Developer: KOEI TECMO GAMES CO., LTD., Team NINJA
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed: Digital Version
Category: Action, Role-Playing
No. of Players: 1-4 player
Release Date: July 19th, 2019 (EU & NA)
Price: $59.99 USD
The Marvel Ultimate Alliance series began back in 2006. It was originally developed by Raven Software and released on the PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox and Xbox 360. It was also ported to the PSP and Nintendo Wii by Vicarious Visions.
The game was received favorable reviews and praised for its graphical achievements, especially on the Xbox version. A Gameboy Advance version also released but it was vastly different from the home console versions of the game. It was shunned by critics and was given extremely poor review scores.
A sequel in the form of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 spawned in 2009. It still received fairly positive reviews but some believed the first entry will still the better of two. The Nintendo Wii and DS versions fared much poorer and scored very average reviews.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is the third entry in the series and is the first to be published exclusively by Nintendo. The development this time around was handled by Koei Tecmo and Team Ninja, who are known for their works such as the Musou games, Attack On Titan series, and the Atelier series.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is inspired by the events of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. It is set in a completely different universe from the original games in the series. It is also separate from the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order (as we shall now refer to as MUA3) has characters that have yet to appear in the MCU.
The story for MUA3 begins with the Guardians of the Galaxy: Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot as they find a Kree ship hidden within an asteroid. They decide to investigate the ship but come to realize that it is not as abandoned as they originally thought.
The Guardians are surrounded by Kree soldiers, lead by Nebula. Nebula and the soldiers try to kill the Guardians but are defeated by them. Star-Lord and Co. are then apprehended by Proxima Midnight of The Black Order. The Infinity stones are revealed to be on the Ship but Star-Lord manages to grab hold of one of the stones and teleports himself, his team and the infinity stones to safety.
The Guardians find themselves on Earth trapped in a prison called the Raft. After busting out of the prison, they encounter the likes of Spider-Man, Nick Fury and the Avengers. They all agree to team up and search for the Infinity Stones Before The Black Order gets their hands on them.
MUA3 is a 3rd-person action, role-playing game. You control one of a team of four heroes that you can swap between at a press of a button. You can also play cooperatively with friends with them taking control of one of the other heroes.
The game is like most arcade brawlers/dungeon crawlers in which, you move along a linear path and defeat hordes of enemies along the way. You can attack enemies with an assortment of attacks. The light (Y) and heavy (X) attacks are the standard means of offense that you can string together for combo attacks.
Each character can unlock up to four special abilities each. These abilities require EP (Energy Points) to use them. EP can be replenished by picking up blue orbs left behind by defeated enemies or hidden in boxes, statues, and other breakable objects. Special Abilities can be used independently (R+A, B, X, Y) or by combining them (ZR+A, B, X, Y) with other characters (also known as synergy attacks). If another character is requesting to chain a special ability, a yellow link will hover over you both in which you can oblige by pressing ‘A’.
There is another more powerful attack that can be used when your EX gauge is full. The Alliance Extreme attack can also be used on its own or by coordinating with other players by pressing L+R together if playing on your own. You can get the other characters to use their Alliance Extreme attack as well with L+R once your primary character has initiated the attack.
You will have to fight through all sorts of enemies, that can be summed up in three classes: Grunts, Brutes, and Bosses. Grunts are the weakest and have a single health bar. Brutes have a health bar and a stagger bar that you may need to deplete multiple times in order to reduce the health bar and defeat the brute. Bosses are even stronger than Brutes and also have a stagger bar. Their stagger bar can sometimes only be reduced after certain conditions are met.
There are 10 levels to play through that take place in locations in the Marvel series. Such places include Avengers Tower, Xavier Institute, Wakanda and Shadowland. Each level has several checkpoints that should all heroes in play die, you will have the option to return to the last checkpoint.
CONTENT & FEATURES:
MUA3 is packed with plenty of content to players satisfied. The Story Mode has two difficulties available from the beginning; Friendly & Mighty. There is a third difficulty (Superior) that is unlocked after beating the Story Mode once. It isn’t a long affair and can be played within 8-10 hours.
The other playable mode is Infinity Mode. When you find your first Infinity Rift in Story Mode, you will unlock Infinity Mode and its challenges. By beating the challenges, you will earn items and will also be rewarded with stars that can unlock alternate outfits. There are four different Rifts: Gamma, Psi, Sigma and Lambda and each can have between 15-20 challenges.
As a role-playing game, it does have one of those all-important features… A Skill Tree. Instead of a skill tree for every single character, they all share on Skill tree in the form of Alliance Enhancement. You can improve everyone’s attributes like strength, endurance, resilience, and vitality. It costs both Enhancement Points and credits to unlock each segment so you will be going back and forth between Story Mode and Infinity to grind the necessary materials.
