by introducing spoken dialogue, transitioning from hub areas to open worlds, and integrating a new mini-game or two. LEGO DC Super-Villains, however, is just another licensed release that doesn’t push the franchise forward in any meaningful way, and it’s starting to feel stale as a result.
The gameplay in LEGO DC Super-Villains works well enough, but it’s beginning to show its age. There are two basic types of activities to partake in: open world exploration and linear level completion. The linear levels are the same as they have always has been, and get old far too quickly. I found myself hesitating to begin each successive story mission because I knew exactly what I’d be doing before it even started. You spend your time button-mashing enemies, solving simple puzzles, and destroying everything in sight. It’s simple and effective, but it’s the same thing over and over again. It doesn’t help that the pacing during these portions is incredibly inconsistent. Levels love to gate your progress by requiring you to collect a set of objects or by making you face a repetitive boss before the way forward opens. You often end up spending way more time in an area than you wanted to. Sometimes entire levels feel like a straight-up slog.
It doesn’t help that each level, just like most licensed LEGO games before it, requires you to collect an arbitrary amount of “studs,” the game’s currency, to add a gold brick to your collection. These gold bricks are the game’s main collectibles, and getting the requisite amount of studs in each level is required if you want to collect them all. As such, you have to smash nearly everything in the environment in a desperate attempt to collect the studs that pop out and inch your way toward that arbitrary goal. It can be incredibly mind-numbing since it takes what should be a half an hour romp through a level and stretches it into an hours-long endeavor.
The open world parts of LEGO DC Super-Villains are far more enjoyable and do not suffer from the same pacing blunders the story levels do. The mechanics here would make a great beginner’s introduction to contemporary open world game design. You get to roam a few different areas at your leisure while interacting with terminals that reveal side activities on the map. The little open world puzzles and races aren’t going to impress those who are used to the triple-A open worlds, but the variety and brevity of the activities keeps things from feeling boring or monotonous.
The driving mechanics are surprisingly tight, and they keep your commutes entertaining. There is less verticality in this game world, so you’ll spend most of your time driving a vehicle to your destinations. Slamming on the brakes while turning causes the vehicle to satisfyingly fishtail around corners. This is not at all a driving game, but the driving mechanics are so well-polished that it almost feels like one. It’s a shame that you barely get to utilize those driving skills in the repetitive story levels.
While LEGO DC Super-Villains may be more of the same, it’s still superbly well-polished. The visuals are sharp, the animations are amusingly emotive, and each area displays a meticulous attention to detail. All that quality is easy to overlook, as it has become the standard for licensed LEGO games, but that polish is what allows Traveller’s Tales to get away with gameplay mechanics that haven’t really evolved in over a decade. However, playing with a friend at your side can be great fun as you both mindlessly bash away through whatever stands in your way and point out various little references and nods.
There is still that distinguished licensed LEGO game charm laced throughout, which remains a joy to experience. Walking up to a pile of bouncing LEGO bricks and seeing what crazy thing they might assemble into is still often met with feelings of blissful whimsy. Cutscenes are filled with pantomimed jokes that are a lot of fun to watch. While much of LEGO DC Super-Villains quickly wears out its welcome, the trademark charm makes for wholesome entertainment.
Character customization takes a front seat in the title as the character you create in the opening moments is a major component of the story, but it doesn’t add much to the overall experience. The vast amount of customization options you have is admittedly awesome. There are hundreds of cosmetic options to choose from and there is ample room to create a character you identify with or feel attached to. You also get to customize the abilities you gain throughout the story. Want a neon pink fire beam that you summon from your eyes? This game lets you do just that and so much more. Despite the many options at your disposal, the custom character doesn’t quite fit in with the more detailed and voice acted cast of villains you’ll be seeing in each story cutscene. Your character almost feels like a waste of screen real estate during these story portions that could have been filled with more interesting heroes that actually have a personality.
The story in DC Super-Villains isn’t very strong, but the character interactions are an absolute joy to witness. The story follows an enormous cast of villains as they wreak havoc throughout Gotham and Metropolis. It is extremely formulaic and doesn’t have anything new or interesting to offer, but it feels inexplicably authentic to the DC universe. The voice acting is all first-rate and makes each character feel instantly recognizable and identifiable even when it’s just some obscure villain you’ve never heard of. The way that all the characters play off each other is delightful. The dialogue and interactions here are better than some of the best DC movies, which is bound to be a treat for any DC fan.
LEGO DC Super-Villains does nothing to make itself stand out as anything other than another licensed LEGO game. The impeccable level of polish and amusing character interactions are great, but they have been in nearly every other LEGO game including the three other LEGO DC titles. The story levels are the same as they always have been, and they get old fast. There is still some value to be had in Super-Villains as a fun way to spend an evening playing couch co-op with a friend or family member, but the same can be said for any number of games including every previous LEGO title. You know what you’re going to get, and there’s little reason to buy into this, the first villain-centric LEGO game, unless you’re a huge DC fan or haven’t gotten sick of the LEGO formula by now. Traveller’s Tales is going to have to go back to the drawing board to try and fight off the stagnation that’s beginning to seep into its licensed LEGO entries.