Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order packs a ton of fan-favorite Marvel characters and locations into its eight or so hour campaign, but it unfortunately fails to bring anything else of value to the table, resulting in a shallow but still enjoyable romp that’ll keep any Marvel fan entertained for at least a few hours. There’s just barely enough to keep you going, and that’s all this kind of game really needs.
Game Name: Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Developer(s): Team Ninja
Release Date: July 19, 2019
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is an isometric action RPG in a similar vein to Diablo, where you and up to three other friends can take control of your favorite Marvel characters (barring some pretty notable omissions) and battle your way through droves of brainless baddies. There’s practically no depth to it, but Captain America can reflect Iron Man’s unibeam off of his shield. If that sentence excited you, then this is the game for you, but if you felt nothing, then stay away from Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3.
The premise is nothing new. Thanos and the bad guys want the Infinity Stones and it’s up to a team of the greatest Marvel heroes (an ultimate alliance, if you will) to put a stop to their evil plans and save the universe. The plot and overall tone of the game are straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon, but there’s a charm in its simplicity. Being stacked with some of the most iconic Marvel characters means that Ultimate Alliance 3 is full of character interactions and banter, and most of it ends up being surprisingly entertaining. The voice work is considerably well done too, and there are some talented folks behind some of the characters, like Nolan North as Deadpool/Rocket and Yuri Lowenthal and Nadji Jeter reprising their respective roles as Spider-Man and Miles Morales from Insomniac’s Spider-Man. Ultimate Alliance 3‘s story serves as a tool to create new gameplay scenarios, which is fine considering this is 100% a gameplay first kind of game.
It’s just a shame how shallow the core gameplay actually is. Combat encounters boil down to button mashing with the occasional special ability thrown in, and very little strategy or thought is required to fell the foes onscreen. I found myself on autopilot for the majority of my playthrough, repeating the same string of light attacks capped with a heavy attack and spamming the same ability when my character’s meter was full. Ultimate Alliance 3 is a very basic brawler and it doesn’t progress much mechanically past its opening hours.
The opening hours, however, are incredible. After a brief stint with the Guardians of the Galaxy in space, things begin to go awry at the Raft, and the Guardians, the Avengers, and most of Marvel’s iconic faces team up to take on Spider-Man’s most famous foes. Heroes are unlocked left and right, there’s witty banter between characters, and the combat is fresh enough to be exciting. The opening is fast, frenetic, and fun. After completing these first few levels, though, you’ll quickly realize that that is all Ultimate Alliance 3 really has to offer, and the luster will wear off. For Marvel fans, Ultimate Alliance 3‘s honeymoon phase is fantastic, but it doesn’t evolve much past that point.
What does keep combat encounters interesting is how flashy and satisfying punches, kicks, and special abilities feel. A masterful use of rumble combined with screen shake and other visual effects makes Ultimate Alliance 3‘s heroes feel especially powerful, and the rush of pulling of particularly powerful combos keeps the game exciting long after the mechanics themselves grow tiresome. Synergy attacks, which happen when two heroes use compatible abilities at the same time, are especially cool, resulting in a super gratifying sound effect and slight pause on impact, hammering home just how hard these attacks hit. Team Ninja nailed the feedback of combat, and it makes the fighting feel good despite its simplicity. The heroes feel tremendously powerful in comparison to the endless waves of generic goons that are sent their way, and that’s all this kind of game really needs.
Considering that Ultimate Alliance 3 draws its locales from a universe as rich and varied as Marvel’s, it’s a shame that each level is bland, uninspired, and incredibly formulaic. Each level consists of drab hallways of generic goons with a few puzzles and side-scrolling segments thrown in to spice things up. The puzzles are all exceptionally easy, and while they may sometimes feature chests with useful materials tucked away as an extra reward, they all end up feeling boring and unnecessary. The side-scrolling sections and other perspective gimmicks lose their appeal after the first few, and the novelty quickly wears off. All of Ultimate Alliance 3‘s levels play out exactly the same, and I would have like to see some more variety in mission structure and level design.
Each level culminates in a boss fight, which are somewhat exciting due to the scale and spectacle of the fights, but when it comes to gameplay, Ultimate Alliance 3‘s boss encounters are an exercise in boredom. They possess large amounts of health, so you’ll have to slowly whittle it down while culling the horde of additional enemies and occasionally dealing with a boss-specific mechanic. Bosses amount to little more than souped-up regular enemies, offering little in the way of challenge or fun mechanics. It doesn’t help that a few of Ultimate Alliance 3‘s bosses are accompanied by horrendous difficulty spikes, not as a result of the encounters themselves being tough, but rather as a result of the game’s RPG leveling system.
Each of Ultimate Alliance 3‘s 36 playable characters has their own unique set of abilities and statistics that can be improved as they level up. For the first half of the game, zone levels scale linearly, so if you stick with the same team, they’ll be leveled appropriately to tackle any situation. After the midpoint, however, zones begin to spike up three to five levels above your highest heroes, even if you’ve stuck with them the whole time. The game forces you to grind its optional Infinity Trials to get your team up to snuff to continue the campaign, and this leaves some bosses and areas feeling like roadblocks rather than exciting new destinations to visit on your joyride through the Marvel universe.
