Available On: Switch
Once upon a time, before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there was a fun, easy to play, co-op action brawler series called X-Men Legends. Later they bequeathed the Marvel Ultimate Alliance series, featuring a huge roster of Marvel heroes and villains in co-op action full of fireballs, laser blasts, swift punches, sword strikes, and plenty of shield-throwing and Hulk-smashing.
The series lay dormant for the last decade, until now. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is a triumphant return, showcasing classic comic book writing, art, and action in a post-MCU world. The Black Order retains the deep stat-based RPG elements while maintaining its easy and co-op-friendly action gameplay with an impressive amount of content and replayability.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
The roster features over 30 characters from the Marvel universe, representing several different eras, factions, and teams, including X-Men (Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler), Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor), Agents of Shield (Black Widow, Hawkeye), Guardians of the Galaxy (Gamora, Star-Lord, Drax, Rocket & Groot), Spider-friends (Spider-man, Spider-Gwen, Venom), and other popular heroes including Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, and Deadpool. There are also a few deeper roster pics that I enjoyed playing with, such as the Inhuman princess Crystal and the monster-hunting Elsa Bloodstone.
New heroes are unlocked throughout the story as players build their favorite team of four and battle through waves of enemies, giant supervillain boss fights, and the occasional switch puzzle. The top-down action is just as fun and hectic as I remember, with every character capable of light and heavy attacks, as well as unleashing four different super moves.
Each of these powers can synergize with other characters’ powers, simply by being near a character who has the right synergy trait. Synergies grant powerful extra effects, like adding fire to a tornado, or doubling the size of an explosive barrage. Discovering these synergies, and the staggering amount of team bonuses and combinations, is part of the fun, though the game could do a much better job explaining and detailing these synergies outside of trial and error.
The story doesn’t try to retell any of the MCU, but smartly uses the Infinity Stones and Thanos as the forces that tie the universe together. Each chapter represents a fun dive into another Marvel world, from Ultron attacking Avengers mansion to assisting Doctor Strange in the Dark Dimension. Beyond the 10-15 hour campaign are two more higher difficulty levels to do it all again (carrying over your hard-earned levels and experience) as well as a large number of challenges called Infinity Trials. These trials take slices of the campaign and provide three-star tiered goals and parameters, such as a ticking clock, increased damage, or only tackling them as a single, specific hero.
The trials are an excellent and replayable way to level up characters, which unfortunately you’ll need to do a lot since it strangely lacks an experience share system. In other words, if you want to play around with multiple heroes and teams, which is a big part of the fun, expect to have to grind through lots of challenges as the campaign continues to progress in level and difficulty.
I was delighted by the earnest comic book tone and style throughout the campaign, from mind-controlled heroes to villain team-ups, and endless sassy quips. You won’t find any leather jackets here (Ghost Rider notwithstanding), as every character proudly adorns their classic comic book attire. The brightly colored visuals and explosions look fantastic even when playing on handheld mode.
It’s a joy to look at and play, though it suffers from one of the worst cameras of any modern game I’ve played. When battling in smaller rooms or hallways, the camera can’t handle being shoved into a corner. There’s no wall transparency and no way to lock onto enemies, resulting in frustrating times where I couldn’t see or target the foes around me.
The camera problems are exacerbated when playing in local co-op mode. Like previous games in the series, local co-op should be the best way to experience the action. But in The Black Order the camera goes from annoying to horrendously awful when it tries to track multiple people. It’s a black stain on an otherwise fantastic game.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is rated T for Teen for Mild Blood, Mild Suggestive Themes, and Violence. The game is very action-heavy but in a light-hearted comic style. Local co-op can be very fun for kids and/or parents to play together, though you’ll have to contend with the annoying camera.
Marvel has never enjoyed a more prominent place in pop culture relevance. Despite the MCU’s enormous popularity, I was pleased to see Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 draw its primary inspiration from the comics and the previous games. It’s a glaring shame that the camera issues cause local co-op to suffer, as it should be the definitive way to play. The brawler action is fast, fluid, and immensely satisfying, and Infinity Trials and New Game+ difficulties ensure dozens of hours of Marvel comic mayhem.