After a decade, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order brings the superhero action RPG series back to life. The game was developed by Team Ninja exclusively for to the Nintendo Switch and will take any fan with the console an adventurous ride across the Marvel Universe.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 benefits from the explosion in the popularity of Marvel's characters over the past 10 years. The game takes advantage of this cultural awareness in all the right ways. Each chapter of the game's story focuses on a different family of Marvel characters. The setting, villains, and supporting and unlockable characters each fit into that theme. For example, one chapter sends the players to Shadowland. There they get tips from Jessica Jones and team up with Iron Fist and Daredevil to battle the Kingpin, Bullseye, and an army of hand ninjas.
The hefty roster of almost 40 characters means that almost every major Marvel franchise gets this treatment. The Avengers and the X-Men, Spider-Man and Black Panther, even the Inhumans are along for the ride. The tradeoff is that the presentation of these characters also tries to imitate their on-screen counterparts. Many of the voice actors sound as if they're doing an impersonation of their character's Marvel Cinematic Universe actor. Sometimes this is fine, but other times it misses the mark enough to be distracting.
But this isn't a game for talking, its a game for fighting. It's good then that combat is simple, engaging, and exciting throughout. Like the previous two games in the series, Ultimate Alliance 3 is a blend of arcade beat'em up and RPG. Team Ninja does an excellent job of fleshing out both sides of that equation. You can spam your light attack and special abilities to handle the hordes of basic enemies, but the more powerful foes need more thought. Players will have to learn to dodge and block and plan their attacks. It's not Dark Souls — the game is challenging at times, but not frustrating — but it is engaging in a way that other games of its ilk often aren't.
Each character will want to handle threats and challenges in different ways. Some, like Nightcrawler, can move fast enough to dodge attacks. Or, he can teleport into the back ranks to handle deadly long-range threats. Others, like Venom, will want to barrel into the crowd to do as much damage as possible. Each character feels different and each feels like you expect that character to feel. Wolverine is all aggression, Spider-Man relies on agility, and Iron Man brings superior firepower.
Those distinct character traits add to the sense that this is a game built for repeat playthroughs. Each character also has a set of keywords related to their weapon of choice, personality, and team affiliations. Combining characters with different sets of shared traits offers the team different bonuses. It's easy for minmaxers to spend a lot of time on the Hero Select screen figuring which combination of characters offers the best bang for the buck. It's also a lot of fun for Marvel fans to consider which kinds of comic book teams they can recreate. They include but are not limited to, the obvious like the Avengers and Defenders, and the more eclectic like the Midnight Sons, The Crew, and Web Warriors.
The biggest missed opportunity in the game is that it doesn't offer more tangible rewards for creative team building. It's a game that should have a list of challenges or achievements for unlocking cosmetics like character skins, but no such list exists. The lack of costumes is the one area of the game that feels like a step backward from its predecessors. It doesn't affect the gameplay but does miss an opportunity to motivate players.
As for the RPG side of things, there's crunch here for those who desire it. The Lab is where you can manage your Alliance Enhancements and Iso-8. The former allows players to unlock team-wide stat boosts. The latter is for individual, hero-specific bonuses. Players won't want to neglect these menus, but they won't feel beholden to them either. Checking in and updating them when your team isn't kicking as much ass as it used to works fine, but the option to micromanage is there.
The scope of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is impressive. The story is all about fan service, but its fun, enjoyable fan service. The game is fun solo, though multiplayer is ideal. The drop-in, drop-out multiplayer makes that a breeze, and the Switch's portability and connectivity make it easy to find opportunities to play. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is a grand, action-packed celebration of the Marvel Universe that fans won't want to miss out on.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order goes on sale July 19th for Nintendo Switch. A review code for the game was provided by the publisher.