Infinity Trials are your main source of experience outside of the main campaign, but they ultimately fall flat due to their repetitive nature. Infinity Trials are a series of optional challenges accessed from the main menu, placing you back into areas you’ve already explored to accomplish an objective like killing a certain amount of enemies or only using one specific hero. These challenges can have modifiers like damage increasing over time for both you and your foes or having synergy attacks do massive damage while normal attacks to next to none. Like Ultimate Alliance 3‘s main campaign, Infinity Trials start off interesting, a fun novelty as an alternative to the more linear campaign, but they quickly become dull once you realize you keep returning to the same handful of environments to take on the same enemies and bosses, just with some small tweaks made to the ruleset. Still, there are a ton of them, and if you’re looking for an excuse to beat up more bad guys, that’s what they’re there for.
Outside of progression-related items like experience cubes and ability orbs, Infinity Trials are also the main way of unlocking the game’s extra characters as well as alternate costumes for the entire roster. These extra characters are practically the only worthwhile reward that Infinity Trials offer because the unlockable costumes are a total disappointment. Costumes and suits are essential in any superhero game. Ultimate Alliance 3‘s customization options sadly boil down to simple reskins and recolors of the base costumes, and each character only gets one additional costume outside of their standard garb. Spider-Man’s unlockable suit, for example, is the Spider-Armor MK 1, which is simply a silver version of the standard suit. Black Widow’s unlockable costume is just a white version of her original outfit. In a mode where the rewards are the main draw, it’s shame that most of them are subpar.
Throughout Ultimate Alliance 3′s campaign, you’ll meet several familiar Marvel faces, but not everyone is playable. Well-known Marvel heroes like Jessica Jones, Ant-Man, Beast, and Winter Solider make appearances throughout the story, but they aren’t a part of the playable cast for some reason. Other Marvel staples are absent entirely, but the game’s expansion pass aims to remedy that. I guess the Fantastic Four were on vacation when all this Infinity Stone stuff was going on. For a game centered around bringing all of Marvel together under one banner, it’s surprising to see so many notable omissions and characters being reduced to NPCs. Still, the 36 hero roster is large and diverse enough to satisfy any Marvel fan.
Leveling and improving these heroes is ultimately underwhelming. There’s a sphere grid-like system in place that allows you to purchase incremental stat increases for your entire team, but these only increase things by a small amount, and even though they do eventually add up to something greater, the entire process is wholly unsatisfying. Characters can also be equipped with crystals called ISO-8 that increase stats and the like on that specific hero. Like the other forms of progression, these only provide minor buffs. The only significant upgrades are improvements to each hero’s four abilities, which can each be leveled up a few times, increasing damage and other attributes. These are practically the only upgrades you’ll need throughout your time with Ultimate Alliance 3, and while you can min-max with the stat increases and create a powerful build for a hero, it’s unnecessary with a combat system this simple. These will really only be necessary for the toughest Infinity Trials, and even then those can be completed with just a competent team of players.
All of Ultimate Alliance 3‘s content is unchallenging when tackled with a team of real players. Playing solo is still fine, but the AI definitely has some issues. They attack and use their abilities autonomously, but during trickier encounters like boss fights, they’ll stand in the middle of AoE attacks and go down repeatedly. During some of the segments of the game where the difficulty spikes up (some segments with snipers come to mind), you’ll basically have to work your way through the level solo because they’ll die over and over, especially during parts where dodging is essential. There is online play in Ultimate Alliance 3, and it’s thankfully functional. It uses a lobby system where players can create public or private rooms, and the host can start the level when people have joined. I struggled to find rooms when I searched, but creating a room and waiting for it to fill didn’t take that long. Ultimate Alliance 3 is definitely geared toward local co-op, and it’s without a doubt meant to be experienced that way.
Ultimate Alliance 3‘s camera is a huge issue in local co-op, zooming in and out scrambling to keep the action of all four players on screen at once. Players will end up out of frame quite often, and this, paired with the game’s occasional framerate issues, can make the experience hectic and confusing. The camera issues are unfortunately not limited to local multiplayer. Even playing solo with the AI, the camera will get caught on walls, zoom too far out, zoom too far in, and end up obscuring the action a lot of the time. There are two camera modes, the standard isometric view and a closer “heroic” camera, but neither is a particularly good choice. The heroic camera is especially problematic considering the game’s linear corridors were not designed with a close third-person camera in mind.
Despite its many issues, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is still a lot of fun. The combat is simplistic, the level design is uninspired, and the progression system feels tacked on, but at the end of the day, it’s cool to play as your favorite Marvel heroes and beat up endless waves of bad guys. It feels like a licensed title from a decade ago, for better and for worse. If you enjoyed the first two Ultimate Alliance games, this is just more of the same. It’s mindless fun, and any Marvel fan is sure to get at least some enjoyment out of it.
Ultimate Alliance 3 is a fun but forgettable romp through Marvel’s most iconic locations. Combat is simplistic, the level design is uninspired, and the game gets repetitive very quickly, but the satisfying sound design and bright, flashing colors provide enough of a distraction to provide at least a few hours of fun. This is a game for Marvel fans, and those without a strong attachment to these characters will struggle to find enjoyment in Ultimate Alliance 3.
- Great voice acting and performances
- Flashy combat
- Marvel fan service
- Lame boss fights
- Absurd difficulty spikes
- Dumb AI
- Some characters omitted from the roster
- Uninspired level design
- Dull, button-mashing combat
- Frustrating camera