Mr. Stark I feel alright
You could deliver brawlers to me by the truckload on a weekly basis.
They’re like comfort food: both a reminder of a bygone era when they filled the arcades and my living room with joy. As I continue to harp on the importance of game preservation many brawlers are lost to the ether, including recent projects like the now de-listed Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order mostly continues that legacy, and with a physical release, it won’t suffer the same fate.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order (Nintendo Switch)
Developer: Team Ninja
Released: July 19, 2019
With a heavy Guardians of the Galaxy-fueled intro, we’re thrust into an abandoned Kree warship and swiftly waltz into another take on the Infinity Stone saga. After uncovering those stones that would make Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg green with envy, they scatter; thus beginning the galaxy-trotting adventure. After roughly 30 minutes, much of the cast comes together – as in all of the big Avengers, some X-Men, and a few odds and ends.
There’s a clear attempt to tie recent relevant IP together, spanning multiple studio rights nightmares and film/television storylines. The first act is clearly a play on the popular Guardians films, and they consistently reappear in various cutscenes throughout. Next up is a send-up of Spider-Verse, then Netflix’s now-dead Marvel universe with Kingpin and The Defenders. These interactions existed decades ago on the pages of comic books, but you can see where the team was going to bring in more modern audiences. I dig the effort as it never feels too forced.
Koei Tecmo and Nintendo also do their best to sub in sound-alikes, with props to a particularly entertaining fake Samuel L. Jackson, and you can spot Steve Blum’s many performances in an instant (give this man a raise, he plays like 10 characters). I don’t agree with the notion that the looks and voices have to be directly MCU-related, as there are decades of history with older comic book character voices, and the cast mostly pulls it off here.
Combat, as one might expect, consists of fast and dirty brawler archetypes. There’s light and heavy attacks at your disposal, as well as a block/dodge and an ability wheel (which can be triggered for solo or team-up attacks). There’s an upgrade system for individual abilities (simplistic stuff, like increasing damage at the cost of AP/XP), a sphere grid-like progression system that branches into several trees, and gems you can equip for bonuses. It’s mostly superfluous stuff for post-game challenge room grinding if that’s what you want to do, though I never needed to grind for the main story. CPUs are mostly competent as they’re aggressive, partially protected through CPU armor (so they don’t stupidly die to boss mechanics), and can be prompted to use abilities. It all cuts down on the frustration factor.
While there is some depth, particularly in regards to party composition and synergy, in the end this is a silly, flashy game. There’s leveling up in combat, full-screen quadruple ultimates all going off at the same time (watching Venom eat someone with a symbiote while Kamala Khan pops off and Ghost Rider is burning everyone with his hell motorcycle is great), and sometimes, there’s five or more heroes (including CPU-controlled ones) duking it out on-screen. If you’re the type of person who enjoys beat-’em-ups you’re going to sport many goofy grins throughout the campaign.
I am at odds with the roster, though. Rather than a big “this is the third game in the series” bash, it feels more like a reset button. I appreciate the out-there picks like the aforementioned Ms. Marvel, and seeing Miles Morales and Spider Gwen get their moment in the sun after Spider-Verse charmed the world is a warm and fuzzy feeling. A lot of staples are there like Wolverine, Iron Man, Captain America, and Daredevil that will keep most people happy. There’s also variety from a mechanical standpoint, as many characters can fly, a few can teleport (remember, Deadpool has his belt), and a handful can web swing. The main issue is that it needs more villains, full stop, but there are also a few glaring omissions that scream “we left this out for DLC or a sequel.”
No playable Vision means I can’t recreate team Avengers NES/SNES, and I consider the lack of a playable Cyclops at launch a personal attack. Strangely, Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist are all playable, but Jessica Jones is a fleeting non-playable character. Team Spider-Man is totally possible (Peter, Miles, Gwen, Venom) as are a few others ( The Avengers: Iron Man, Cap, Thor, Hulk), and again, the oddballs in the group like Elsa Bloodstone help elevate the roster above the line of “acceptable.”
Most of the levels are smooth and there’s a great deal of variety aesthetically, with very light puzzles and some errant extras like character-specific advantages and secret walls to find (though exploration is very light compared to some past entries). Bosses are an absolute highlight, and when your game opens up with a partial Sinister Six reunion, you know they brought the fan service. Team Ninja took a page from MMO raid phases and juices up fights at specific health intervals, to the point where you actually need to dodge.
As you work your way through the campaign there’s “Infinity” challenge rooms with rules and goals (think Devil May Cry), which are more of a post-game concept thanks to a bizarre technical implementation. Disappointingly, most of them are retreads of levels you just completed, and inexplicably warp you back to the main menu after completion, which is a pace-killer for local multiplayer. As you work your way through them after the story is over (which is roughly eight hours, with an additional post-game difficulty setting), they become more compelling (and unlock more challenges in turn in a web-esque grid). I had time to test out offline multiplayer, and the drop-in, drop-out mechanic works like a charm.
You can also opt for local play with multiple systems or online connectivity. Either way, definitely plan on going in with friends given its short length. Otherwise, the wait for the GOTY edition (with three DLCs) is going to pay off. During my time with the game, the framerate was mostly stable both docked and undocked, only dipping badly when said multi-ultimates happen (for a few seconds when you’re invulnerable anyway). I also encountered two minor audio glitches where voiceovers didn’t trigger properly, leading to a few seconds of underwhelming annoyance.
There’s plenty of room for improvement, but I had fun playing through Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3. With the Marvel IP less muddled and the simplicity of this deal between Marvel and Nintendo, I’d love to see another with enhancements in tow.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher]