Review | Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order
Marvel has done some pretty amazing things over the past decade. They’ve created a cinematic universe that culminated in the highest grossing film with Avengers: Endgame. Records were broken with Marvel’s Spider-Man becoming the highest selling superhero title ever. Even now, partnering with Nintendo, they’ve released a brand new Marvel Ultimate Alliance title after ten years. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is not only a return for the franchise, but it’s also an Avengers: Endgame level adventure that makes a perfect home exclusively on the Nintendo Switch.
For fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is like a dream come true. Not only do we have a mix of the Avengers, Defenders, Guardians of the Galaxy and Web Warriors, but we even have the welcome inclusion of the X-Men, some Inhumans, the Midnight Sons, and more to come. This is more teams than any Marvel Ultimate Alliance to date, resulting in the largest roster in the series with 36 characters. While many of these characters are series veterans, there are quite a few new inclusions. The Guardians of the Galaxy have never been featured in the series before, and they take center stage in Ultimate Alliance 3. They even provide the commentary in the reports in the gallery of the game.
The story of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order mirrors the films rather well. Focusing on Thanos and the Infinity Stones, the game gives heroes across the universe many reasons to form an alliance. Starting with the Guardians of the Galaxy, they come across the six stones after following a distress signal. After a bit of a tussle, they accidentally spread the stones across the Earth, making them coveted by multiple villains. After appearing on Earth themselves, they meet up with several other heroes, starting off the journey through 10 chapters. It then becomes a race against the Black Order to collect the stones and protect the universe from Thanos.
While the story seems to make use of the stones as excuses to travel to familiar settings, it gets the job done. The true highlight of the narrative is the spotlight given to each and every character. Even the characters the player doesn’t choose will have time to shine. Not only will they have fun descriptions for their intro, but they’ll have plenty of dialogue throughout the adventure. Each character even has a solid moment in at least one cinematic to showcase their abilities. Are you a Deadpool fan? Watch him make tacos while the Juggernaut ruins his day. A fan of Ghost Rider? He’ll make a grand entrance riding his motorcycle and eliminating foes with his demon chain.
Getting to the gameplay of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, fans of the franchise will feel right at home. Using the Y and X button, players can use light and heavy attacks respectively, allowing them to charge energy. Pressing the B button will jump once, with a second press performing an extra jump, swing, teleport or flight. Combining the R button with any of the face buttons allows the use of super powers. In the beginning, characters will have one super power, but over time, they’ll unlock more from leveling up. New to the game is the Synergy attack, which is using a super power with the ZR button in sync with another character. This causes more damage to multiple foes and even increases the chance to stagger them.
All of these attacks and actions come together and charge the extreme meter. When it’s fully charged, players can unleash their Extreme Attack, and even combine it with other characters to lay waste on enemies. While several enemies will be there to be fodder, the stronger ones will take a bit more work. Strong enemies will have a purple stagger gauge, that when depleted, will make them vulnerable to attacks. Players that take advantage of this can even stun the enemy using super powers. This allows for some strategic elements, making it so players will want to save their energy for critical moments. This could even be for the new barriers that require combining powers to access secret areas or hidden items.
As players progress, they’ll unlock the ability to equip their characters with ISO-8. Fans of the Marvel universe will probably know of these powerful crystals, and they work similarly here. Players can equip up to four ISO-8 crystals per character. They can increase stats, retain HP from a fatal blow, drop more credits, and more. This adds a bit more customization to the game, allowing players to go deeper than ever before with their characters. They’ll even unlock the ability to modify ISO-8, improving their abilities further.
Another new feature to Ultimate Alliance 3 is the Alliance Enhancement grid. As players progress, they’ll earn credits and enhancement points to buff overall stats for their team. This works across all characters, so it would make sense to make use of this grid. There are a total of seven hexagons of stats to fill, each with more than 30 nodes. It would take quite some time to unlock all the enhancements. Overall, this is the deepest system in an Ultimate Alliance title yet, and it’ll be a serious endeavor to complete 100%.
