A future so bright it’s literally blinding
If there is one thing I’ve learned from the current era of pop culture, it’s that I shouldn’t get too attached to the characters and stories that entertain me and bring me joy. Because, inevitably, this world will find a way to ruin everything that we love. Whether it’s turning cinema’s most magical moviegoing experience into one of the stupidest film franchises ever, or stripping away all meaning from a beloved character so you can endlessly monetize them, there are no depths companies and corporations won’t sink to if it means squeezing out a few more nickels from their fans and consumers.
That’s why I honestly have no problem with something like MultiVersus, the upcoming platform fighter from Player First Games and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. Pop culture has beaten me into submission when it comes to complaining about this kind of misuse of adored IPs. It’s honestly a losing battle to try and fight it, so I choose to just go with the flow. If Warner Bros. is cool having a weapon of mass destruction that famously doesn’t want to fight beating the snot out of a child, then I say why not. What the hell, anything goes on this everything bagel.
MultiVersus alpha impressions
Like with all other free-to-play games on the market, the MultiVersus alpha starts everyone out with a brief but detailed tutorial explaining how everything works. If you’re coming into this straight from Smash or Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, a lot of what you’ll experience here will be familiar. You’re still trying to do enough damage to an opponent until you’re able to knock them out of the stage.
But don’t think you can get by ignoring the tutorial information. While this is a platform fighter with similar attack inputs (directional basic attacks and directional special attacks) it’s a pretty different beast of a game with its own systems and unique stylings. For starters, the game is very upfront about attack fatigue. Spamming the same move weakens it, forcing players to use their entire arsenal if they want to continue doing serious damage. The game also doesn’t have a block button. You can dodge, and it is a vital tool in any match you’ll play, but that’s tied to a dodge meter that’ll dwindle if you use it too much. Most characters have one or more moves that have a cooldown timer tied to them as well. In the air, all characters have two jumps, two air dodges, and two special attacks they can use without touching the ground. All characters also have the ability to wall jump, which makes getting back onto the stage pretty damn easy. With all of those changes and more to the familiar formula, most players will probably have to approach MultiVersus differently from other fighters in the genre.
Unless you’re already an expert airborne fighter. If that’s the case, you’ll fit right in here.
I am not somebody who enjoys fighting in the air with platform fighters. I’m very much a keep-my-feet-on-the-ground type of brawler. However, that’s really not an option with a lot of the available characters here. A few, like Superman and Taz, have powerful enough attacks that you can knock out an opponent from the ground. But most of the fighters here feel pretty damn weak, and if you want to effectively eliminate your foes, you’re going to want to follow them into the air after you’ve knocked them sky high to finish the job. For me, that has taken some getting used to, as has the floaty nature of jumping in this game, but I’m excited to use the skills I’ve been developing here in the other platform fighters I play.
While you can play in 1v1 and free-for-all modes, as well as against bots, the core MultiVersus experience is its 2v2 team battles. As you go through the training, you’ll get a sneak peek of how certain characters in the game are designed around team gameplay. And, like support characters in Overwatch, getting good with one of these fighters will make you indispensable when playing with friends and strangers online. For this closed alpha, the online connection has been rock-solid, above and beyond anything Nintendo has ever achieved with its flagship fighter.
Choose your fighter carefully
In regards to the playable characters for the MultiVersus alpha, there are 15 at your disposal. Outside of Iron Giant, everyone who’s been announced so far is in. That means Shaggy and Velma from Scooby-Doo, Finn and Jake from Adventure Time, Steven and Garnet from Steven Universe, a handful of superheroes, cartoon characters, and a girl who has no name. There’s also future-must-have-plush-toy Reindog, a four-legged beast who is a godsend in team battles if the player using them knows how to effectively utilize their entire skillset. Not every fighter is available right away. For whatever reason, several, including Arya Stark, Batman, and Garnet, are locked away until you can earn enough coins to purchase them. I understand that being the case when the game actually launches, but why are you making me work during a closed alpha?
If you want to test any of these characters out, you can do that in the training mode. Not only will this let you try before you buy, but it’ll also help you adapt to the wildly varied playstyles of each fighter.
I have to give Player First Games credit. I think the core cast of MultiVersus is the most eclectic group of fighters in the genre, both in terms of where they’re pulled from and how their unique attributes create a playstyle that is distinct from every other fighter. For a cast of characters controlled with the same general inputs, there is very little similarity between them. They’re also creative in a way that really taps into who they are as a character and how their identity is reflected in their play style. Take Velma, for instance. This “experimental” support character — all characters here have classes like support, mage, tank, bruiser, etc. — is designed around the concept of solving mysteries. As she fights, clues will drop out of her opponents. If she picks up enough of these clues, she can “solve the mystery,” which in this case, means sending in a cop car to nab a competitor. If you play this move right, you can trap your opponent over a pit for an easy elimination.
That is the type of creativity that permeates many of the characters here. Some are pretty basic. I don’t think too many people are going to be wowed by the likes of Superman or Batman, even though they’re both efficient fighters. But when you look at Tom & Jerry, who are brilliantly animated in a way that all of Tom’s attacks are just him taking swipes at Jerry, it’s hard not to be awestruck by what the developers managed to do here. By the way, if you’re decent with Rosalina in Smash, you’ll want to gravitate toward Tom & Jerry right away.
Looking toward the future
If this does manage to take off, the sky’s the limit for potential characters. Warner Bros. has an exceptionally strong catalog it can pillage, from Ocean’s 11 to the Wizarding World, from Rin Tin Tin to And Just Like That. While I doubt we’ll be seeing Carrie Bradshaw use her Manolo Blahniks to curb stomp Professor Snape anytime soon, I wouldn’t be surprised if the developers at Player First Games get creative with future combatants. Given what they did with the likes of Velma, I think there is plenty of imagination within the development team to keep things fun and interesting for years to come. Or, the game could just be used as a marketing tool for whatever Warner Bros. movies and shows are about to premiere. If that’s the case, bring on Black Adam and whoever the hell Matt Smith is playing in that Game of Thrones prequel.
In terms of overall content for the MultiVersus alpha, it’s pretty slim pickins beyond the roster. The music is forgettable and there are only a couple of stages to fight on here. Most of my bouts have taken place on the requisite training grid stage (think Street Fighter V’s training stage meets Wii Fit Studio) or the Wonder Woman-themed Trophy’s Edge. I also fought a handful of matches on the Adventure Time Tree Fort stage and in Batman’s Batcave, the latter of which popped up far more rarely than it should have. The best of the bunch, a Scooby-Doo-themed haunted house with breakable walls and trick platforms, was the only stage that didn’t appear in any of my regular play sessions. It was also the only stage that didn’t sear my eyeballs with its excessively bright whites and glare. As there are no optional visual settings for the Multiversus alpha, the hope the developers tweak just how bright this game looks (at least on the PS5). This is the only game I’ve played since upgrading to my current television that I’ve had to change my TV’s settings from the enhanced gaming picture mode to its cinematic mode just to darken it a bit.
There is a lot more to this MultiVersus alpha, including season passes and unlockable skins, but we should probably save that for the full review. If you missed out on the closed alpha, an open alpha is scheduled for July. MultiVersus is planned to launch later this year for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S with cross-play and cross-progression from day one.