Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 sure is a strange game. It’s the follow-up to a game that’s a decade old at this point, and it’s a Nintendo Switch exclusive published by the Big N itself when the first two games in the series were multiplatform titles published by Activision. So what does the end result look like? Well, it’s just more Ultimate Alliance, and your opinion of this game is going to depend on how much “more Ultimate Alliance” excites you.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 plays like a game straight out of 2010, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The combat is barebones, the level design is simplistic, and it shoves as many recognizable characters as it can into the frame at once, just like a licensed game from a decade ago would. However, that’s all Ultimate Alliance 3 needs to be. I’m pressing buttons to make Spider-Man do cool stuff. It’s just dumb fun, and that’s something you need every now and again.
The game opens up pretty standard. You’re in control of the Guardians of the Galaxy, you board a ship, fight some Kree soldiers, face off against Nebula and Ronan, typical Guardians fare. After some light story beats revolving around Thanos and the Infinity Stones, the Guardians end up on Earth, and then what seems like every Marvel character to have ever existed starts showing up. Once this game starts, it starts, and Ultimate Alliance 3 knows exactly what its players are here for: a bunch of Marvel heroes beating up large amounts of fodder with the occasional boss fight against a recognizable foe. After meeting Spider-Man and defeating Sandman alongside him, what seems like the entire MCU shows up out of nowhere, and they all become playable. Characters are steadily introduced at this breakneck pace, and you won’t have to wait ages to unlock your favorite caped crusader (or villain!).
The plot isn’t essential here, but it’s serviceable. It’s generic Marvel stuff, the bad guys want the Infinity Stones to do bad guy things, but the performances and banter between characters really surprised me with how entertaining they could be. Of course, a lot of it is owed to Spidey, who is portrayed by the wonderful Yuri Lowenthal, the very same man who voiced the webhead in Insomniac’s Spider-Man. Still, a lot of the comedic bits actually ended up landing, and I found myself easily getting attached to the Ultimate Alliance renditions of my favorite characters, namely Iron Man, Miles Morales, and Star-Lord.
The combat isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s satisfying enough to remain enjoyable. It’s mostly button mashing with the occasional heavy attack or dodge mixed in, but the satisfying thwacks and thuds paired with the excellent controller rumble give the combat a little extra oomph that makes it feel pretty good. It also helps that it’s Captain America smacking goons with his shield or Thor throwing Mjolnir into a crowd, too. The bigger of a Marvel fan you are, the more you’ll like this game.
There is some light strategy to the combat in choosing when to use your special abilities and synergies. Special abilities are the same as just about any other action game; you spend some meter to perform a powerful attack. Synergies, though, take some thought to pull off, and they’re oh so worth it. If two characters perform compatible abilities at the same time, they synergize and do crazy amounts of damage. The screen shakes, there’s a slight pause, and there’s a loud popping sound every time you pull this off, and I found myself addicted to pulling off these crazy moves.
More difficult enemies will have a purple meter under their health bar, and after you empty it by attacking them, they’ll enter a stunned state in which they take more damage. Stunning enemies is incredibly helpful, particularly during boss fights. Using a synergy while an enemy is stunned will do significant damage, and extreme attacks will do even more. Extreme attacks are Ultimate Alliance 3‘s version of ultimate abilities. These moves can only be performed once a character’s meter is completely full, and they can be combined with other heroes’ extreme attacks to dish out massive damage.
In between fights, Ultimate Alliance 3 will throw some basic puzzles your way. These prevent the action from becoming monotonous, but the puzzles themselves are rarely challenging and very clearly come across as filler to prevent you from getting bored of combat. Sometimes puzzles have chests with helpful materials tucked away as extra rewards, but for the most part, these puzzles segments feel like a waste of time. Thankfully, they’re brief and you can get right back to pummeling baddies.
Unfortunately, the most challenging part of Ultimate Alliance 3 so far, more so than any fight or puzzle, is the camera. The camera in this game is fine when it works, but it only works about half the time. The rest of the time is spent fighting with the camera as it gets caught on things and zooms in way too far. There is an alternate camera mode called “heroic” mode, which lowers the camera to something more akin to a third-person perspective, but this camera is even worse because it’s constantly fighting with the walls and level geometry.
For as diverse as Ultimate Alliance 3‘s cast is, it’s a shame that they mostly play the same as one another. They all seem to fall into cookie-cutter archetypes. Ranged characters like Star-Lord, for example, all play similarly. Nimble, lightweight characters like Spider-Man and Gamora feel identical, and big, strong fighters like Hulk and Venom might as well be the same character. These archetypes are at least all satisfying to play as though. Just because everyone’s similar doesn’t mean they aren’t satisfying to use (Venom in particular hits like a truck). I just wish there was a bit more done to make each character stand out amidst the huge 36 character roster.
Surprisingly, your team composition actually somewhat matters in Ultimate Alliance 3. You can still throw together a hodgepodge of characters that wouldn’t normally team up if that’s your thing, but if you employ characters with similar attributes, you’ll get small stat bonuses. Each character has a number of tags like “original Avenger,” and if you match heroes with the same tags, you’ll get a small buff to strength or whatever stat that specific tag buffs. They’re small bonuses, but they add up, especially when characters have more than one tag in common.
There are two main avenues of progression. Upgrading abilities is fairly self-explanatory, you just improve one of your character’s four abilities. “The Lab” is the more interesting progression system, offering a system similar to Final Fantasy X‘s sphere grid that lets you improve your team’s stats. These are the same stats that the team composition buffs can affect, too, so it’s wise to compose a team that specializes in one group of stats and use the Lab to make up for their weaknesses.
Playing solo is fine, but Ultimate Alliance 3 was unquestionably designed with cooperative play in mind. The AI can hold its own, but this is a game best played on the couch with friends, laughing and yelling while your favorite Marvel heroes beat up the bad guys. It’s also easier to coordinate synergies with real people. There is online play available, and you can even bring one local friend with you into online lobbies, but I haven’t had much time to mess around with Ultimate Alliance 3‘s online offerings, so I won’t be able to provide a comprehensive report on the stability and functionality of the online until my full review.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 feels like the kind of game you’d play with your friends at a sleepover as a kid. It’s silly, it’s full of fanservice, and it’s just plain old fun. While it won’t blow anyone away and certainly won’t win any awards, it’s a good time, and sometimes, that’s all you need. My full review for Ultimate Alliance 3 should be up sometime this weekend, but if you’re craving more Ultimate Alliance content, you can check out some early gameplay below of the Mysterio boss fight with Miles Morales, Ms. Marvel, and Spider-Gwen.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order releases on July 19, 2019, exclusively for Nintendo Switch.