There’s a big push by video game fans and developers to see the medium respected as an art form, as it should be. Many games deserve that respect, but sometimes a game is just made to be a game. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 doesn’t attempt to be art, matching The Beat‘s expectations for it. Craft certainly went in its production, but this Switch title was primarily designed with fun in mind, and that’s a quality it has an abundance of.
Complex, Fun, Sometimes Shallow Gameplay
Ultimate Alliance 3 doesn’t stray too far from the style of the first two games in the series. The title is a hack-and-slash beat ‘me up from a top-down perspective. If those terms sound nonsensical, you might consider it a modern upgrade of the classic X-Men arcade game, but with a lot of added features.
The game balances a number of different mechanics. Each playable hero has a light attack, a heavy attack, and four special attacks unlocked as the character levels up. Heroes can combine their efforts with ultra powerful Synergy Attacks. On top of that, you can raise the heroes’ attributes and other stats through the ISO-8 System and the Alliance Enhancement Grids.
That’s a lot to keep track of, especially for the casual fans Nintendo courts with its releases. I highly recommend consulting a guide like this one and tip such these. The game itself should include deeper explanations of its mechanics in the menu, but take the information wherever you can find it.
The mechanics very satisfying, though, once you get a handle on them. Balancing four playable heroes, their health, and their attack gauges keeps you very engaged. The gameplay gets repetitive, but you’re able to quickly shake things up swapping between the dozens of playable characters.
Still, the combat has the potential to become tiresome, and the stale enhancement systems don’t help things. If you experience that, best put the game down until you’re ready to return to the beat ‘em up style of gameplay.
The game contain 60 playable Marvel heroes (or villains.) You face no shortage of options. It features classic characters such as Spider-Man and Hulk, along with fresh faces including Ms. Marvel and Miles Morales. Ultimate Alliance 3 lets you controlyour old favorites and others never playable in a video game before. Even though the heroes are of variable quality, Ultimate Alliance 3’s roster should excite any Marvel fan.
Part of me wishes Team Ninja reduced the lineup and spent the extra time honing the combat. But that’s not the kind of game Nintendo and Marvel Games wanted from the studio. They asked the developers to create fanservice at its finest, and they performed an admirable job at it.
The gameplay is hyper-chaotic as a single player game. Playing with others further complicates and confuses things. Because of all the combat systems to learn, a friend won’t enjoy playing Ultimate Alliance 3 with you unless they sink considerable time into a playthrough. Though certainly designed with co-op in mind, the title is best played alone, especially considering the Switch’s large library of great multiplayer titles to choose from.
Visuals and Performance
The frame rate in Ultimate Alliance 3 rarely dips to unplayable levels, impressive for a game containing so many characters on the screen at once. To make it happen, though, the game looks butt ugly in handheld mode.
Team Ninja faced a dilemma when developing Ultimate Alliance 3. Gameplay is so reliant on quick input responses that freezing screens would spell disaster. Because of that, the studio needed to sacrifice visual fidelity in favor of a steady frame rate. However, the game looks so rough in handheld mode that it’s outright unenjoyable.
My experience immediately improved upon switching to docked mode. The visuals still contain some jagged edges, but they’re as good as they need to be.
A Fun but Simple Story
I’ve some read complaints about the writing, but it’s everything I want from an entertaining, fun-first beat ’em up. Maybe reviewers compared it to Spider-Man for PlayStation 4, not recognizing that Ultimate Alliance is a very different kind of game that doesn’t ask for the same kind of story.
The characters hit the right notes and the story delivers great fan service moments. Fighting supervillains powered up by Infinity Stones is a particular delight. Infinity Stones are perfect MacGuffins. They allow the narrative to take you across the entire Marvel Universe. The dialogue includes its fair share of cheese, sure, but better to embrace the silliness than be let down by it.
What Ultimate Alliance 3 Says About Marvel Games
Marvel Games clearly values Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, and dedicated a lot of money and resources to give it the best chance to succeed. The voice actors for Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Deadpool, among others, are the same who voiced the characters in previous Marvel titles. Hiring talent like Nolan North and Yuri Lowenthal to reprise their roles isn’t cheap. Marvel Games clearly considers Ultimate Alliance 3 important enough to invest in. No, the party game doesn’t attempt to match the complexity of gameplay and narrative in Spider-Man. But it’s far from a throwaway title for the publishing brand.
MUA3 is the game you think it is. Instead of challenging your perception of games, it leans into what we know they are. There are multiple ways to gauge quality. Ultimate Alliance 3 focuses on pure entertainment and excels at it. It filled the title to the brim with heroes, even if that left less time to refine the gameplay. If you’re looking for something that reminds you of a bygone era of video games, the period when the first two Ultimate Alliance titles were released, you’ll find it here. Remember, mindless fun is still fun.