Since 2005, TT Games have used the LEGO branding to create some of the most enjoyable family-friendly games on the market. They’re in a unique position to have not only Marvel-branded games under their belt, but also DC Comics-branded games at the same time. The wide variety of single game rosters have been one of their shining points alongside having comedy-centric stories. While most games have had you play as heroes in some sense — whether they be comic-based or original creations like in LEGO City Undercover — LEGO DC Super-Villains places you in the role of not only a new rookie, but also some of DC’s biggest villains of all-time in a highly-entertaining game that will please fans of the series. The execution, however, may not be enough to sway those who haven’t enjoyed prior games.
At its core, LEGO DC Super-Villains‘ plot is about the Justice League being warped away from Earth by the Justice Syndicate and the JS seeking to take over the Justice League’s role. In doing so, the starting Big Bad in Lex Luthor seemingly makes new allies in the form of every affiliated evil-doer in the DCU. This game is chock-full of enemies, from the Joker and Harley Quinn to Mercey Graves and Clayface. The interpretations of the characters are a bit different from what has been seen before, with Clayface especially coming off as far more egotistical than most renditions while Lex Luthor is at a different level of delusional here. Humor is something DC’s current mainstream products have lacked, but this game has in spades — much to its benefit. An early gag about a cop lamenting the loss of his donut and pants leads to not only the reveal of Luthor’s henchman but said cop also losing the donut once again. It’s a little gag that works wonderfully at establishing a light-hearted tone. Later on in the adventure, Lois Lane talks to Perry White about a story pitch and constantly finds new ways to knock coffee out of Jimmy olsen’s hands.
Superman’s Pal remakes the coffee and holds it as carefully as possible only to once again be foiled, while Lois doesn’t even notice what’s doing – nor would she seem to care given that it means absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of the adventure. One of the best parts about the story is that the stakes have a chance to feel grand thanks to moments like this that give the audience a chance to breathe. It makes the stakes seem so much bigger when you see the stress affecting everyday citizens — granted ones that are comic icons, but in the world of the game, are just a pair of people who work for a newspaper.
The game’s lighthearted nature allows the story to take a wide variety of twists and turns. Instead of every single thing being played straight even when that plays against the character, comedy creeps in exactly when needed. The Earth is in danger? Well that’s a shame – so here are some jokes about Ultraman being shady and Superwoman reading scripted lines in a terrible manner to tell the public that everything will be okay and they have things under control. It’s hard to do comedy right in a video game and many superhero-based games have failed at it. Luckily, the humor here hits far more often than it misses and a few jokes had me chuckling at their delivery. This results in a game that is fun to play from beginning to end for just the story — with some problems resulting from the humor and overall storyline being the game’s best aspects.
The core gameplay is the same as it has been for the past decade — and that is either a good thing or a problem for those used to the series. At its core, the game is a mix of a beat-em-up with a wide variety of attacks, a character switching mechanic, and some light puzzle-solving. There’s nothing really wrong with the formula — but it hasn’t been changed up much here. The game’s roster is quite broad, which means that if nothing else, you can never get bored of a single pair of characters for very long. Your in-game creation has no lines, so he carries no weight and he essentially just serves as the player’s in-game avatar — a mere observer to the events instead of a truly active participant.
This approach may hurt the idea that you are truly a part of the story, but winds up resulting in the story not being encumbered by a character that has no history to play off of. One of the best things about the story is how it forces unlikely alliances due to the very Earth being at stake here and both heroes and villains knowing that there is no battle between them in the future if there is no world to battle on. The generic character you create has a wide variety of options available even at first, but gains more as the game wears on — and if you have ever wanted to create a super-villain with tennis racket skills on-par with Jim Cornette and Andre Agassi, you can.
The LEGO game formula is well and truly entrenched, and as a result, when you imagine LEGO (insert franchise here), you can get a good mental image of the game without the need to play it. The formula is largely unchanged here outside of the story and this can be a point of contention. Keeping things familiar is good for series stalwarts because it makes them comfortable with the game right away, but not taking risks within the core game when the story itself does take risks results in a disappointing product. The last game that truly felt like a bold change in gameplay direction for the series was LEGO City Undercover, and pretty much everything but that game has had the same core feeling to its mechanics for better or worse.
Visually, LEGO DC Super-Villains has impressive-looking graphics on display. The character models all have a realistic grit to their plastic bodies that shows up in great detail and result in this being the best-looking game in the series. There is also far more going on when it comes to lighting effects and environmental detail. As it should be, character animation is stilted and limited — which works in the game’s favor because it logically needs to be in-line with what a LEGO body could do. Character designs are distinct and manage to both fit right in with past DC-branded LEGO projects while also standing out thanks to unique costumes. This may not be the kind of game you show off a new 4K TV with, but it is one that looks rock-solid at all times and never suffers from any kind of framerate issues.
LEGO DC Super-Villains has a surprisingly rock-heavy soundtrack that gives a hard edge to a game with LEGO characters in it. Every song in the game fits the environment and the main title theme was stuck in my head after every play session. This is easily the best-sounding game in the series when it comes to the soundtrack, but the all-star voice cast also helps deliver a pleasing experience. DC universe veterans like Michael Ironside, Clancy Brown, Tara Strong, Cree Summer, Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy deliver outstanding work that keeps you even more hooked on the story.
LEGO DC Super-Villains doesn’t change the core LEGO game formula much, but does its best to work within that formula and deliver a fresh experience through its storyline. Those who love the franchise’s blend of fast-paced brawling and light puzzle-solving will be in for a treat even if few risks are taken with the core gameplay. Luckily, the outstanding cast of characters and their top-notch voice work keep the game enjoyable to play, watch and listen to from start to finish. Beyond the voice work, the soundtrack is also outstanding and a pleasant surprise.