by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
I. Absolutely. Loved the previous Marvel Ultimate Alliance games. Every time I would play the MMO Marvel Heroes, I would find myself missing the Ultimate Alliance games. Let’s be honest: Superheroes are made for action RPGs, and you don’t have to use bland, uninteresting characters to fill emotions in for. You have a ton of larger-than-life characters with outrageous powers that people are already familiar with. It’s just that much easier to immerse yourself into the excitement. With superhero movies being all the rage now, good superhero video games are hard to find. There are some, such as Spider-Man, but there aren’t rightly enough of them. I’ve been waiting on another Ultimate Alliance game, and admittedly, I was a little worried about this one. Being a Switch exclusive didn’t bother me (as I own a Switch), but it’s the current marketing landscape we’re in that I was afraid of.
My biggest fear is that it would only offer me six to eight heroes to pick from, then I’d have to wait to buy DLC packs of heroes/have some kind of awful cash shop. Now, there are DLC packs on the way (20 dollars for the Season Pass), but the cast is not sparse at all. Practically all facets of Marvel fandom are going to be represented in Marvel Ultimate Alliance, not just characters in the major roles of the MCU. Sure, many of them are there. But you also have characters like Ms. Marvel, Crystal, Venom, and Deadpool! There are even unlockable characters that aren’t DLC! The Infinity Trials (hidden challenge areas to tackle) offer several of the villains to play, such as Elektra, Loki, and Magneto. There are also free DLC characters revealed, so there is going to be absolutely no shortage of fun characters. This fear was neatly assuaged. I did purchase the Season Pass also because I really want to play as Cyclops. That’s really the whole reason, do not judge me.
The tutorial area (The Raft) is absolutely massive, and kind of bogged me down after several play sessions, and I still found myself in the enormous prison. It made sense and felt good from a story perspective, but I’ll be good and goddamned if I wasn’t angry about it. It teaches most of what you need to know but did not really go into a lot of detail about the Lab option, where you use currencies to increase basically a Sphere Grid. It’s a grid of various passive stats, which in turn can unlock even more stats to improve! Spend time on this, because even if you’re under-leveled (which can and will happen), this extra health and damage will be a godsend. The gameplay breakdown is pretty simple: You put together a team of four superheroes (and villains in some cases), and go through lengthy stages, broken down by several S.H.I.E.L.D. sigils (checkpoints). These full heal your characters, and lets you swap characters out, should you want to. You can also access the lab here, or improve the skills each character is using.
As your characters level up, they gain a few more skills to use in battle, which use Energy. This is refilled by Blue Orbs, which are gained by breaking stuff (enemies or objects), and you can pair up anyone that you’d like. While it’s fine to just build whatever teams you want, having teams that offer synergy not only offers up stat buffs but team-up attacks. Holding R and then hitting a face button will use skills, but if you hit RZ and a skill, if nearby characters have synergy, they will team up to help you deal damage. You can also, as an aside, hit A at the right time while other characters are using skills to team-up with them. The synergies are all easy to figure out, though. Here are a few of them for you to consider:
Original Avengers: Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Wasp
Marvel Royalty: Black Panther, Crystal, Rocket & Groot, Star-Lord, Storm, Thor
Women of Marvel: Black Widow, Captain Marvel, Crystal, Elsa Bloodstone, Gamora, Ms. Marvel, Psylocke, Scarlet Witch, Spider-Gwen, Storm, Wasp
Defenders: Daredevil, Doctor Strange, Hulk, Iron Fist, Luke Cage
Back in Black: Black Panther, Black Widow, Ghost Rider, Venom
See? Options galore! That’s not even half of them, either. The stages are pretty easy to follow, with plenty of enemies to battle, and puzzles to solve. The puzzles aren’t terribly difficult, but they are enjoyable distractions. However, I will say that in the early game, the difficulty, regardless of which of the two you play on, can be horribly frustrating. The bosses aren’t so bad, but the hordes of enemies deal mountains of damage, and it was enough to make me want to scream. You have a limited amount of revives when your characters fall (and they will – often), but thankfully NPCs will help you deal with this. There aren’t a lot of healer characters either that I can think of, and healing orbs are fickle. I feel like this is to push people into going into multiplayer instead with their friends, and it is admittedly much easier when working together.
I teamed up with Epip to smash through much of the early game while on his livestream, with very few difficulties, despite being on Mighty difficulty. Characters will jump, punch, throw blasts of energy, and use humongous, massively damaging team-up attacks to beat up both run-of-the-mill villains and serious, major galactic-level threats like Ultron. Ultimately, the Infinity Stones are the focus of the story, with Thanos and his titular Black Order looking to gather them up to, of course, do rotten things with them. When does Thanos ever have a good plan, though? One of the important features to be aware of though is the Stun System. Anything above the weakest enemy has a purple meter under their health bar, which is the Stun Meter. When it hits empty, the enemy is briefly stunned, and you can batter them while they are defenseless. Bosses tend to have phases with increasingly greater threats, but at least you can see when the next phase will hit (indicated by a bar between the parts of the health bar).
One thing we learned while live-streaming Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, is that if you use an Ultimate Team-Up at the end of a phase, that damage does not carry over. So be smarter than we were, and wait until the fight is just about over. Each fight felt different, and most importantly, everything in this game had the snarky, proper Marvel feel to the writing. The characters were developed and felt like the actual character from the comics. They weren’t boring! However, while I enjoyed this combat system, one thing I absolutely loathed was the camera. The camera for this game is absolutely damn dreadful, and more often than not, it would get stuck somewhere where I can’t see what I’m doing. It was even worse when I was trying to rotate the camera to resurrect someone, but it bugs out, and I can only stand there while Mysterio kills me yet again.
The story is pretty standard Marvel fare, but that is in no way a bad thing. It’s a fun story told with the familiar feelings and emotions I expect from the various superheroes and villains. It is not new or interesting and is nothing more than an excuse to have a giant, varied Marvel cast, and that is just fine with me. The voice cast is terrific, and everyone brings 110% to each and every character. However, the graphics do feel just a bit dated. I feel like the Nintendo Switch can do so much more with this, but my suspicion was the graphics were done this way to avoid slowdown with tons of special effects hitting the game at once. I would rather have slightly dated graphics, rather than have a ton of lag and slowdown. Perhaps this also lets them include even more of the characters since a Switch cartridge can only do so much. Perhaps there will be a PC version in the future, that has “upscaled” graphics. But please don’t think this means it’s ugly, because it looks pretty darn great. It’s just not a PS4’s Spider-Man. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 does have a more comic feel to the graphics, which, if that was their goal, they nailed it.
Excelsior – 4/5:
Honestly? Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is just damn fun. Team Ninja did a bang-up job with this one. It definitely pushes you heavily towards co-op with the difficulty of the game, but it’s pretty easy to set up an online match, and the gameplay just feels right. It honestly makes me miss the earlier Ultimate Alliance games, and Marvel Heroes. The difficulty when playing solo feels incredibly frustrating unless you are wildly over-leveled, and the camera makes my head spin, but every other facet of the game has been a genuine joy. If you’re playing co-op, the game is very easy though. There are so many characters that I love, it’s hard to stick to one team, but I think that’s the idea. There are even secrets! There are hidden items, hidden challenges, and treasure boxes that require specific combos of moves (there are 15 traits to special abilities) to open and plenty of amazing Marvel banter. Characters I never thought I’d see work together, but am sincerely glad they are here. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is the superhero game that I didn’t know I needed. It’s brilliant fun as a team, and though I’ve only played two-player, I absolutely cannot wait to enjoy some mad four-player action online. I just hope it goes to other platforms.