Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order commits one of the cardinal sins of comic book adaptions: Spider-Man’s webs don’t attach to buildings when he swings. In fact, it’s worse. His webs just splat onto a spot in thin air about 10m above his head! Also, Iron Man flies at a very particular height, which means villains can simply place objects at a certain elevation and force him back to ground.
Of course, I’m being intentionally a bit harsh. This isn’t that kind of game. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is a whack and bash (not so much hack and slash) co-op action RPG that’s overflowing with characters from the comic book universe in a huge cross-over story. In fact, it’s the very same story that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been preoccupying itself with for the last few years: Thanos and the the Infinity War.
One of the most curious things about this game, outside of the decade-long wait for a sequel, is that it’s a Nintendo Switch exclusive. It’s an unusual one for Nintendo to have picked up, not least because the previous two games were developed and published under Activision’s umbrella and this game is now in the hands of Team Ninja. Honestly, you can just put that thought to one side, pick up a Joy-Con, pass one to your friend, and get to doling out superhero justice. Being on Switch positions this game quite perfectly for co-op multiplayer. You’ve got local play on the system for up to four players, there’s ad hoc local wireless co-op, and there’s online multiplayer as well.
The only downside to couch co-op is that it gets very busy on screen and you’re not the centre of attention as far as the game camera is concerned. I easily got lost in the action… not least because I picked Miles Morales’ Spider-Man and there was a Peter Parker Spider-Man in there as well.
The actual combat is pretty much what you’d expect from a whack and bash kind of game. You’ve got both light attacks that you can happily chain together and heavy attacks that need to be used with a little more caution, but both of these build up Energy Points which power your four abilities that can be unleashed with a combo of the right shoulder button and the face buttons – incidentally, these same Energy Points are what’s used to fly or swing through the world, so as fun as it looks, you’re best off using this sparingly.
If you’re playing solo, you’ll have your team of four and be able to switch between them using the D-pad, but the game really does come into its own as a co-op game. That’s when the Synergy attacks (performed using the ZR trigger button and face buttons) come into play to line up some combo attacks with other players. Sure they might be a bit easier to pull off with some willing AI, but coordinating with your buddies is obviously where it’s at.
Through all of this, you’ll also be building up your Extreme gauge. Once filled, you can unleash a logically named Extreme attack, but you can also hold onto it until your buddies are ready to go, with one of you triggering an Alliance Extreme attack, with all four of you going full ham at whatever enemies are on screen.
Keeping tabs on all of this is, as I said, a bit tricky when it’s all kicking off. The HUD is pretty minimal at the best of times, with just a mini-map in the top right corner and four character icons in the bottom left, each with health, EP and the gradually building Extreme gauge wrapped around them like an Apple Watch’s fitness tracker rings.
Though brawling is really the name of the game, there’s some other fun elements thrown in for good measure. The camera frames the action quite dynamically, panning down to show the city skyline in the background or pulling up to give more of a top-down view for a stealth section where you need to avoid some Hand searchlights. Well, you’re meant to do that, but if you get caught, all that happens is you get more brawling against some tougher enemies.
Beyond the regular ninja baddies of the Hand, some tougher versions of the criminal cartel’s goons did also appear, with purple health bars above their head that need to be whittled away to stagger them, at which point you deal more damage.
All in all, my time with the demo version of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 showed me a good, solid superhero brawler. It won’t revolutionise the gaming world, but with the first two games having a cult following and with Team Ninja stepping in to develop this one, it’s got potential to be a lot of fun. We won’t have long to find out, either, as it comes out in just a few days time on 19th July.