If you’ve played the Marvel Ultimate Alliance games over the years, you’ll feel right at home with the latest iteration in the series, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order. Published by Nintendo and developed by Team Ninja, the game is a Switch exclusive, supports up to four-player co-op, and features an impressive selection of heroes from across the Marvel universe.
I played the game for about 15 minutes at E3 2019, and the roster was what got me immediately excited to dive into gameplay. MCU mainstays are of course represented in characters like Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow, and Captain America. But also joining the fray, to my delight, are comics icons like the X-Men (Wolverine, Storm), The Defenders (Iron Fist, Daredevil), Captain Marvel, and the Fantastic Four. Even Miles Morales is in this thing, not to mention the MCU Guardians of the Galaxy lineup! The prospect of creating any four-member team from a gigantic roster of heroes has always been the primary appeal of the series, and after all these years and many big-screen Marvel spectacles later, it’s still as cool as ever.
You even get team stat bonuses when you make certain combinations of characters, like when you team up fellow members of the Avengers or the X-Men. The more affiliated characters you put on your team, the better the bonuses. For example, if you put Iron Man and Thor on a team, you’ll get a bonus for linking up a certain percentage of the Avengers. But add Captain America to the equation, and your bonus stats increase.
Gameplay is standard beat-em-up fare. It’s deeper than your typical button masher since each hero boasts unique abilities, and there’s a big emphasis on “synergy attacks,” which can be used when two or more characters’ power meters fill up. When unleashed, the heroes will combine their powers into one, often screen-clearing attack that almost always looks spectacular.
It’s a lot of fun to mix and match heroes to your heart’s content, although sometimes I found that certain characters’ attacks were indistinguishable from each other, a mix of punches and kicks that, while expected in a brawler, doesn’t really help all the heroes feel unique from each other. Each hero’s special abilities should help in that respect, though. And some characters truly do stand out, like the high-flying Iron Man, who can glide above the rest of the team and unleash a barrage of artillery fire on the bad guys.
A couple of things about the gameplay bothered me. The most distracting issue was the fact that the screen sometimes became so cluttered with heroes and villains (the Hand, in this case) that I had trouble following where I was on the battlefield, particularly when the action got hectic. There were even a few occasions where, for several seconds, I thought I was in control of one character when in actuality my character was stuck on a wall somewhere in the corner of the screen. You can switch freely between heroes at any time (so long as they aren’t occupied by one of your co-op friends), and your selected hero is always color-coded, but I found it difficult to keep track of who I was.
A related issue I encountered was that, if your team strays too far from one another, the camera only zooms out to an extent before teleporting one of the outliers back to the rest of the team. This makes sense, of course, but the teleporting felt really disorienting and abrupt, and it always took me a couple of seconds to find my bearings again, which isn’t helpful when you’re surrounded by enemies.
Overall, the position of the isometric camera could be slightly improved, although players who jump into the fight by themselves will be able to benefit from the “hero camera,” which zooms in on your particular character.
Graphically, the game looks appealing mostly because of the art design, which captures the fun of the comic books’ aesthetic in a way that the movies (Spiderverse excluded) don’t. It’s not a technical powerhouse, but that’s not really a complaint here because the character designs look sweet, and that’s all that really matters for a title like this.
Unsurprisingly, the flare with which the game introduces many of Marvel’s biggest characters is impressive. During the hands-on, my team encountered characters like Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage, each very reminiscent of their on-screen counterpart. Jones is very much a cynical smartass and her sarcastic dialogue sequences were highlights of the demo. One can’t help but imagine how much fun it would’ve been to watch Krysten Ritter trade words with Captain America in the movies. So far, the character work is on point.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 will be an enjoyable couch co-op experience, to be sure. Teaming up some of my favorite Marvel heroes reminded me of what it was like to play pretend with my action figures as a kid. The gameplay isn’t perfect, but the game is sure to please fans when it drops on July 19, 2019.
Listen to all our reactions and impressions from E3 2019 right here:
Bernard Boo is a freelance contributor. Read more of his work here.