Got a movie franchise that’s doing well? Time to do what big corporations have been doing for decades now and create that video game tie-in! After the billions earned (just this year) by Marvel’s Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home there’s definitely room for a little more Marvel goodness in you life. How much more will largely depend on whether you can possibly live without Hulk, Captain America, or Doctor Strange living inside your Switch.
Crafted by none other than Team Ninja (Ninja Gaiden, Nioh), Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is basically “Marvel Cinematic Universe: The Movie: The Game”, in theory. While it’s not quite licensed in all the official ways, it’s certainly better than Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite was.
When the Guardians of the Galaxy are alerted to a mysterious energy source, they’re led to investigate with the goal of grabbing the goods in true Guardians fashion. What they find, though, is their old foe Ronan the Accuser and the Infinity Stones. Defeating Ronan is one thing, but the stones end up scattered to the winds and it’s up to a collection of Marvel heroes and anti-heroes to team up and get them back before Thanos shows up and yadda yadda you’ve seen Endgame, right?
If you’ve played the first couple Ultimate Alliance games you know what you’re getting into here: button-mashy villain-smashing with a team of four heroes of your choosing. Characters have a pair of basic attacks and several powers that consume a recharging energy bar. They can also combine forces to use more powerful Synergy attacks, as well as unleashing explosive Extreme attacks that can themselves be combined for ludicrous amounts of damage and graphical slowdown.
If you aren’t playing on one of the higher difficulty levels, combat tends to be a little brainless. Mash away, make sure to spend your energy as the bar recharges and you’ll probably be good. The most significant gimmick here is the presence of the Stagger bar, a purple bar that decreases as you beat on foes. When it’s depleted, an enemy is staggered and takes additional damage…though in truth, much like Final Fantasy XIII’s similar system you can only do significant damage to staggered enemies. It makes for grindy slogs where you’re encouraged to save your Good Stuff for when the bad guys will actually take damage from them. The more direct approach from previous titles served the cathartic nature of the combat a bit better.
Rather than the simplistic combat, much of Ultimate Alliance 3’s enjoyment comes from the broad cast of characters. We’re still pretending that the X-Men don’t exist for the most part; the cast consists largely of characters from more recent Cinematic Universe films like the Guardians, Captain Marvel, Black Panther and so on. Combining characters with similar themes grants stat buffs and you can spend points on a skill tree to enhance your team’s abilities, but neither does much other than keep your numbers up as needed. Since characters don’t level when they aren’t actively in your party, you’re best off picking four of your favorites and keeping them around as much as possible. I suggest using Wolverine. He’s the best he is at what he does.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 lives on the Switch as an exclusive title, and as you might expect that has some dire implications for the game’s looks. The style is reminiscent of Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, so that’s a little divisive, and I wasn’t fond of how some characters differ from their movie counterparts – Star-Lord, a favorite of mine, doesn’t really look or sound like he should, for instance. Almost none of our heroes do, sadly, so if all you Thor fans were holding out to control hunky Chris Hemsworth, better keep holding out.
Technically speaking, the Switch is largely not up to handling this game, so expect plenty of framerate drops and a generally less than awe-inspiring experience; combined with the overall chaos of superheroic combat, it can be difficult at times to tell what’s going on. I’d argue that the remasters of the previous Ultimate Alliance games turned out better, at least graphically.
A little more hardware horsepower would have served Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order well, but as a simple brawler with some star power behind it, this game does its job. Kids and fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are, naturally, the target audience here, even if the actual game has little – if anything – to do with all those Disney Marvel movies. Still, fans are probably going to love the true-to-form bombastic nature of the proceedings. If you’re after a more detailed action-RPG, though, you may end up having to look elsewhere, since Ultimate Alliance 3 talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk when it comes to its RPG elements. Will that matter to diehard fans? Maybe, but I expect this game to make all the money.