Game Review #382: Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order (Nintendo Switch)
Updated: Jan 4
Reviewed By: John B Developed By: Koei Tecmo Games, Team Ninja Published By: Nintendo Category: Action, Role-Playing Release Date: 7.19.19 Price (At Time of Review): $59.99
Buy Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 from the Nintendo eShop here.
Buy Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 from the Amazon here.
Avengers – and others – Assemble!
After a decade of silence, the premiere Marvel Universe beat ‘em up series returns! Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 for the Nintendo Switch is a revival of the much-loved and much-missed action series. As someone who has been a fan of Marvel superheroes ever since I first picked up an issue of Darkhawk in 1992, I get a special little kick out of being able to control my favorite characters during a mega crossover event. The game relies a lot on that feeling of euphoric nostalgia to carry its story, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. But the action’s rock-solid and all the characters are designed based off of their comic book appearances, not the cinematic ones, and I’m willing to forgive basically anything that keeps these characters’ comic book origins alive. It could use more Darkhawk, though.
Avenging Mutant Knight Defenders of the Galaxy
Our story opens with the Guardians of the Galaxy walking bass-ackwards into a hidden Kree treasure ship. After boarding the ship uninvited and running into Nebula and Ronan the Accuser, Thanos’s acolytes – the Black Order – arrive to claim the ship’s priceless cargo: The Infinity Stones. Ronan and the Kree had invested countless resources into finding and safeguarding the stones from Thanos’s desires, and, as usual, Star-Lord and crew kind of mucked things up. After a brief fight, the Guardians and the stones get transported to earth, where the Avengers, Defenders, X-Men, and various solo Marvel heroes are brought together by Nick Fury for the sake of re-collecting the stones and, y’know, saving the universe.
From there, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 takes players on a tour of Marvel Universe locations like Shadowland, Avengers Tower, and super-villain prison the Raft, just to name a few. The story is fairly basic; you travel from level to level according to where the story points you, encountering and recruiting various Marvel heroes (and anti-heroes) along the way. It’s not an especially deep or developed narrative, rather it is more designed to stimulate feelings of nostalgia for Marvel fans new and old. That’s not a bad thing, if you love Marvel; and even if you don’t, the fast-paced action is enough of a reason to pick the game up (but we’ll get to that in a minute).
It was a bit of a let-down for me, personally, because I’m a huge fan of the Marvel characters; I, like many others, latched onto the Marvel universe because of how drawn I was into the complicated lives and complex personalities of Marvel’s roster of heroes. To have a game limit itself only to some surface-level character moments and no real personal moments is a bit of a disappointment. It doesn’t really feel like a full Marvel experience without any real character work. On the other hand, the brief one-liners that serve as the game’s sole source of characterization are generally clever and in line with my preferred interpretation of the Marvel heroes, so I guess I won’t gripe about it too hard about it.
Brainiacs, Blasters, and Brawlers
The basic action gameplay of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is largely unchanged from previous entries in the series. You deploy a team of four heroes, and you can choose to switch between any of your team members at any time. You view the action from an isometric perspective, and you can run around the game areas, jump between platforms, and, if you’re controlling a character that can fly, you can do that, too. You’ve got two basic attacks, a light, quicker attack and a slower heavy attack, which you can use to smack the crap out of waves of incoming henchmen and several popular Marvel super-villains per level. The action is smooth and fast, and everything handles reasonably well.
There are only two sore spots for me. One is the camera; sometimes you can control it, and sometimes it’s fixed, but that’s not the problem; the issue is that in less spacious areas the camera kind of sucks. You’ll often be zoomed behind a wall, losing sight of your characters and any enemies coming at you. It was especially frustrating when a boss knocked me up against a wall and I was unable to track my character for dodging purposes. If the boss was close enough, I’d lose track of him, too, which was super-frustrating. The other big problem is that the AI is dumb as a brick and won’t dodge at all. Moreover, your AI allies don't just not dodge, they will actually run directly into enemy attacks. You only get to revive KO'ed allies three times (your counter resets at checkpoints, though), so it was super frustrating when one of my characters did something incredibly dumb and wasted one.
What’s Your Super Power?
Each character has four special powers that can be unlocked throughout the course of the game; only one is unlocked by default, but new skills unlock when a character reaches level 10, 15, and 20. MUA3 improves on the combo system of the previous games in the series with synergy attacks. You pull one trigger to open your power wheel, which allows you to use your individual special attacks. If you pull another trigger, however, you can activate synergy attacks instead. The power wheel pops up as normal, but you can only activate your powers if another character you can synergize with is in range. Synergy attacks amplify the power and range of your attacks, often to devastating results. Finally, if your character’s Alliance Extreme attack gauge is full, you can hit both triggers to initiate an Alliance Extreme attack. If other characters you control have full gauges, you can press the triggers again up to four times to bring your whole team into the fray for obscene damage bonuses.
