Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 – Searching For a Heroine
Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 — a title hereby to be referred to as LM2, for the sake of my typing fingers — is enormous. A vast and complicated world filled with missions to complete, objects to collect, and details to relish. Its story notwithstanding, the characters are all given a reason to perform and their presence is always vindicated as a means of providing a massive amount of gameplay and visual variety.
But perhaps what’s most commendable is the sheer scope of the linear narrative presented. TT have taken one of the most complex properties, itself a vast collection of multifarious universes and characters, and created a single cohesive experience within its contexts, both intricately designed and comprehensible despite. Heroes and villains, both recognizable and more obscure, take center stage across numerous levels, each displaying an equal amount of variety in both setting and gameplay.
Even the overarching story guiding the player through is accessibly archived. A generic underlying plot, featuring Kang the Conqueror in a quest for world domination, allows for a plethora of ridiculous fiction-bending instances, often forging creativity out of decades-old fictional history — a striking thematic parallel to the core concept of Lego properties. Youth players can understand what is happening, and how to progress, all while older audiences can appreciate the wonderful homage to characters and scenarios of the past.
It allows for the writers a chance to play around with the numerous personas at their disposal in order to give them credence within the contexts of the modern era. Perhaps the most significant resonating plot point is an intriguing statement at the finale of the main story, regarding self-empowerment and how it very much relates to Feminism as a moral whole.
Kang’s second-in-command, Ravonna, who is displayed throughout as a sort of spousal figure, often serves as a means of displaying Kang’s oppressive ego necessitating vindication. She awkwardly searches for words of grandeur to describe him during their conversations: “Your might is unsurpassable, my Kang.” She is immediately positioned as a subordinate pet for Kang, someone he rarely acknowledges except when she exhibits praise.
It’s meant to be comedic; his ego is not something to look up to and admire, but a further aspect of his derisive personality. A funny example is later in the main story, where Ravonna is struggling to come up with new terms to fancifully describe her master. It establishes her subordinance and elicits a sense of longing to escape his grasp, which is important to facilitate the audience’s contempt towards Kang, all while empathizing with her.
The climactic conclusion finds Ravonna heroically betraying her master, stealing away the powerful time crystal which would otherwise allow him to undo the heroes victory. Kang attempts to calmly persuade her, convince her of his love, but her impressive and surprising arc has enlightened Ravonna to the point of acknowledging his manipulative mindset. “It was seeing these good people nobly fight on, that gave me strength. Strength to stand up to my own oppressor, my captor.”
My jaw dropped during this moment, and not only because of how surprisingly progressive this Lego Marvel story suddenly became at the apex of the conclusion. Whereas this twist immediately reconfigures the entire experience into a vestibule of self-empowerment promotion especially for women; the rest of the game feels out of sync in regards to a gameplay perspective.
Early stages, I found myself disappointed by the lack of significance given the female superhero characters. It’s nice to see Ms. Marvel given such a prominent role, as well as Wasp who acts as the tutorial guide. Gwenpool replaces Deadpool as the quirky side character providing advanced side missions. All of this is commendable and displays an eagerness by the writers to be an inspiration to young women, bridging the gap between social associations which divide ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ games (and toys).
The problem is that the actual heroism is left mostly to the guys. Cutscenes and dialogue may build up the illusion of the heroines’ significance; however, men are the main characters throughout the levels, with women serving more as side characters to play as, if one wishes. Right off the bat, the first level, “No Eson of Mine” puts players in the roles of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Each member is given a particular scenario in which their special ability is required to progress — all except Gamorra.
I eagerly anticipated her role in the episode, just as I did with the other members; so to say I was disappointed by level’s end is to put it lightly. This is a game where the power of the heroine is advertised as emphatically as that of the hero, yet the gameplay itself does little to illustrate this as much as the scripted sequences.
Of course one can switch between these female characters at any moment; but this is optional circumstance, given the opportunity, as opposed to the crucial roles the male heroes play. It’s a pleasure when women are included in a level, whereas men are always going to be involved. Perhaps the most ignorantly appalling moment occurs just before the aforementioned scene, in the final showdown between Kang and the Avengers: Captain America grows to the size of a skyscraper to battle a similarly colossal Kang, while Captain Marvel (the only other playable character at the moment) is left to watch from below.
The disappointment stems from the fact that I was playing as Captain Marvel when the scenario opened up. I jumped into the machine as the game directed me to do so, and she was rejected in favor of the other Captain. “Looks like Kang’s picking a fight with me personally,” Captain America explains.
From the perspective of providing a climactic cinematic experience, it’s understandable why the icon of American bravado and bravery would be the choice to eliminate this immense threat to the entire world. But for how progressive TT aim to be with their display of female empowerment (especially in the very next scene featuring an enlightened Ravonna), not allowing the choice to blow up Captain Marvel feels sickly unmotivated.
Again, there are only two playable characters during this sequence; the choice between a colossal Captain America or Marvel would come down to the player. This doesn’t seem too arduous a design to implement within this epic finale; so it’s an immense shame that TT seem to so overtly overlook this idea, a claim made evident by the fact that they explicitly tell the player that Captain Marvel is not able to use the machine.
LM2 comes so close to cohesively arguing the importance of female empowerment, but is held back by a lack of focus in doing so. Which one could argue is understandable, since the universe is so vast and the more iconic, well-known characters are mostly men. Paying lip-service to audience’s favorites is a large part of the experience presented here, and no one can deny the bliss of easily jumping between Thor to Iron Man to Hulk by the press of a button.
But I was certainly more impressed by getting to play as Ms. Marvel than any other hero — with her abilities ranging from changing shape, hacking terminals, breaking down barriers, pulling down obstructions, and more; and I feel that the writers did not expect that from most players. Which is a shame, especially given how varied her abilities are. But the difference between playing as Thor and Jane Foster ends at mere face value, with one of them prominently appearing throughout many story missions, and the other barely mentioned. I’ll leave you to figure out which I am describing.
Even Gwenpool is given far less prominence as Deadpool in the previous series installment. When it comes down to it, TT have obviously instilled a reformative look at the Marvel franchise, highlighting the female characters as much as the male to facilitate a sense of equality throughout the ranks of the Avengers. In execution, however, this concept is flawed, with some proponents seeming to be completely disregarded or overlooked, a fact made all the more confounding by that final jaw-dropping scene in which Ravonna takes back control of her Life through the self-empowering inspiration of teamwork. An inspiration which the game certainly aspires to be, but too often forgets to directly include the player in that ambition.