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Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order Review

Despite its odd platform choice, third time really is the charm.

In a post Infinity saga world, we’re a bit used or even jaded with superhero mash-ups. The concept isn’t as appealing as it was back in 2009 when we last saw Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 on just about all gaming platforms of the time. Now ten years later, when geek culture has become mainstream and people are a lot more familiar with the Marvel universe, there never was a better time to release a game like Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order. Of all the publishers it was Nintendo that saw the opportunity and brought the franchise out of hibernation and exclusively on the Switch console. Does that mean that the game had to be gimped in order to make the most of Nintendo’s hardware limitations, or does this end up being the best thing to happen to the series? That’s what we explore in our review.

Getting so many superheroes together while tying them in with a single plotline can be a daunting task, but Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order does just that. With 36 playable characters in the base game and many more set to be added in upcoming DLCs, you’re more than likely to find four that would make up your dream team. Developer Team Ninja has done a great job of making each character unique, which is harder than you would think considering the abilities overlap some of them have – take Spider-man, Miles Morales and Spider-Gwen for example. Selecting the four heroes that will make up your team will often get trickier especially considering the skill trees and move sets that each character possesses.

Fans of almost any major arc of the Marvel universe have something to look forward to here. The roster includes fighters from Avengers, X-Men, Inhumans, Spider-verse, and more. Sorely missing is the Fantastic Four team, but that too is planned as an upcoming DLC.

Of course with each of the above mentioned arcs come with their individual levels, which the game does a great job of inter-connecting into a narration that somewhat makes sense. It does a great job of getting you to move along and beat up hordes of enemies.

Ultimate Alliance 3 is best described as a brawler. You have two main action buttons for light and heavy attacks, along with block, jump and dodge. Then come the special abilities that can be used for higher damageor healing, depending on the character you have. These meter-driven powered-up abilities are really useful, since the game often unleashes big waves of enemies at a time, and these usually end up causing wider areas of damage. You also have the option to chain these abilities with other characters for even higher damage. And that’s not all. When the going gets tough, there’s also an ‘Extreme Move’ that’s unlocked for each character right from the start, which as the name suggests, causes some widespread damage and rewards you with a grand spectacle. This too can be chained with other allies for massive damage as long as their gauges are full too.

With the amount of action in this game, you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to picking your ideal team, since the game keeps unlocking new powerful players that may tempt you to swap some of your base players for new unlocks. Unfortunately only your current team will be earning the XP from battles, so you’ll soon have a lot of characters in your roster that are stuck at the low levels. Thankfully there are options like Infinity modes where you can level up weaker players by playing through challenges.

Underneath the fighting, there are a number of stats and powerups that the game asks you to manage for upgrading your fighters. There’s a lab section where you can apply micro upgrades to your team’s stats using parameters like Strength, Vitality, Durability, Energy, Resilience, and Mastery. These are spread across as nodes in the lab, with some nodes offering boost parameters that add more direct upgrades to the team. All these stats are incremental upgrades, and it’s not like they’ll immediately change the way you play the game. But they do keep your team updated with the game’s difficulty level, so you’re not pummeled in the next boss fight.

There are also upgrade stats for special abilities and ISO-8 upgrades for each character, which you can get pretty deep into if that’s what you want. Thankfully the game doesn’t throw all of this at you at the same time, and gives you enough time to play with each option before it unlocks something else.

Micro-managers will love the level of control they have over their characters in Ultimate Alliance 3, but we expect mixed reactions from people who’re are more interested in just the action.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is perfectly playable as a single player adventure, but as all things co-op, it’s the most fun when you have more human players in your team than AI controlled ones. This is where the Nintendo Switch has a great advantage as well, as it naturally extends itself as a multiplayer console thanks to the two Joy-Cons it comes with. You have the option to go up to four players in co-op witheach player controlling a designated characters, which makes for easier Synergy attacks and better coordination overall.

There is one issue though and it’s a big one. The camera tends to go all over the place in multiplayer modes, which causes issues like limiting movements until all players are ready to proceed in a direction. Not just that, if the players end up fighting in two different sections in a closed quarter, then the camera sometimes randomly leaves out a player making it impossible for that person to play the game. It gets annoying in closed areas, but the issues are not prevalent throughout the game.

That said, we felt that Ultimate Alliance 3 had a lot to offer as a single player as well as a multiplayer experience.

Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order uses a cel-shaded visuals that’s noticeably different from the ‘realistic’ that the previous Ultimate Alliance games had. It’s a different approach but one that pays off since the aim seems to be to bring the comics to life. This works well, considering the game’s over-the-top approach with effects, animations, and character movements.

It’s admirable how the Team Ninja took some interesting casting choices to make each character sound familiar. Most notable ones are Iron Man, Nick Fury, Rocket Racoon, and Magneto who sound strikingly like their movie counterparts. There are others who sound like their animated series versions, but one interesting choice was getting Yuri Lowenthal to voice Spider-man – the same guy who voiced last year’s PS4-exclusive Spider-man game.

We preferred playing Ultimate Alliance 3 in docked mode, connected to the TV, which gave the game a better graphical resolution and framerates as compared to the handheld mode. Though both modes use dynamic resolutions, the framerates still take a noticeable hit during synergy attacks. That’s the part that’s kind of surprising, especially for a platform exclusive game. Ultimate Alliance 3 has been built ground-up for the Nintendo Switch, yet it doesn’t seem as polished and optimized for the platform as it should be. Looking at other Nintendo published titles, it’s remarkable on the kind of visuals and performance they’ve managed to achieve out of the hardware, but unfortunately that’s not the case here. It makes us wonder how much this game would have benefitted by being on other platforms.

Verdict:

Despite the little issues, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black order is an excellent game that has a lot to offer underneath the hack-and-slash gameplay. The upgrade system is intricate and will entice you to keep coming back and unlocking new boosts. The characters are all well personified, and provide some great fan-service during cut-scenes. Most importantly, it never leaves you starved for fighters as your roster keeps increasing with each new sub-plot. Even if you’re not a hardcore Marvel fan, the game offers enough personality and a solid gameplay to keep you interested.

Technical issues aside, we’re glad that Ultimate Alliance has returned from obscurity and we’re looking forward to see where Nintendo takes it from this point.

IVG's Verdict

8/10
  • Cel-shaded visual style works well
  • Strong roster of characters
  • Solid voice acting
  • Noticeable framerate inconsistencies
  • Not well optimised, polished for Switch
  • Camera issues during co-op
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