A lukewarm pot of gumbo, chere
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 had some lingering issues at launch, most notably a lack of key cast members (the same fate that fell upon Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite). But Team Ninja had a plan: through both free and paid DLC, that roster would slowly grow into a formidable force.
The only problem? They aren’t giving us anything interesting to do with those characters.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: Rise of the Phoenix (Switch)
Developer: Team Ninja
Released: December 23, 2019
MSRP: $19.99 (part of the season pass)
Since the characters are the main focus here I’ll start there. If you need a full roster update I have an updated database here, but the new ones for this DLC are Cable, Gambit, Iceman and Dark Phoenix.
All I can hear when I look at Gambit these days is “kinetic card!” but he’s so much more than that iconic battle cry. Gambit has been a go-to in the realm of gaming for several decades, with an undeniable sense of swagger, a badass bo-staff and flashy looking projectiles. He’s arguably the best bit of DLC yet, as his kit includes card traps (that you can fling and detonate on the ground) as well as an area-of-effect energy field that slows enemies. The “keep tapping to toss junk” mechanic is overplayed, but helps keep Gambit viable for higher-level challenges.
Although a lot of people are probably over Bobby Drake, Iceman is low key one of my favorite X-Men heroes. His ice surfing kicked ass in the lesser-known Marvel Powers United VR, as well as any number of games he’s squeezed into over the years: you just don’t see a lot of frost powers these days and he fulfills that niche. Other than a frost shield (that impacts the whole party, useful!) his abilities aren’t anything to write home about, but I dig that he gets around by blowing ice on the ground. Teaming him up with Storm and Loki, who sport their own freeze abilities, is also a nice bit of synergy.
As for Dark Phoenix I could go either way. On one hand, that power fantasy is really hard to actually nail with balance issues in mind, and I feel like Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was the only game to really flirt with it. On the other, we never got Jean Grey at launch, and this is nearly the best of both worlds. It’s kind of anticlimactic to just pay to unlock her (unlike in the past where you had to assemble Iron Man’s suit, or find M’Kraan fragments), and I’d love a Zelda/Sheik situation where you would be able to swap personas. While the DLC so far has basically been above bar (or at it, with Phoenix’s alright kit), I want something really out-there next time (like a Super Skrull that has bits of all the Fantastic Four members, which we probably won’t get).
Cable is another tricky hero to get right. We all remember the classic Marvel vs. Capcom 2 rendition, but that’s probably his most interesting incarnation. Oftentimes he’s fighting off comparisons to Bishop and other gun-toting mutants, trying his best to maintain a sense of style amid his more stoic appearance. Here he stands out from the crowd a bit, with an autonomous gun, a gravity well grenade, a shield that reflects blasts (including your allies) and a risk-reward psychic blast that reduces your defense if you overuse it. He’s another strong character to add to the mix.
But you have to grind a bit to play as them; and there’s a real sense of dread associated with defeating bosses like Juggernaut and Mystique (from the campaign) yet again to unlock the new characters. Like Curse of the Vampire before it (the first DLC pack), there is no interesting story material here to work with whatsoever. “Additional Gauntlet missions” is one of the most boring checkboxes I’ve seen this year, and the new Danger Room mode isn’t anything to write home about either. It’s basically just more Gauntlet (challenge rooms) action with a few hazards thrown in and a “competitive” element involving a score attack conceit. The idea is that you’re racing another team asynchronously in existing areas against existing enemies, which is only enticing if you have eight very competitive power-players involved. When I hear the phrase “Rise of the Phoenix,” that’s not what really comes to mind.
Earlier this year Team Ninja and Nintendo spoke about “story scenario” content. Where is it? The new characters are great for the most part, but we need more zones to actually use them in. Having an extended campaign with some really out-there storylines would have been a fantastic use of paid DLC, but for now you’re stuck just doing the same errands over and over or restarting once again. Hopefully the 2020-bound Fantastic Four pack doesn’t suffer the same fate, but at present you’re basically buying 12 characters for $20.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher]