Monday, July 22, 2019

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order Review

The Ultimate Alliance series has been a nostalgic favorite of gamers for years. First releasing in 2006 on multiple consoles, it would go on to get a sequel as well as numerous ports to other consoles. Being able to take a team of super heroes and complete missions with your own setup was wildly appealing to comic book fans. With the Marvel fandom hitting a critical mass these days, it seemed like the perfect time for another Ultimate Alliance to come out, and apparently Nintendo agreed. Releasing exclusively on the Nintendo Switch is Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order.

Ultimate Alliance 3 isn't so much a sequel as it is a reboot. You don't have to play any of the original games (or see the Avenger movies) to understand the story. You can be an Ultimate Alliance newbie or a comic book fanatic, both sides of the coin will see enough here to keep them interested and invested. The story revolves around the Infinity Stones as you assemble a team of super heroes to track them down and try to collect all of them before Thanos and his Black Order can get his hands on it. Along the way, you'll fight typical Marvel baddies like Kingpin and the Green Goblin while also picking up additional characters to bolster your ranks. The story is about what you would expect from a game like this. It serves to move the narrative forward and is more of a "let's see how many characters we can get under one roof" style story vs. an extremely well written narrative. But to be honest, that's alright. The story moves the plot along to give you more of what you're really looking for - the combat.

The combat in Ultimate Alliance 3 is just a ton of button mashing goodness. You'll select a team of 4 heroes that you have unlocked and make your way across levels consisting of both 3D and 2D set pieces. The controls are simple enough to understand (Y and X are light and heavy attacks respectively, B is jump, A is use/multipurpose) and executing one of each character's four special attacks is handled by pressing the right bumper and a corresponding face button. To add in some flavor, you can also do super moves that combine with others supers by holding down the ZR button and pressing a face button while in the vicinity of another character. The moves are easy enough for young gamers to understand and be functional with while also giving some additional intricacies around using skills at the right moment. The combat is fast, fun, and really well done.

As you progress in the game, you'll level up your characters and they will earn additional skills. You can then upgrade these individual skills further on their own, or ignore them if they aren't your favorite. You'll also be able to upgrade team wide stats via the lab (in game menu) which affects all characters and not just one specific. Determining which skills to upgrade and when will make all the difference when it comes to combat because upgrades are a finite resource, especially the ones for individual characters. I found myself constantly looking for the gems needed to upgrade my characters abilities, and more than once I regretted wasting one when I found another skill more useful. Patience is often key when it comes to upgrades because you never know when you're going to meet that one character you've been dying to play as.

The game gives two difficulties, friendly and mighty. Mighty is your standard difficulty and it's no slouch. You have to be leveled up enough to handle the area and if you aren't, it can be punishing. I went into a Kingpin fight with 4 under leveled characters and I did not fare well. Levels matter and proper skill use will be key. If that all sounds a little too much for what you want or if you have younger ones playing the game with you in co-op (of which there is couch and online), then Friendly might be more up your alley. You don't have to spend as much time leveling up your characters and skill use and battles are much more forgiving. You can easily switch between Friendly and Mighty from the main menu and also select individual chapters if you have a little one at home (like I do) who wants to experience the game but can't really get their head around the skills and puzzles.

There is one area of the game that isn't what you would expect from a current gen console game. That is the graphics. The game itself isn't ugly per se, but it's certainly not something you'd say is good looking either. It feels like a PS3 game in graphic fidelity with some horrible anti-aliasing thrown in for good measure. The game is supposed to run at 30fps, but it often chugs in high intensity scenes. This isn't a show stopper or anything, but it is a little disappointing. With games like Zelda, Mario Odyssey, and a number of others, you can see that the Switch can more than handle a solid framerate with nice graphics. I'm not sure what happened with Ultimate Alliance, but it could have used a little more time getting fine tuned.

Overall, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is a solid game that will make a lot of couch co-op players incredibly happy. The ability to play online with friends as well as locally makes it all the better. I spent most of my time playing the game solo on the Mighty difficulty, but the ease of loading up a chapter on Friendly with my son was great to see. If you like frenetic action games that allow you to dictate difficulty by the amount of effort you put into leveling your characters, then you'll have a great time with Ultimate Alliance 3.

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