Despite being a huge Marvel fan, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3. Not only is it for the underpowered Nintendo Switch, gameplay videos of it that I’ve seen have been plagued by slowdown, which really didn’t sit well with me.
Now that I’ve a ton of hours under my belt playing around with the release version (patched to 1.03), I can honestly say that I was pretty much on the money with my initial assessment; Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 deserves better.
What is Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3?
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is a third person action RPG. It’s developed by Koei Tecmo’s Team Ninja (the guys behind Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive).
The latest in the Ultimate Alliance series, The Black Order pits the heroes (and some anti-heroes) of the Marvel Universe against Thanos and his own group, the Black Order.
The Black Order’s made up of six superpowered individuals; Proxima Midnight, Ebony Maw, Supergiant, Corvus Glaive, Cull Obsidian and Black Swan (who is weirdly MIA in the game). With Thanos, the group’s out to gather the Infinity Stones and do what we all know Thanos wants to do.
The characters in the game are all based off their animated universe counterparts (particularly the Avengers Assemble and Guardians of the Galaxy cartoon) with some liberties taken here and there, so don’t go in expecting the Cinematic Universe look.
You’ll get to pick a team of four characters as you journey across Earth to get the stones. You can swap to any of the characters via the D-pad, with those you’re not controlling played by the A.I.
Of course, there’s also couch, online and even local co-op so another player (or players) can easily play alongside you.
Sadly, even playing with others doesn’t make the game fun.
Depending on the makeup of your team, you’ll also get buffs to your stats. So while you can play as who you want, you’re also encourage to play as specific teams to get the most of your group.
I admit I had a ton of fun just playing around with the teams to see what special buff (each buff has a theme like ‘The Avengers’ or ‘Marvel Royalty) unlock when you’re using specific characters.
Some are pretty easy (making a team out of Cap, Iron Man, Hulk and for example gets you ‘The Original Avengers’) and some are rather obscure. Of course, some makeups have no buffs at all.
You’d have thought that there’d be a special buff when you have Deadpool, Captain America and Wolverine (all three are from the Weapon Plus program) together but noooooope.
Weirdly, the game doesn’t even seem to acknowledge that Iron Man was a Guardian of the Galaxy, but recognizes Captain Marvel as one. Also, why is Black Widow on the Web Warrior team? Just because she has a spider codename?
I’d say that it would seem like the buffs are only for the mainstream connections, not the more hardcore ties but then some buffs are rather hardcore.
In the end, all I am is puzzled by the haphazard way the buffs are doled out, which seems incredibly halfhearted.
Hopefully more buffs will be patched in later on.
Heroes and Villains Unite!
Of course, one of the main draws of the game is that you get to play as Marvel characters. In this, the game does decently enough. There’s a variety of playable characters, running the gamut from the Guardians of the Galaxy to X-men to Avengers, with even a few villains thrown in.
Still, the cast does feel a bit too mainstream, with most of them recognizable faces. I’d have preferred a few obscure choices to go along with the more famous faces; relative unknowns like Hyperion or Dr. Nemesis or even Howard the Duck would’ve made the roster more memorable.
Forgettable can best be used to sum up pretty much everything about the game, as you’ll soon find out.
There’s not a ton of depth to the game, which isn’t surprising given the simplistic nature of the combat.
Each player has their own basic and special attacks. Depending on your partners you can even do special synergy attacks that do extra damage.
There’s even a special Ultimate attack you can do solo and as a group (for extra damage) when your Ultimate meter’s filled. Other than that, gameplay’s pretty much mindlessly smashing baddies as you run about the linear stages.
Synergy attacks sound great in practice but the A.I. doesn’t always chip in to do them when you’re playing solo (especially if you trigger them without waiting).
The best thing to do (that I’ve found) to trigger Synergy moves are to hold the ZR button and then wait for the icon of the move you want to use to change to another character’s portrait. That signifies the move’s going to be synergized.
Ultimate Attacks are powerful like their name suggests but they are sorely anti-climatic and basic looking. I’d have expected at least some fancy visuals (maybe even a camera cut or two to show off the moves) but nope, everything’s done like a regular ability and finished in the blink of an eye.
Which is why i think the combat for the game really needs more ‘oomph’.
There’s very little tactile or visual feedback when you hit something, making it feel very unsatisfying. The weight of your attacks don’t seem to register and the enemies don’t seem to notice either. especially if they’re bosses or enemies with a stun meter.
They’ll cheerfully ignore your attacks (even Ultimate ones) as long as their stun meter isn’t depleted which makes combat with these enemies a button mashing affair.
Fighting bosses (and strong enemies) is an exercise in frustration, as you’re trading hits to see who drop first. There’s no skill involved at all, as even the blocking is useless since there’s no recovery period to take advantage of for blocking enemy attacks.
That said, the special abilities for the characters are cool and some even get their names from Capcom’s Marvel vs Capcom series, like Wolverine’s Berserker Barrage and Deadpool’s Katanarama.
The abilities are pretty varied enough that you do get the feeling of playing as the character you chose. There are some weird exceptions (like Deadpool’s teleportation device, something he hasn’t used in years in the comics) but all in all, the characters all distinct.
I’d say that makes up for the lackluster combat, but sadly it doesn’t.
That’s not good.
Scattered throughout the stages are special Infinity Trials, where you get to take part in special fights with special conditions. Win and you get rewards.
They’re decent fun but are handled as a separate affair from the game.
Loading one boots you out of the stage and upon winning, you’re chucked back to the main menu, where you have to load back your previous save. Who the hell thought this was a good idea? Seriously? Did nobody focus test this part of the game?
Other questionable gameplay issues include the heavily neutered customization system. Now you’re only given a basic team upgrade grid and an ability upgrade ability, which uses Ability Points to beef up a hero’s special attack.
You can also use special ISO-8 gems to boost certain stats, but it’s like giving CPR to a dead person; pretty useless. Unless you upgrade the gems (and sometime even after upgrading them), the boosts they give off are pretty lacking to make much difference.
If you’re wondering what the hell happened to the loot system and depth from previous games, join the club. What we’re getting with Marvel Ultimate Alliance instead is a dumbed down version of what the series was.
Whoever made the decision to overly simplify the gameplay clearly doesn’t know what the audience wants here. This new system is pretty bad as it pretty much kills any replay the game might have had.
It’s like there’s a checklist of all the bad things Team Ninja can do to screw up and they’re gleefully checking them all off one by one. Why bother calling it an Ultimate Alliance game if you’re dumping what made the older games so fun?
The bottom line.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 would’ve been much better as an animated movie instead. The cinematics are pretty decent and I got a kick whenever the game introduces a new character. It’s just sad to see it all chained to the train wreck that is the game.
There are certainly glimmers of awesomeness in the game; the ISO-8 gems can be a fun addition if they worked on improving it (especially if they gave off more unique buffs) and the combat (if overhauled) could be very satisfying.
However, that’s certainly not on the cards right now. At the moment, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 fails as both as fan service and a sequel to an (previously) awesome series. Instead, what we get is a forgettable Marvel brawler, with very little depth and boring combat.
Hopefully, Square Enix’s The Avengers game doesn’t suck this badly.
It might share the name of the Ultimate Alliance series but this game is nothing at all like any previous entry. Avoid, even if you’re a hardcore fan (like me). Just watch the cinematics on Youtube and be done with it.
– Decent cast of playable characters.
– Passable plot.
– The combat.
– The lack of depth.
– Very repetitive.