Review: Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is the summer’s guilty pleasure
Nintendo and Team Ninja revive the superhero brawler
Since Marvel Ultimate Alliance’s last iteration under original publisher Activision, the comic book brand’s place in pop culture has spiralled in stratospheric proportions.
But while video game attempts to cash in on the MCU has been mixed – note the reactions to superhero representations in both Marvel vs Capcom Infinite and Square Enix’s recently announced Avengers title – it’s to Ultimate Alliance 3’s credit that it leans closer to the source material and also brings back cel-shaded visuals, a better fit for the Switch’s less powerful hardware.
The plot to stop Thanos may immediately have people drawing comparisons to the recent Avengers films but the story, penned by all-ages Marvel comics writer Marc Sumerak, is mostly an excuse to take us on a greatest hits romp through the Marvel universe, from the Avengers Tower to Wakanda to Asgard, in the quest for the Infinity Stones.
There’s a great diversity in the over 30 playable Marvel characters for up to four players, while you can swap on the fly in single-player. Starting with the Guardians of the Galaxy, there’s the original Avengers line-up, as well as new blood like Miles Morales and Ms Marvel, even room for lesser known characters like Elsa Bloodstone. Everyone also gets a snappy introduction so regardless of your Marvel knowledge, you get a feel for who they are in just a few words.
Heroes differentiate themselves with attack types you would expect (Spidey shoots webs, Wolverine slashes, Hulk smashes) and there’s a range of RPG-lite customisation from equipping stat-boosting crystals and even attribute bonuses based on team composition. Still, the short of it is mostly spamming attacks and abilities as you enter one room after another full of bad guys to beat down, though a fun script keeps things chugging along.
There’s a variety of escalating enemy types, as well as regular mini-boss and boss battles that span the rogue’s gallery well beyond the titular Black Order. However, once you’re introduced to say the Raft’s inmates with super powers or the giant Sentinels in a given chapter, you’re pretty much just fighting that enemy for the duration of the level.
“The short of it is mostly spamming attacks and abilities as you enter one room after another full of bad guys to beat down, though a fun script keeps things chugging along”
That’s not to say that it’s a brainless brawler, even if developer Team Ninja appears to be channelling its Musou work more than Ninja Gaiden. Stand close to an ally and your abilities can be enhanced with Synergy Attacks, similar to when multiple heroes unleash their room-filling Extreme attacks at the same time. While the Switch generally maintains a stable 30fps, it does take a dip during these moments of overloaded effects.
Perhaps inspired by Nioh, enemies also have a purple meter, and depleting this will stagger them for a few seconds allowing you to deliver more damage. It’s hard to tell the difference when you’re repeatedly on the offensive, but it does become more crucial against some bosses where you’re barely chipping at their life until they’re stunned – fail to keep up the assault and the meter will restore itself.
Ensuring your heroes are levelled up is also going to be important for later chapters. But while characters who join the Alliance later start at a suitable level, if you had Cap on the bench when he started at Lv6, he’s still going to be Lv6 if you’re suddenly thinking of deploying him in the endgame.
For those intending to max out the whole roster, there’s more than rinsing and repeating the story’s 10 chapters. Infinity Trials are challenges that vary from boss fights to tower defence to stand-alone levels where you’re just in control of one set hero. The number of conditions and rewards for clearing these also give them an incentive for replaying and mastering.
Nonetheless, there’s an acute lack of depth to the combat when compared to action royalty like Bayonetta or Devil May Cry. The absence of combo hits, decent audio cues and feedback lost amongst the flash and noise fails to give a method to the mayhem, which is why it’s all too easy to just mash away and hope for the best.
The Russo brothers have turned Marvel in to cinematic masterpieces. If you’re looking for a gaming equivalent, Ultimate Alliance 3 isn’t it, though that was never its intention. But if you’re looking to get your favourite heroes together to kick ass with friends then you’ll have a Hulk-smashing time.
Ultimate Alliance 3 is a crowd-pleasing summer blockbuster that’s worth a bash.
- Diverse roster from the Marvel universe while sticking to the comic aesthetics
- Infinity Trials add to longevity and challenge
- Button-mashing brawling and enemy types gets repetitive
- Sometimes too chaotic to read the action or get satisfying feedback