- Total Score - 8.3/108.3/10
Team Ninja takes us for a ride with a great action RPG for any Marvel fan!
Developer – Koei Tecmo, Team Ninja
Publisher – Nintendo
Release Date – July 19th, 2019
Platforms – Nintendo Switch
On the dawn of Comic-Con and the insane announcement of Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the future for Marvel and it’s characters are set in stone. The Marvel Gaming Universe is not quite yet on that level, with two action RPG Marvel games coming within a year of each other.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is the latest console Marvel title, and finds itself in a bit of a weird spot. It has the distinction of being the first major Marvel game after Marvel’s Spider-Man and is launching in the shadow the newly announced Marvels Avengers next generation title has already cast since it’s E3 reveal.
On top of all of that, Marvel Ultimate Alliance is a long running franchise that spans more than a decade, and comes with it’s own legacy to either uphold, or let down. Thankfully, Ultimate Alliance 3 delivers one of the best games in the long running franchise.
The biggest difference between games are the people developing it. This franchise was started by the incredible team at Raven Software. Their presence was missing from Ultimate Alliance 2 and the franchise was left dormant for years, seemingly never to return. This all changed when Nintendo of all companies announced it would be returning, this time with Team Ninja developing it as a Switch exclusive title. So many questions were asked, and ultimately the biggest mystery was how this game would live up to it’s long legacy, and how much would change?
Thankfully Team Ninja seems to have a pretty strong memory, and the talented team wisely went back and studied what worked, and what didn’t. Right away the games visual style is striking, and is a hard turn from Ultimate Alliance 2’s more realistic but drab visual style.
Vibrant, cel-shaded and comic inspired character designs are back and fully embraced from top to bottom. Each character represented feels like a deliberate throwback to their best self. Even on the under powered Switch, the game does a great job of balancing it’s visuals with keeping the game playable, with multiple camera options and action that’s easy to follow despite the chaos.
The new visual style is really brought to life with the incredible animations Team Ninja is known for. Each character’s style is brought to life with small details. Simple things such as Iron-Mans slow walk replicating his Iron-Man film, or Star-Lord imitating Conor McGregor’s exaggerated strut. this level of detail is all over this game, and you can really sense the effort and care Team Ninja had with the Marvel Universe.
That love doesn’t just extend to the games style, it’s layered in many different ways. The incredible lineup of characters is brought to life with great voice work. Actors who have played these roles across many forms of media, or classic games, return and do justice to these roles like only they can. Little nods to previous Marvel films, shows and games are laced everywhere. Hearing Daredevil mention his skill in hallway fighting, or watching Wolverine and Magneto pull off moves right out of the Marvel Vs Capcom games will surely bring a smile to even the most casual Marvel fan.
Despite the huge change in developers the core combat is actually pretty similar in style. Four heroes run around linear environments beating up whatever nameless henchman that chapter’s location and villain can provide. From escaped raft prisoners or The Hand’s endless army of ninja, the game has no problem throwing dozens of these enemies at you before your eventual showdown with each chapters boss fights.
Surprisingly, the combat is a bit simpler in terms of combo depth than the previous games. Each character has only one combo string, one air attack, and one heavy attack. This is a bit stripped down from the previous games that had several combo strings with unique effects such as launchers, or knocking enemies down. It’s a bit of a letdown, because Team Ninja’s work on several Musou titles have shown them capable of delivering a massive roster with a big variety of combo attacks, so the stripped down approach is felt pretty early on. As you play each character for longer periods of time, the simplicity hampers depth.
The character abilities fair a bit better, with each heroes four powers usually having several different elemental and combat effects that will reward players who take advantage of them properly. One of the new mechanics this game introduces are the concepts of synergy attacks. Every ability in the game has synergy with other characters abilities, and using them at the proper time can lead to devastating effects. They also look very flashy, and are vital to being effective, especially on the harder difficulty settings.
Most enemies and bosses have a new mechanic known as a stagger gauge. Now underneath the health bar, the new the stagger gauge slowly fills, when it does, that enemy is staggered, allowing you precious time to hit them hard with your strongest abilities. If you use a synergy attack on a staggered enemy, they become stunned, take more damage and they take a much longer time to recover.
Learning each characters combo potential, their abilities and how they synergize, and bouncing around the field of battle staggering enemies and stunning them at the right time really makes up for the lost depth in terms of each characters limited combo potential. Also returning from the older games are super attacks. Each character comes with a unique super move, and like the regular abilities these super moves can be chained with your team to unleash some insane fps dropping shenanigans.
The story is also well done. It’s not on the level of one of the Marvel films, but it doesn’t need to be. They do a really great job of keeping the pace brisk and moving forward, taking the player from one Marvel location to another. This style of storytelling can usually lead to it’s own set of problems, and the last thing anybody wants is to feel like the game is jut a museum tour, but they sidestep that issue. With Thanos and the infinity stones causing chaos, they always manage to find a decent reason to have the game move from place to place. It’s fan service don’t get me wrong, but it’s well done and comes to a satisfying conclusion.
When the story is complete, players have access to a harder difficulty setting and the roster is so large you can spend tons of hours getting every character maxed out. On top of the campaign, Infinity Trials provide a fun set of challenge missions with a large variety of goals and a three star scoring system. Everything from characters, costume colors and ISO-8 gear are unlocked in these trials, and they can even be played online.
Speaking of online, it works perfectly. Here is how it works. If I set-up a game and host a room, my friends can join me using the join a friend option. Let’s say two friends join me, when they hop into my game they will pick one character from their own roster to bring in with them. I will manage the remaining two spots on the team as if I was playing solo. Everything those players do, will return with them back into there save. Every bit of XP, money, gear, and even story progression will travel back with them. This makes for a far better online experience than the franchise has ever had, and the game performs admirably with very little rubber-banding or noticeable lag issues.
The game as a whole though, isn’t perfect. Besides the lack of combo depth, the camera when playing locally can get stuck in seemingly random spots and can lead to frustration during boss battles. In portable mode the game can also have some frames drop during the more chaotic moments, but thankfully that’s limited to things such as four characters performing a team ultra, or when the camera pulls back for a big set piece moment, so it’s not as detrimental as it could have been.
Despite some of the shortcomings, Team Ninja did a fantastic job bringing Marvel Ultimate Alliance back for the modern era. Their obvious love and attention to the Marvel universe, and most importantly the franchise that they have inherited show in all aspects. they’ve also announced a long list of updates coming to the game, ranging from costumes, characters, and even more story chapters.
It’s not perfect, but Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order restores the legacy of this great action RPG franchise with it’s strongest entry yet.