As the Hollywood studio celebrates "Avengers: Endgame" climbing the mountain as the highest grossing film of all time, the digital entertainment division launches "Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order" on the Nintendo Switch. While certainly not at the quality - or popularity - of its live action cousin, this new Marvel interactive adventure still serves as a love letter to the whole franchise - drawing upon comics to cartoons to the movies to tell sprawling tale that touches on almost every corner of Marvel's storied history. It's just too bad the gameplay doesn't quite live up to the fanservice.
The game's story travels some well-tread ground in recent years. The "Mad Titan" Thanos is on the hunt for the Infinity Stones - six objects of incredible power that would make him one of the most unstoppable forces in the universe. He uses his "children," the titular Black Order, in order to try to capture them as they race across the galaxy. It might sound similar to Marvel Studios' recent "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Avengers: Endgame," but those movies didn't feature the X-Men, Ultron, Venom and literally dozens upon dozens of characters from across the comics and other medium.
Anyone who has played the previous two "Marvel Ultimate Alliance" games should know what they're getting into. But seeing as those games were released in the early years of the seventh console generation and have been largely forgotten, it might be daunting to jump into a game with a "3" in its title with so many characters. Fear not, this game features a self-contained narrative and plenty of tutorials to help new players join. It should essentially be considered a reboot with no connections to the previous games.
"Ultimate Alliance 3" is essentially a linear corridor brawler with four characters on a team. You don't need to learn any fancy button combos or attack strings. It's a straight-up button-mashing extravaganza. Your team will run into enemy mobs that are dispatched with relative ease by either using light or heavy attacks or combining abilities of team members for "extreme moves" that can fill the screen with all sorts of visual effects while enemies are decimated.
Bosses will occasionally show up in the middle of levels, offering a bit more of a challenge. Early in the game, you'll fight Nebula and Ronan the Accuser before moving on to fight Ultron, Magneto and others later. None are too difficult, but they do offer a nice challenge.
The game features four playable characters at a time, which can be swapped between in real-time while exploring levels or in combat. If you would like to play with friends, there's a co-op mode for online, local and multiple Switch consoles. Unlike many other co-op games that really shine only when playing with friends, "Ultimate Alliance 3" can be enjoyed by oneself just as much as with other players.
With dozens of characters from which to choose - including the ability to swap out regularly - it should be easy - or slightly daunting - to find which characters you prefer to use throughout the story. You have a choice from characters from the X-Men to the Guardians of the Galaxy to any number of mainstay Marvel heroes and heroines.
It's a shame the game doesn't encourage more experimentation with its huge roster of characters. "Ultimate Alliance 3" features lite RPG elements. So each character levels up throughout the story while engaging in combat quest lines. Your playable characters will level up much faster than the characters sitting on the sidelines. So if you swap out too much, you'll find your characters severely under level for the challenges that face them. It's much easier to find a core team early on in the game and play with them throughout the story mode. But then you miss out on experimenting with such a huge roster of characters.
On the technical side, "Ultimate Alliance 3" is fairly standard. The visuals aren't amazing - even on the Switch - and the framerate can tank in handheld mode, especially during extreme moves. The bright, vibrant art style of both the characters and some of the late-game environments still make the game pop and hide some of the technical limitations.
The fact that the game pulls from so many sources could be a little off putting for some. Rocket Racoon and Star-Lord are obviously inspired by their Marvel Cinematic Universe counterparts, down to low-budget voice actors doing their best Bradley Cooper and Chris Pratt impersonations. But Drax and Gamora are very much like their comic versions. This applies to the entire roster of characters. It creates a tonal conflict, but one that will only really be recognized by those who pay close attention to all forms of Marvel entertainment.
The shallow combat and slight technical issues aside, "Ultimate Alliance 3" is a fun and engaging game for anyone who's a fan of the Marvel universe, be it comics, animation or the movies. The on-the-go capabilities of the Switch make the game even more enjoyable as you can take your adventure anywhere you want to go.