Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order (Switch) Review
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 came out almost ten years ago. In that time the Marvel brand has exploded to become arguably the biggest media property on the planet. This family of franchises and faces has become synonymous with the popular culture, so it’s an opportune time to wheel out another crossover extravaganza featuring a cavalcade of spandex-clad heroes we all recognise, and perhaps a few that you don’t. From the studio that brought you Ninja Gaiden and the Metroid game we tend to not talk about, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is an undeniably enjoyable and flashy beat-em-up that is simple on the surface but offers plenty for those looking to devote time and attention into those willing to look beneath the surface.
Those troublesome Infinity Stones are back once more and causing drama everywhere they go. You’ll assume the role of a wide cast of Marvel heroes as you venture throughout the galaxy to collect them all and stop a host of classic Marvel baddies from doing so along the way. The story has more in common tonally with a Saturday morning cartoon than it does the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it’s a fun and light-hearted romp with plenty of fan-service and fun moments. The character models all look great, and the cutscenes are brought to life with some terrific voice acting that does a wonderful job representing these characters we know and love whilst adding their own individual style and flair.
As you progress through the story, you’ll unlock a rapidly expanding roster of characters, all sporting unique attributes and abilities that have them pleading their case for a spot in your squad. After a brief introduction featuring the Guardians of the Galaxy, the cast list grows to include many familiar Avengers, X-Men and other lesser-known heroes. Whether you play in co-op or with AI companions, your team will always comprise four members as you traverse through the game demolishing an onslaught of generic bad guys on your way to tackling the more iconic villains.
You’ll visit a huge number of locales from across the Marvel spectrum, never remaining in one place for very long. The actual design of the levels themselves is relatively basic, feeling like a throwback to action games of the previous console generation. Levels consist of lots of long corridors with little room for exploration, leading into larger box-shaped rooms for encounters with large groups of enemies. It’s far from the most inspiring of design choices, but it works well enough for this style of gameplay, and there’s the odd simple puzzle room thrown in for good measure.
The environments themselves range from beautiful to a bit on the ugly side, with some levels looking lush and colourful whilst others can be bland and barren. Character models look great, but backgrounds are jaggy and low on detail. You can choose either the classic camera which gives the standard top-down view or try out the new Hero camera which brings the camera in much closer to the action. A bit of overall visibility is lost but this view creates a much more atmospheric combat experience. That is until the camera inevitably gets stuck on a piece of scenery, which happens in both modes but definitely happens more with the Hero camera. Whether the trade-off is worth it is up to you.
As one of the many superheroes, you’ll have a slew of useful combat tricks up your sleeve. The main controls consist of light and heavy attacks, which will be one of five different attack types depending on your character – melee, piercing, projectile, ethereal and energy. Different types of attacks work better on different foes, so it’s in your best interest to enter each fray with a well-balanced team. Using basic attacks will build up energy that allows you to use unique powerful special abilities that will quickly deal some hefty damage to a wider area. These abilities also have different attributes which work in different scenarios and can even be combined with abilities from your companions into powerful synergy attacks. When playing solo, you’ll need to press A during a very small window to join in on these attacks, but they’re much easier to coordinate when playing co-op.
Experimenting with different combinations of attacks opens up the opportunity for powerful synergies that can bombard enemies with high damage and status effects, so it’s worth mixing and matching to see what combinations you can create. Rounding out the move pool is an extreme attack, which can be unleashed to deal massive damage. If multiple characters have their moves ready at once, you can combine them for an Ultimate Alliance attack, sending a barrage of colourful attacks in all directions and laying waste to almost everything in its path. Throw in options to block and roll and there’s a satisfying combat loop here.
Bigger enemies have a purple stun bar in addition to their health bar that needs to be taken down before you’ll start doing much damage. It means that you’ll want to conserve your big energy attacks for the right time rather than wasting them before they’ll be at maximum effectiveness. It adds some strategy to the fights rather than just relentlessly mashing buttons. Boss fights usually throw another layer into the mix, such as using mounted turrets or getting them to charge into certain spots to weaken them before their health starts depleting. There’s never anything too complex here, but it’s enough to keep things fresh throughout the campaign.
Behind the scenes is a litany of stats and numbers affecting your damage output and team effectiveness. It starts when selecting your team, as you’ll get team buff if you have some level of synergy in your team. Picking a crew of all Avengers, all X-Men or Spider-verse members, for example, will provide team stat bonuses that reward your team cohesion. A sprawling hexagonal power-up grid also provides plenty of opportunities to upgrade stats across your whole team. Lastly, there are Iso-8 crystals that can be equipped to characters to provide a variety of different boosts where needed.
This is all in addition to your characters base level that grows as you play. Having access to such a huge array of playable characters is great, but an issue arises where they will only level up when part of your active team. It creates a scenario where you’ll want to try mix and match team members, but you’re essentially encouraged to pick a few favourites and stick with them. The campaign can provide a pretty steep challenge late in the game on the default difficulty, so you’ll need a strong team to find success, meaning you’re less likely to switch out any of your powerful members for any earlier unlocks that have been left behind. You can find XP cubes that can help quickly boost characters levels, but it’s not quite enough to completely eradicate the problem. It’s a shame, as it actively discourages experimentation and find new and improved team-up combinations.
One element that can help comes in the form of Infinity rifts that you’ll find throughout the adventure that can also be accessed from the main menu. These act as a challenge mode with unlockable rewards for achieving objectives within them, and act as both a good way to raise up lower level characters but also provide plenty of replay value with the increasingly tough challenges they pose.
It all makes for a packed and enjoyable experience with plenty to offer for fans for Marvel and classic beat-em-ups. The roster of characters is vast and excellently portrayed, the story is fun and the moment to moment combat remains enjoyable throughout. Some uninspired level design, camera quirks and unfortunate design choices around character levelling keeps it from the upper echelons of the Switch library but grab a couple of friends and it’s hard not to have a seriously good time with this one regardless of your level of affinity for the world of Marvel.
+ Huge character roster
+ Fun combat
+ Plenty of content and challenge
- Levelling system discourages experimentation
- Occasionally frustrating camera
- Uninspired level design