So we’ve covered the action elements, now let’s look at the RPG parts. I mentioned that you learn new abilities every five levels, but that’s not the only thing gaining levels is good for. Every time you level up you also gain enhancement points that can be used on your Alliance Enhancement board to increase your characters’ stats. Acquiring tiles on the AE board also costs money, which is gained via defeating enemies and smashing crates and furniture throughout the game’s levels. The bonuses from purchased tiles apply to all of your heroes, regardless of level or usage.
In addition to strengthening your team via the enhancement board, you can also (eventually) equip your characters with a special substance called ISO-8. You can eventually unlock up to four slots on each of your characters to equip different ISO-8 shards, which can significantly boost the effectiveness of your heroes. Personally, I always loaded whoever was my main at the time with the best stuff to make things easier on myself. I also switched mains every five minutes because, again, Marvel fanboy. Oh, and eventually you gain the ability to upgrade your ISO-8 fragments. You can get ISO-8 materials the same way you get money, but you can also break down unwanted ISO-8 fragments for spare materials.
The main campaign isn’t super long by, say, regular RPG standards, but for a brawler it’s an eternity; somewhere around ten hours for the main campaign. Replayability can be an issue at that playtime, but that’s where the Infinity Rifts come in. Rifts open up a series of challenges to complete, each with three levels of rewards. In addition to the regular rewards, when you complete a level of a challenge you get a star. Every few stars you can unlock a new costume for one of your heroes, which to me is almost worth more than the ability and material-based rewards. I’m a fan; I want to see all the classic costumes they’re willing to cram into this game! *Ahem* Anyway, the Infinity Rifts are a cool way to extend the life of the game aside from the upcoming DLC packs, which I am also really looking forward to. The challenges are pretty dang intense, too, so three-starring them will take a while.
Jumping Off the Page
Probably Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3’s greatest asset is its graphical design. While the graphics aren’t completely state-of-the-art, they do create a vibrant, engaging world that matches the one that my favorite comic artists created on the comic page. As I mentioned in the opening, the heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe are lovingly crafted to resemble their comic counterparts, which is a huge plus for me personally. While I have nothing against the cinematic designs, I just generally prefer the more stylized nature of the comic designs.
The audio design is, obviously, not inspired by the comics as much. I mean, they’re comics… there’s no sound. The music is fine, for what it is; it’s intrepid, intense, and adventurous, which is exactly what you’d want from a comic-based adventure. More important than that, however, is that the game is fully voice-acted. Animation lovers will recognize the immortal Fred Tatasciore, the irreplaceable Nolan North and the surly growl of Steve Blum headlining in many roles, among others. The voice talent in the game is top-of-the-line, which is borne out by their performances. I may have grown up watching the ’92 X-Men cartoon, but ever since Wolverine and the X-Men, Blum has been the only Wolverine for me. And that’s really all that matters, isn’t it? That I personally am satisfied with Wolverine’s voice actor? I thought so.
Assemble Your Team
You can of course play the whole game co-op if you’d like, too, which is great. I played the previous MUA games and the even previous-er X-Men Legends series with a good group of friends; hopefully I can replicate that experience with this game. The game supports split screen, online, and local co-op options, so you can really play with anyone, anywhere. It seems like it’s the best way to tackle the hardest challenges the game has to offer. I touched on it earlier, and I’ll repeat it again here: your AI companions are kind of stupid. They have no problem running directly into enemy attacks, and they don’t seem to understand what the targets on the ground that appear before area attacks mean so they don’t dodge, either.
On To The Next Issue
I love the Marvel Universe. I love their characters in the comics I’ve read for over twenty years, the movies and TV shows I’ve watched along the way, and the video games I’ve played. Well, most of them – we don’t need to talk about the Elektra movie. For the last few years, if you really wanted an expansive roster of characters in your Marvel games, you pretty much had to go mobile or pick up the Marvel Lego games – which, actually, are a lot of fun so that’s not the worst thing in the world. But the Lego games are pretty simplistic, whereas Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is a Marvel action game that scratches the itch for a game with an expansive roster of Marvel characters with robust, fast-paced action. It’s got some issues, sure, but nothing’s perfect. If you’re looking to put together a four-hero dream roster and lay the smack-down on some villains, though, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is the way to go.
Buy Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 from the Nintendo eShop here.
Buy Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 from the Amazon here.
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