If players get tired of the story, they can also check out the Infinity trials. These will unlock through story progression, finding rifts, or even earning characters. These tests of skill will range from taking out waves of enemies, solo character challenges, or even boss rushes. Being on the Switch, these trials are great to tackle on the go to kill some time. Each one has three objectives to complete to earn a star, which will go towards unlocking a skin for a character. Sadly, all of the skins boil down to recolors, though many take inspiration from actual costumes. Captain Marvel has her Kree colors, Captain America has his stealth suit, and Psylocke even has her X-Force outfit. The only skin that isn’t a recolor is the Chef Deadpool outfit from purchasing the expansion pass.
Getting to the presentation of the game, it might be the strongest aspect of the game. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is presented in a colorful comic book style with cel-shaded visuals and familiar designs. A fan of the Jim Lee X-Men costumes? You’ll be glad to see some of that inspiration brought to the X-Men designs in this game. Speaking of X-Men, can we just take a moment to appreciate the fact they’re finally back in a mainstream Marvel console title? It really is a treat to run through the X-Mansion to rocking guitar riffs with multiple mutants fighting alongside you. While it’s true that this game could look better on other platforms, it works well on the Nintendo Switch. Despite this, there are still moments of frame rate drops when action gets really intense, especially in the final battle.
The game is takes players to a variety of locations, each with their own unique motifs and designs. Each setting is even accompanied by a fitting track to set the mood for beat ’em up action. The music is entertaining enough, though the true strength in the audio is from the voice acting. Ultimate Alliance 3 has many veteran voice actors, most of them reprising roles from other Marvel projects. Yuri Lowenthal returns as Peter Parker to throw out fun Spider-Man quips. Steve Blum delivers his iconic gruff tones as Wolverine while Laura Bailey’s Black Widow is just as effective. Even Nolan North makes a triumphant come back as Deadpool, providing some of the best commentary in the game. There are too many actors to praise, even some new ones, but they all do a fantastic job with their performance.
Finally, the biggest draw to Marvel Ultimate Alliance is arguably the multiplayer. Just like the original titles, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 offers four player co-op play. This can be with either online play, couch co-op, or even local play with up to four Switch consoles. Surprisingly, the online is super stable, having played a few sessions with no lag whatsoever. Players can set up lobbies for up to four players and select parts of the story to play or even Infinity trials. Each character even has up to four emotes they can use to communicate. Despite the stable experience, the pacing could be better, as online play ends after each checkpoint. This means a typical online session lasts from five to ten minutes before all the players return to the lobby.
While online works fine with random players, the couch co-op was always my favorite part of Marvel Ultimate Alliance. It’s still a fun experience, though there are some flaws. First of all, the colorful visuals and multiple enemies on screen make it easy to lose sight of your character. Even with each character highlighted by a different color, the action on screen can become intense enough to make it irrelevant. The other issue comes from the camera, which works fine the majority of the time. At other times, usually boss fights, it becomes a bigger threat than the boss. One fight, the camera kept staying behind destructible objects, making it hard for my friends and I to see. Another boss battle ended up locking the camera in place while one of my friends needed to be revived off camera. It was manageable, but still a hassle.
One more thing to mention about the camera is the fact that Team Ninja added a new camera option. Players can use the classic “overhead” view used in the previous games, but now there is a new dynamic option. This makes the game more like a third-person action title, allowing players to get closer to the action than ever before. Some battles will use the same camera regardless, but it’s a nice addition. Luckily, the camera isn’t an issue during single player or when using multiple Switch consoles. There’s also the ability to lock onto enemies too, which helps a great deal, though it takes away some of the challenge.
Overall, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is a solid comic book co-op adventure. Fans of the MCU will have plenty to enjoy while still experiencing character interactions they never got. Even if you’re not specifically an MCU fan and you just like Marvel in general, there’s a lot to appreciate here. While the game isn’t perfect, this is easily the best Marvel Ultimate Alliance title. With a large and diverse roster, a fun story, and plenty of trials to keep you busy, the game is teeming with content. It’s never been a better time to get some friends together, create a dream team of heroes, and just wreck house.