For Individual enhancements, players can use ISO-8 Management. The ISO-8 crystals have their own attributes that can help improve an individual hero’s stats when equipped. ISO-8 can be equipped and swapped at any time but can only be modified in the LAB on the Main Menu or at S.H.I.E.L.D Points in-game. Each hero can have up to 4 ISO-8 crystals equipped once they have unlocked all four slots.
During the fighting, your team of heroes will earn experience and Level-Up. It can be a grind but there are special XP Cubes that can be found to help boost the process. There are five types of XP Cubes that can increase your XP bar in different quantities. As you reach certain levels, you will also unlock new abilities you can use. These abilities can also be upgraded to make them even stronger.
On the Hero Select screen, you can check out your team bonus that has some added benefits when using heroes of a particular set. For example, if using all the Defenders characters (Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Hulk or Doctor Strange) you will gain Team Bonus in Durability. If you decide to go for a Femme Fatales team, you will gain a Team Bonus in Mastery, and so on. You can also check who each affiliated heroes are for each bonus by pressing the Y button on the Hero Select screen.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, is designed to be played with up to four players. The Co-op feature offers three ways for players to join up and play together. Offline Mode allows four players to play on the same console. Online allows players to team up around the world with an internet connection. Local Mode allows multiple Switch consoles to connect together without the need of an internet connection.
The Gallery includes information on the characters in the game, the Cut-scene movies from Story Mode, Music, and Art that you found in-game. With so much hard work that went into the game, Team Ninja didn’t want it to be restricted to only the game design archives. They have shared as much as they can of the character and location artwork, with up to a staggering 208 unlockable pieces of artwork.
For all your intricate Settings changes, you can do it in System. Here you can tweak the settings to fit your particular style of gameplay. You can adjust the camera angle to be overhead or more concentrated on the hero you are playing as. You can also edit, controls, sound, interface and even how the main menu screen looks like. You also have access to the very long list of tips that help explain every single detail or mechanic you may not have paid much attention to during your first playthrough.
The music in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is nothing short of epic. It has a very dramatic, orchestral soundtrack to rival that of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As you play through the story, you can unlock music and listen to it in the Gallery whenever you like.
The game also supports voice acting, though it is not the same actors that portray the characters on the silver screen. They do sound very similar to try and match the tones and the energy as their Hollywood counterparts. The engagements between characters add personality to them and reflect upon the relationships between each character both in the comics and the MCU.
While the verbal exchanges between heroes help build the storyline and fill-in players a little better with each character, the battle cries during fight scenes can get a little repetitive. There are only so many times you can listen to Deadpool go “Pew! Pew! Pew!” before you decide to retire him and decide to choose someone else a little less vocal.
VISUALS & PERFORMANCE:
The visual style of MUA3 looks much like an animated cartoon as opposed to a more ‘realistic graphics’ style. The designs of each hero mirror how they are portrayed in the comics and TV shows rather than as they appear in the movies.
The visual effects like lighting and the special move effects do look really good but there are moments of frame rate drops when too much is happening on-screen at once. This is a common issue that Team Ninja is all too familiar with as they ask too much from the hardware they have at hand.
While I didn’t have too many problems personally, there were moments when the frame rate would slow down and the character models on screen would look a bit rough. It was only very momentarily though and was over almost as soon as it began.
Performance-wise, other than the issue I mentioned before, the game does run very well. The camera can get caught on the mapping sometimes, obscuring your view of your hero but with a little bit of moving around, it will unhinge itself.
As regards to differences between handheld mode or docked mode, I hardly noticed though I will admit, playing in docked mode gives you the added benefit of being able to see everything on screen much easier. Not because of resolution issues, but because you can actually focus on everything around you and notice tiny details you may have missed before.
I might not be an avid comic reader but I have seen almost every film in the MCU up to date with the exception of one or two. I was kind of on the fence about Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order because I thought it would be just another “Hack and Slash” game but with familiar Marvel characters.
While it is indeed a Hack and Slash game, it does have more depth to it and you do have a stronger connection with the Team you put together because it is Your Team. It is the four heroes you hold most dear and enjoy playing with.
The gameplay can get rather repetitive as you spend most of the time just hounding on enemies and spamming every attack until you win. The Infinity Rift challenges do add a bit more variety by forcing you to be a bit more creative as some enemies can only be defeated with Synergy attacks.
The Story Mode itself is short and I would have liked more from it. Hopefully, when the first lot of season pass characters are added to the game, they may come with an additional level to play through that is associated with the rather than just repeating the same ten chapters in Story Mode again.
The one thing that always puts my back up is constant grinding. There is literally a lot of grinding in this game and necessary materials and XP cubes can be a chore to obtain unless you really go at the Infinity Challenges. However, the gameplay can be really addictive at times and you will constantly be telling yourself, “Just a little bit more. Just one more fight.”
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order achieves as much in one game as the MCU has over the last 10 years. A brilliant culmination of all your favorite heroes and villains coming together for a hack and slash that will be enjoyed for years to come.
THE VERDICT: 8/10
*A download key was provided by Nintendo UK for the purposes of this review
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This post was written by Mike Scorpio