Fans of the Marvel Ultimate Alliance series have been asking and clamouring for a new game in the series. In fact, we haven’t seen a new entry since 2009’s Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, which means it’s been ten years since we’ve seen Marvel’s most famous heroes come together in one video game. Some growing pains aside, has the third game in the Marvel Ultimate Alliance hold a candle to previous games, all the while returning to an industry that’s dramatically changed in the last ten years?
Growing up, my friends and I spent hours all the way late into the night. For me, it was about seeing Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Captain America working together in an exhilarating way, with my friends. It’s hard to compare what it was like having all your friends together while smacking down enemies as a Marvel superhero.
Developed by the famed Team Ninja and published by Nintendo, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order serves as a new entry for the series and doesn’t serve as a continuation of prior games. Instead, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 uses cues from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and even replicates many aspects. In fact, looking at the Guardians of the Galaxy, Daredevil, Jessica Jones – they invoke their live-action counterparts. Make no mistake though, while inspired by the cinematic style, this is a comic book video game, so the art style is animated to reflect that.
You start off with only a handful of heroes but soon begin unlocking more and more characters. Half the fun in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is finding four characters you want to play as but the real fun lies in trying out everyone and seeing how they work together. Or you’ll be like me and stick to characters you know well and proceed to use them for the duration of the campaign (experimentation is good).
Another thing to note is that this game takes on Thanos and his Black Order, as he searched the universe for the Infinity Stones. It’s up to the Avengers, X-Men, Guardians of the Galaxy, and more to stop him. It sounds familiar, and it is. This is the greatest hits of Marvel stories and but the solid voice acting, and writing is essentially the saving grace.
Controls are straightforward. Your attacks are mapped to the face buttons and offer both heavy and light attacks, dodge, and block. Each is animated specifically for each character. What stands out though, is each character’s innate power. If you play as Wolverine for example, his healing factor plays into his style. Controlling one of four characters and with the ability to swap with the D-Pad, there’s a surprising amount of characters available.
Taking on hordes of enemies and supervillains, you’ll use a variety of moves and signature moves each playable character offers, offering up what is the best part of the Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 – the action. This is where having a developer like Team Ninja shines. A studio who is more than capable of creating worthy and exciting gameplay thanks to years of developing some of the most exciting action games available.
Free to be you, free to be me
Fusions are now called Synergy attacks, new automatic effects that occur when two or more superheroes mesh particularly well together. In addition, a new Stagger mechanic incorporated into the gameplay opens up exciting ways to engage bosses. The purple meter slotted under all the bosses and stronger enemies start off full and dwindle down eventually staggering them. In a stunned state, you pile on as much damage before the meter resets.
That’s not all your characters are capable of either. Extreme attacks, which are represented by an orange meter circling each of your characters, build as you take damage. Keeping an eye on this is crucial to turn the tide during a boss battle and by trigger L + R on the controller, unleashes a devastating attack on your opponents. And, if your entire team’s meters are full, they can join in to help deal damage.
Stats, stats, stats
Boss encounters are exhilarating. What works is how the developers implemented “tells,” movements each boss telegraphs before unleashing devastating moves. Learning how to counter them and memorizing attack patterns is crucial to surviving. What really kept me energized and engaged is how difficult boss battles were but never to the point of frustration. If I couldn’t figure it out, I’d pause and configure my team to acclimate to the situation. If you find your current build isn’t working, jump into the menus and tool around with your character.
At a certain point in the game, ISO-08 fragments are available to be equipped. These fragments boost stats and, in some instances, offer additional abilities. If that isn’t enough, the Alliance Enhancement system offers a grid of upgrades that apply to your entire team. Each node increases the basic stats: Vitality, Energy, Strength, Durability, Mastery, and Resilience.
When you’re not facing off against enemies, puzzles split up the action, complimenting the gameplay loop. Skill trees and excessive upgrades pad out the experience, and in the roughly 15-hour campaign I found my skill trees nowhere near complete. There’s a ton of unlocking available if you wish to sink the time in and once you finish the campaign, a new difficulty unlocks, allowing for a harder experience. And if you want more, the Infinity Trials serve you well.
Basically, the Trials pit you against the bosses of the campaign but include their own set of rules. One might see you face off hundred of Hydra agents, while another might reduce your damage output. Another might only allow Synergy attacks to be your only move or racing against the clock. You’ll want to do these because completing them unlocks rewards.
I do have minor gripes with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3. The most frustrating being the camera. In some instances, the camera locks and you can’t shift perspective. Other times, the camera pans out and it makes things difficult to see during particularly gruelling encounters when playing in handheld mode. Keeping track of where my character was proved to be challenging during those moments. The camera angles are as big an opponent as the villains you’ll face.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is a ton of fun. It’s also good to see the series back in fine form after a decade away. Playing with Marvel’s finest heroes is a treat and learning which ones suit your particular playstyle is exciting and there’s somebody for every play style. While simplistic in its gameplay, don’t let that deter you from checking out this game, but engage you enough that button mashing doesn’t happen.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]