Sweet Christmas…it’s back.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is the sequel to the acclaimed Activision titles of the same name, Ultimate Alliance (2006) and Ultimate Alliance 2 (2009). When the games suddenly disappeared from digital stores in 2018 due to licensing issues with the publisher Activision, it left many fans of the action RPG wondering if the beloved franchise would see another iteration. Nintendo and Team Ninja obliged by deciding to jump into the wildly successful superhero resurgence injected by Disney’s Marvel cinematic universe and created a solid video game title that owes its inspiration to the games of old and yet still offers some intriguing new mechanics that bring the game into the modern age.
Ultimate Alliance 3 is an action RPG that takes Marvel superheroes and has them unleash awesome combos against dungeon-crawling enemies repeatedly. What makes this rinse and repeat formula so endearing is that there are currently 36 playable characters with their own unique set of powers and combos to take on these swarms of enemies. Abilities level up over time, unlocking into more powerful variations and new abilities for players.
This process is a bit more complicated than it needs to be, with too many menus and not enough explanation given on powers. Something to note is that not all characters on the roster level up when the playable heroes’ level up. This could be viewed as a way to encourage using multiple characters in the game, but instead, it feels a bit odd when one wants to use someone different later in the game and realizes quickly that the character is only a level 10 when every other character on their team is a level 20.
During gameplay, there are four playable heroes on the screen at one time. The user picks the team and controls one of these heroes while the CPU controls the other three teammates. The user can easily switch to other heroes with the press of the D-Pad or click of the joy-con. But who wants to play a game like this alone? The best part of this game is playing cooperatively with friends.
The Switch is the perfect console for this concept. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 seamlessly integrates the “pick up and play” selling point. Some Nintendo games that have one leave the game and go to the options menu and set up additional controllers, but not here. With a simple click to the pause menu, the user just selects CO-OP and up to 3 additional players can join the squad. Also, the S.H.I.E.L.D. save points from previous games are back again with multiple opportunities to save and select new characters, so friends will be able to select the hero they want relatively quickly.
Narratively, the game avoids any risk-taking by riding the coattails of the MCU and makes the “big bad” Thanos. Ultimate Alliance almost comically finds ways of putting these characters on the same team. For example, there are several situations in the game where one fights a villain, only for the heroes to say, “join us because…Thanos” and the villain says “ok but only this time”. It comes off poorly, but in a game that allows the player to use the Avengers, the X-Men, the Inhumans, and all other manner of characters in one game, some narrative holes are expected to occur.
The one area where this game continually struggles is with technical issues. Graphically this game does well even with the lack of processing power of the Nintendo Switch. They make up for this by going with a more cartoonish, comic book aesthetic that works here because…comic books. However, I did notice some small frame rate dips when a lot of things are on screen at once and four players are playing at the same time. The camera is atrocious. The angles that the game chooses for some of the fights are downright awful. There is nothing more frustrating in this game than when one loses a tough boss fight because the camera gets stuck at a weird angle preventing attacks, or makes the player stay in one corner of a large room because otherwise, the user can’t see incoming attacks. On a positive note, the voice acting here is done well. The cut scenes before boss fights are cheesy and overacted, but they work surprisingly well in an almost “Saturday morning cartoon” way.
But is it fun? The answer is a resounding yes. In a world that continues to move to online multiplayer (and yes, this game does have network play), it is refreshing to see a game built almost entirely on the concept of playing a beat em’ up on the couch with your friends. I understand the hand wringing over this game being a Nintendo Switch exclusive, but the pickup and play aspect of the Switch works extremely well here. One can literally fire up a single-player game at home, pop off a joy-con to play with their friend, and then click the joy-con back on before taking the game on the road without causing any hiccup to the game. It works really well here. This may be the best couch co-op game of this console generation, and it will only get better, with DLC characters and stages already announced for Q3 of 2019. Do yourself a favor and add this to your Switch library.
Ryan Files is an avid comic book and video game consumer, reviewer, and critic hailing from the boondocks of Illinois. He has taken his ethnographic cultural studies background and applied it to his love of geekdom. He is a huge Star Wars nerd, Castlevania fanatic, and his power level is definitely over 9000. When he isn’t online writing about how he misses old school beat em’ ups like Final Fight, Streets of Rage, or TMNT IV Turtles in Time, he raises his 3 Dora Milaje warrior girls with the most awesome wife a blerd could ask for. You can reach the mumbly one @moblipeg on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.