Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Team Ninja
Release Date: July 19, 2019


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Switch Review - 'Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on July 23, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Assemble your ultimate team of Marvel superheroes from a huge cast including the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, the X-Men, and more!

Buy Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order

It's surprising to realize that the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is likely the biggest movie franchise to ever exist, has so few video games (aside from the occasional Spider-Man title) to capitalize upon the brand. This wasn't always the case, and before the MCU dominated the box office, the X-Men Legends and Marvel Ultimate Alliance series let players bash everything in their paths as their favorite heroes and villains.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is an unexpected revival for the franchise. Exclusive to the Nintendo Switch and developed by Tecmo's Team Ninja, MUA3 represents the Avenger's first real video game outing in years. Does it succeed? That's a more complex question.

The story of MUA3 is depressingly predictable. Thanos is after the Infinity Stones and has sent the Black Order (those guys from "Infinity War") after them. Interference from the Guardians of the Galaxy means that they end up scattered across the Earth, with supervillains aplenty getting their hands on them. All of the Marvel heroes, from the Avengers to the X-Men to Elsa Bloodstone, must team up, beat the bad guys, and return peace to the world.

In MUA3, you create a team of four different characters, either for co-op or with AI characters. Each character has a light attack, a strong attack, and four special moves powered by an energy bar. They also have an extreme attack that can be used once their EX bar fills up. It's fairly standard gameplay for a beat-'em-up, and there are appealing gameplay loops of beating up foes and getting stronger.

The game really shines in the variety of playable characters. A tremendous number of characters are in the game by default, with more coming as DLC. This includes all the expected Avengers, from Iron Man to the Hulk, a number of popular X-Men (including my favorite Nightcrawler), and even multiple Spider-folk including Gwen, Miles, Peter and Venom. Basically, if the character has had a movie or television show, he or she is probably in this game. There are obvious similarities between some of the characters, but they do a good job of differing them. Miles Morales, Spider-Gwen and Spider-Man all have identical power sets on paper, but they have enough distinct abilities to set them apart. Miles has electric-focused attacks, and Gwen has a lot of mobility and area-hitting moves, while Peter has the default move set.

One of the cooler parts of team-building in MUA3 is Synergy attacks. Every attack has different elements, such as Beam, Burn, Rapid-Fire, Slam and so on. The attacks have their own attributes (e.g., Slam is good for clearing an area), but if two characters use attacks with complementary elements near each other, they'll perform a Synergy attack that amplifies the power. Two Slams rock the entire battlefield. Rapid Fire and Area Assault cause projectiles to be spread across the screen. In single-player mode, you have a dedicated button to order allies to synergize with your attacks, so this isn't just for multiplayer.

Synergy helps every team feel distinct without shoehorning players into specific teams. Generally, any possible combination of heroes is going to have at least some synergy with other heroes; it's just a question of how much and how versatile that synergy is. It can excel at breaking stagger bars, clearing areas, just dealing damage. The only downside is that Synergy attacks drain energy from both characters, which can leave careless players without the ability to even execute regular attacks.

Another neat, but relatively minor, feature is that every character is part of certain "teams." For example, anyone who is a regular Avenger gets an Avengers team bonus, as do X-Men, Defenders, and so on. There are also thematic teams, such as "Women of Marvel" and "Generations," which is for heroes who have passed their legacy on to another. The more members of a specific team are in your party, the greater the bonus, usually maxing out at a 5% boost to specific stats.

The final boost you can make to the entire team is the Alliance bonus. A Final Fantasy X-style Sphere Grid, the Alliance bonus gives extra stats to every character on your team. They are relatively minor bonuses, but they add up quickly and can take some of the sting out of slowly leveling up older characters. Sadly, most of the bonuses are pretty minor, and it's difficult to get that excited about a 1% boost in damage, even if it starts adding up.

You can also customize characters with two power-ups: ability upgrades and ISO-8. Ability upgrades let you power up your character's special skills, which add extra damage, cheaper energy costs or special effects to the attacks. ISO-8 are crystals that serve as the game's equipment by offering special boosts or new abilities. It's not the most exciting upgrade system in the world, but it does the job, and for the game's tougher challenges, you absolutely want to be optimizing your ISO-8.

Speaking of difficulty, MUA3's difficulty level is over the place. Sometimes, it's button-mashy and then you'll hit a roadblock of a boss who requires precise timing or some level-grinding to beat. Doing side content is pretty much required to stay on the leveling curve. I would've preferred no levels and instead a greater focus on ISO-8 and customization, but the enthusiastic "Level Up" is probably worth the time investment. If you want a relaxing experience, don't be afraid to start on a lower difficulty level.

There's quite a lot of content in the game. The main story mode is pretty lengthy and keeps you fed with a near-constant diet of new playable characters. Once you get rolling, you can take on greater challenges, including the Infinity Trials, which allow you to take on special (and fun) gimmick fights with the promise of rewards. Some of these include new costumes, but disappointingly, almost all of them are simple palette swaps. In good Diablo style, it's fun to just beat up enemies to get more powerful loot so you can beat up even stronger enemies.

Perhaps MUA3's biggest problem is its performance. The game's art style is charming and enjoyable, with lots of nice little animated touches. However, the actual graphics aren't particularly impressive and are more on-par with a high-end PS3 game than anything else. This really hurts when the game gets moments of serious slowdown and loss of frames during hectic moments. It's not enough to sour the experience, but in handheld mode, it happens a lot more often than it should for a game that isn't particularly taxing to the system.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order can best be summed up as average. It's neither bad nor exceptional. It's fun to play for Marvel fans and those who get giddy at the idea of Ant-Man fighting a giant Ultron-possessed robot or Ms. Marvel teaming up with Spider-Gwen. At the end of the day, the branding is about all that makes the game stand out. If you're not a die-hard Marvel fan, there isn't a lot here for you after the initial rush wears off from brutalizing baddies with the superheroes of your choice. The fun is still there, and in co-op, the game gains a lot more fun.

Score: 7.0/10

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