It’s been very nearly ten years since the release of the last Marvel Ultimate Alliance game. Back then, Marvel properties weren’t nearly as popular as they are now. Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk movies had just released, but the unified Marvel Cinematic Universe was just a plan – and Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark had yet to become the axis around which Marvel’s movie ambitions revolved.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is now available exclusively for Nintendo’s Switch, bringing the series into the current generation. It’s an all-new story that borrows heavily from the Infinity Gauntlet arc, blending styles from the cinematic universe, the comics, and TV shows. It’s a little incongruous and could – as we’ve seen with Crystal Dynamics’ Avengers game – be jarring for those who’ve come to know Marvel characters purely because of the movies. While Iron man looks and sounds like he’s modelled after Downey Jr, and Nick Fury’s a dead ringer for Samuel L Jackson, most of the other characters have their general aesthetics pulled from comics and cartoons – and they’ll sound familiar to those invested in Marvel’s animated output.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 doesn’t follow the continuity from the previous games at all, instead taking place in an alternate universe; one where things are a little more stylised than the hyper-serious past games. It begins with the Guardians of the Galaxy and their encounter with the Black Order; Thanos’ minions who’re out trying to collect the Infinity Stones for their despotic overlord. While that might sound a little familiar to the overarching story in the on-screen Infinity Saga, this differentiates itself quite a bit by giving you a whirlwind whistle-stop tour through (almost) everything Marvel. One minute you’ll be in space, battling Nebula, and the next you’ll be on The Raft, helping Spider-Man clear up his entire rogues gallery. As you move along from location to location on the 10-15 hour adventure, you collect more and more heroes to use on your quest for the stones.
While it may not follow the story established in previous MUA games, it does follow the same general gameplay structure. As with the previous games, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is an action RPG that has you in control of four heroes (or playing co-operatively with up to three friends), hacking slashing and blasting away at waves of enemies. When you’re playing alone, you can switch between any of the four heroes with the tap of a button, while in co-op with four players, each controls a single hero.
There are four general types of attack, and every single hero controls in the same way. Light attacks can be repeated until they combo, while heavy attacks are more deliberately slower but dole out more damage. With a modifier, each of the four face buttons unleashes a super attack, more of which you’ll unlock as you level each hero up. These are slightly more powerful attacks like Wolverine’s Berserker Barrage, which use up a replenishing energy meter. More powerful enemies have a stun meter, which when depleted temporarily stuns them, letting you unleash your full fury. Lastly, there are extreme attacks. When you’re all charged up, you’re able to do an extreme attack, which is usually a vastly more powerful move with a larger Area of effect. They’re great for whittling down boss health, and clearing out waves of baddies. As with special attacks, these can be stacked by multiple heroes for maximum damage.
Knowing when to shuffle between light, heavy and special attacks, when to dodge becomes key to making the most of the action. Combat is a little faster than the previous games, and sometimes – probably thanks to Koei Tecmo and Team Ninja’s unmistakeable DNA – feels more like a Dynasty Warriors-styled musou game than an action RPG. Despite that, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 hews closely to the template from previous games and I wish it felt more like something from Team Ninja, with a little more depth, but it has been designed to largely replicate the older games.
If there’s one thing I do wish they’d used from the older games though, it’s equippable items. Those bits of loot made it feel like an RPG, but here the system is replaced with bland coloured ISO-8 crystals that offer buffs. When you’re sufficiently levelled up, you’re able to equip up to four crystals that confer advantages like increased vitality or damage output, and they have the same net effect as equipment, but none of the flair. It’s a lot easier to care about magical bracers that make heroes punch harder, than it is to care about a yellow crystal that’s indistinguishable from other yellow crystals.
I also wish there was more in the way of side content. There are no side quests as such. Instead, you’ll find rifts hidden in stages which give you access to Infinity trials; challenges based on levels in the game that have difficulty modifiers and timers on them. The better you do in these challenges, the better your rewards are. You’ll earn XP cubes to help expedite hero levelling and materials to help upgrade your boring crystals. There are also a few of the roster’s 36 characters that you’ll have to unlock through the Infinity Trials.
As you play through the game, you’ll have the opportunity to play as X-Men, the Avengers, The Defenders, Marvel Knights and more, switching your team up as necessary as you go along. With the expansive roster, there’s bound to be a handful of characters who suit your own playstyle, though heroes are introduced regularly enough that you’ll probably switch often. You’re almost incentivised to stick with a team though. Not only does using a set of heroes from the same team – like the Defenders, or the Avengers – give you a team bonus, but previously unlocked heroes that you don’t use are left to wallow in their lack of experience. Sure, you can use XP cubes to speed their levelling along, but they’re a rare commodity, so not something you’ll use with reckless abandon.
How much you enjoy this when playing with others is also subjective. I honestly preferred playing it on my own. With more local players, it becomes needlessly chaotic, with the camera never quite focusing where I’d like it to. It’s a problem that should be mitigated by online play, but I’ve not been able to test that out yet.
As with the previous games though, while it’s undeniably fun, it does become quite repetitive. That’s the nature of games like this though, so it’s not really a slight. There’s a sort of catharsis to its rhythmic, almost mindless button-bashing. If you played the older games then you probably know what to expect, because it doesn’t diverge much from that experience at all.
Last Updated: July 18, 2019