Review: Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order


Mr. Stark I feel good

You could deliver Brawlers to me by truck every week.

They’re like comfort food: both a reminder of a bygone era when they filled arcades and my living room with joy. While I continue to stress the importance of game preservation, many brawlers are lost in the ether, including recent projects like the now delisted Scott Pilgrim Against 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 review

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order (Nintendo Switch)
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: July 19, 2019
MSRP: $59.99

With a heavy guardians of the galaxy-powered intro, we’re blasted into an abandoned Kree warship and waltz fast through another take on the Infinity Stone saga. After discovering these stones that would make Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg green with envy, they scatter; thus beginning the galactic adventure. After about 30 minutes, much of the cast reunites like in all the great Avengers, some X-Men and some odds and ends.

There is a clear attempt to link recent relevant IP, covering several studio rights nightmares and movie/TV scripts. The first act is clearly a play on the popular Guardians movies, and they constantly reappear in various cutscenes throughout. The next step is to send spider worms, then Netflix’s now-dead Marvel Universe with Kingpin and The Defenders. These interactions existed decades ago on the comic book pages, but you can see where the team would appeal to a more modern audience. I dig the effort because it never feels too forced.

Koei Tecmo and Nintendo also do their best to substitute similar sounds, with props for 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 as 10 characters). I don’t agree with the idea that looks and voices to have be tied directly to the MCU, as there are decades of history with character voices from older comics, and the cast is mostly successful here.

Combat, as you might expect, consists of fast and dirty brawler archetypes. There are light and heavy attacks at your disposal, as well as block/dodge and an ability wheel (which can be triggered for solo or team attacks). There’s a leveling system for individual abilities (simple things, like increasing damage at the cost of AP/XP), a sphere-grid-like progression system that splits into multiple 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, although I never needed to grind for the main story. CPUs are mostly proficient as they are aggressive, partially protected by CPU armor (so they don’t mindlessly die to boss mechanics), and can be summoned to use abilities. All of this reduces the frustration factor.

While there is some depth, especially when it comes to party composition and synergy, in the end it’s a stupid and flashy game. There’s a battle upgrade, full-screen quad ultimates all trigger at once (watching Venom eat someone with a symbiote while Kamala Khan pops up and Ghost Rider burns everyone with his hellish motorbike is awesome), and sometimes there are five or more heroes (including CPU-controlled ones) battling it out on screen. If you’re the type of person who loves beat-’em-ups, you’re going to be sporting plenty of goofy smiles throughout the campaign.

I disagree with the list, however. Rather than a big bang “this is the third game in the series”, it’s more like a reset button. I enjoy choices like the aforementioned Ms. Marvel, and seeing Miles Morales and Spider Gwen have their time in the sun afterwards. spider worms charmed the world is a warm and fuzzy feeling. There are plenty of staples like Wolverine, Iron Man, Captain America, and Daredevil that will make 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 swing through the web. The main issue is that it needs more bad guys, period, but there are also some glaring omissions that scream “we left that aside for a DLC or a sequel.”

No playable vision means I can’t recreate the 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 an ephemeral 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 to raise the list above the “acceptable” line.

Most of the levels are fluid and aesthetically very varied, with very light puzzles and a few stray extras like character-specific perks and secret walls to find (though exploration is very light compared to some previous entries). Bosses are an absolute highlight, and when your game opens with a partial Sinister Six reunion, you know they’ve provided fan service. Team Ninja has taken a page from MMO raid phases and ramps up fights at specific health intervals, to the point where you actually have to dodge.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 review

As you progress through the campaign, there are “Infinity” challenge rooms with rules and objectives (think the devil may cry), which are more of an after-game concept thanks to some weird technical implementation. Unfortunately, most of them are retreads of levels you just completed and inexplicably send you back to the main menu when done, which is a pace killer for local multiplayer. As you play through them after completing the story (which lasts about eight hours, with an additional difficulty setting after play), they become more compelling (and unlock more challenges in turn in a grid web-esque). I’ve had time to test the multiplayer offline, and the drop and drop mechanic works like a charm.

You can also opt for local play with multiple systems or online connectivity. Either way, definitely plan to go with friends given its short duration. Otherwise, the wait for the GOTY edition (with three DLCs) will pay off. During my time with the game, the framerate was generally stable both docked and undocked, only dropping badly when said multi-ultimates occurred (for a few seconds when you’re invulnerable anyway). I also encountered two minor audio issues where the voiceovers didn’t trigger properly, resulting in a few seconds of disappointing annoyance.

Lots of room for improvement, but I had fun playing Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3. With the less confusing Marvel IP and the simplicity of this deal between Marvel and Nintendo, I’d love to see another one with improvements in tow.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher]

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