Traveler’s Tales (now TT Games) hit upon an excellent formula with the original Lego Star Wars, which they’ve only refined since. If games like Lego Marvel, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones existed when I was a kid, I would’ve gone nuts for them. These games even made an appearance on mobile, mostly intact. But Lego Marvel Super Heroes: Universe in Peril has been made from the ground up for mobile platforms.
This new game still retains many of the trappings of the console series: fully-voiced animated cutscenes starring Marvel superheroes on usually comedic adventures and levels packed with secrets and side objectives that can only be completed by replaying with different characters.
Levels are shorter than in previous games, and their focus is more on combat than exploration. For example, each level used to have ten hidden Minikit pieces. Now, there is only one per level, with nine other bonus objectives, generally focused on collecting “studs” (in-game currency) or beating the level with certain combat restrictions. Like the other games, you can switch between playable characters, this time limited to one story-specific character and one “tag team” partner of your choosing.
You play from an isometric perspective, closer to that of a brawler game than a Lego game. With the default controls, you drag your finger around your character to move and tap enemies and objects to hit them. Personally, I found the alternate control scheme (virtual joystick and buttons) to work a little better, since the joystick is more responsive and the buttons let you choose between ranged and melee attacks, rather than auto-attacking.
Combat is pretty simple and mashy, but many levels are surprisingly difficult supervillain boss battles. The dodge move (swiping across the screen) registers correctly about half the time. Luckily, switching to your tag partner will grant you full health. You can also execute special moves that use both characters, but improved damage is rarely the answer to any combat problem. The average enemies are so weak that it becomes more a question of getting close to them.
Each character also has different traversal abilities (ex. Flying, moving through air vents), but where they felt like exploratory secrets in the console games, here they just feel like simple lock-key puzzles with single button presses as solutions. Traversal options mostly just apply to the one story character, rather than offering opportunities to other characters.
In fact, the large cast of characters, another hallmark of the Lego games, is rendered mostly useless. Like in the other games, you can use studs to buy new characters, but they’re relatively expensive here. This choice seems to have been made in order to sell more characters for real money, but without any significant reason to use their special abilities, it’s hard to recommend buying them through either method.
To sum up the differences between Universe in Peril and other Lego titles, you can die in Universe in Peril. Until now, every Lego game has been perfect for kids, void of level-restarting deaths, and filled with discovery. On paper, this would’ve sounded like a great way to scale down the console experience, but in practice, Lego brawling just doesn’t hold up.
A focus on combat and micro-transactions spoils the Lego formula.