Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order borrows a surprising amount from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, considering that it isn’t technically a tie-in game. Released after the door on the MCU’s Phase 3 was shut following Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home, developer Team Ninja has leaned heavily on the movies with its long-awaited sequel. But while this Nintendo Switch exclusive may not have its own voice, it makes for a solid — if simple — beat ’em up that could’ve benefited from a touch of ingenuity, though will no doubt please Marvel fans nonetheless.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is ten years in the making, with the previous entry in this once-forgotten series releasing way back in 2009. With superhero hysteria having been in full swing since then, that Ultimate Alliance remained dormant for so long was baffling, but Team Ninja has taken the reins from Vicarious Visions to finally bring the sequel to the Switch.
While the MCU may have exploded in popularity since the last Ultimate Alliance released in the film franchise’s infancy, not a great deal has changed for Ultimate Alliance 3. The most notable evolution is its voice cast and selection of heroes, which each mimic their movie counterpart. The voice actors do their best impressions of their MCU equivalents, from Nick Cage going full Samuel L. Jackson to Iron Man aping Robert Downey Jr. Only a few characters such as Ms. Marvel and Elsa Bloodstone will be unfamiliar to those who solely watch Marvel movies.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 Review | Imperfect Synergy
Its beat ’em up combat remains simple but effective. There are light and heavy attacks which allow for basic combos, while each character is also equipped with abilities that are triggered by holding down the R bumper and pressing A, X, Y, or B. Four possible abilities can be unlocked for each hero, which can then be upgraded as you progress. Each here also has a special Extreme attack, activated by pressing both bumpers simultaneously, with your team of four heroes being able to combine these attacks if their Extreme gauge is also filled.
While taking on enemies is fast and fluid, the animations often fail to replicate the intensity of the action. For instance, heroes can often utilize Synergy attacks which combine their abilities, dishing out more damage in the process. However, these Synergy attacks use the same animations as basic abilities, meaning that they’re easy to overlook. Compared to Ultimate Alliance 2‘s Fusions, which inventively combined heroes’ attacks such as Iron Man bouncing a laser beam off Captain America’s shield, MUA 3‘s Synergy attacks feel muted.
Extreme attacks suffer from the same problem. After one hero activates their Extreme move, their companions can follow suit. However, these moves aren’t particularly collaborative, and it can be difficult to discern what’s going on given all the flashes and bangs taking place onscreen. As a result, it’s often more advantageous to just perform each Extreme attack individually, rather than team up for one high-damage maneuver.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 Review | Everyone is here!
Heroes can be swapped out of teams at regular intervals, with up to four players able to squad up for co-op. Certain heroes have buffs when combined with others, so running with an established superhero troupe such as The Avengers or the Guardians of the Galaxy has its advantages. You can also form unestablished teams that have unique buffs such as the Women of Marvel or Anti-Heroes. These bonuses help encourage the player to swap out heroes frequently, changing their team to acquire different stat boosts.
Like the MCU’s recently concluded Phase 3, MUA 3 focuses on Thanos’ plot to obtain the Infinity Stones and wipe out half of all life in the universe. Unlike Infinity War and Endgame, Thanos remains in the background of this story for a significant chunk of the game, with the player being whisked through introductions with various other superheroes and villains instead. This gives a variety of other villains the chance to shine, from the Green Goblin to Ultron, who each get memorable boss battles in their own right.
From desperately trying to escape a bulldozing Juggernaut in the Xavier Institute, to dodging pillars that Kingpin rips from his office just to beat you with in Shadowland, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3‘s boss fights are a real highlight. There’s also a healthy variety of different standard enemy types to face off against, with larger opponents boasting a stun gauge that you’ll have to deplete before being able to attack their main health pool.
Given MUA 3’s sizable roster, characters are breathlessly introduced before being added to the line-up. As such, no one playable character has a huge impact on the story. This makes sense when considering how many characters are involved, but with no core protagonist at the helm, it’s difficult to get too invested in the context behind the chaos. You’re not going to get any emotional twists and turns here — Infinity War may have had kids leaving the theater crying, but MUA 3 is a Saturday morning cartoon take on the Infinity Saga.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 Review | Difficulty and performance
Friendly and Mighty difficulty modes are available right out of the gate, with Mighty being the go-to mode for those looking for a challenge. Friendly can place you in some tricky spots, though you’ll likely hit a few Game Over screens with the latter mode, particularly on the tougher boss fights that happen later in the game. Those concerned that Ultimate Alliance 3 being a Switch exclusive would mean that it’d be a walk in the park needn’t worry, as you can expect to have your wits tested more than a few times.
The Switch also holds up well when it comes to performance. Playing in handheld mode, there were only rare occasions of slowdown during particularly busy scenes, and even then it was fleeting. The audio is quite tinny when not using headphones, and it can be difficult to keep track of the action on a smaller screen, but its close-up ‘Heroic’ camera mode can rectify that problem. In docked mode, I had no issues even with swathes of enemies onscreen.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 Review | Playing dress-up with superheroes
While Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 may have better recreations of Marvel’s heroes and villains than its predecessors, its customization options leave a lot to be desired. There was room here for a robust loot system, but that isn’t realized in favor of leveling up a smattering of abilities and unlocking a slim selection of new costumes.
Infinity Trials is a new mode in which players can progress through a grid of tougher challenges, each based on a mission in MUA 3‘s story. There are a few new heroes that can be unlocked exclusively in these Trials, and they’re also how you can unlock new costumes. However, rather than being able to outfit your characters in attire from Marvel comics past and present, most are a simple color palette switch. Considering that it takes a while to unlock all these Infinity Trials stages, it’s disappointing that they offer so little.
MUA 3 would have benefited from a Diablo-esque loot system, in which players could get their hands on new equipment and abilities for each character throughout each stage. While Team Ninja would have inevitably been limited in the choices it could offer considering the major license it’s working with, having access to a wider range of clothes and weaponry would have been much more interesting than just “Thor, but blue.” It feels like a real missed opportunity to not give players more freedom in terms of how they want to equip their team.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 Review | The Final Verdict
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is a fun beat ’em up with a wide variety of unique heroes to choose from, though stumbles when it comes to offering players more than the basics. Though it has a much better voice cast and presentation than its predecessors, some additions such as the Synergy and Extreme attacks feel underwhelming, and customization options are slim. There’s plenty of enjoyment to be had just beating up baddies as Wolverine, Deadpool, Spider-Man, and co., but considering the 10-year wait, Marvel fans could be forgiven for wanting a little more.