The videogame tie-ins inspired by the Marvel universe are nothing new and the Marvel Ultimate Alliance series dates back to 2006, or to 2004 if you consider X-Men Legends the true progenitor. Although all these years have passed, it was time to resurrect that old brand. Cinecomics have been going strong for some time; Avengers: Infinity War e Avengers: Endgame they cashed out billions of dollars, fielding a number of superheroes that had never been seen before, except in some comic crossovers. It was logical, in short, that someone would have taken advantage of this propitious moment to take the path of the video game again, but nobody expected that it would be Nintendo, along with the Japanese developer Team Ninja, and exclusively for Switch: a wacky combination that has raised more than one eyebrow. And while all eyes turned to the Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics Avengers project, which later turned into a controversial trailer during the recent E3, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 took on more and more convincing outlines, to become a must-have title for those who love comics and the films of the House of Ideas.
All against the Black Order
An expert scriptwriter who writes the history of the campaign is understood in a matter of minutes. Marc Sumerak, already known for having worked on famous magazines such as Avengers, Fantastici Quattro and Thor, he knows and understands perfectly the characters and their motivations: the dialogues are flowing, full of quotations and references to events that the fans remember well, and the author wastes no time explaining who these heroes are and why they know each other, except for the synthetic and ironic descriptions that accompany each entry into the scene. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 takes it for granted that it is a fan that holds the controller, not necessarily just comics or movies, although the game is inspired above all by the first: although it exists in a universe of its own, the title Team Ninja draws heavily on decades of paper stories both in storytelling and in character design. This makes each famous hero or enemy immediately recognizable, but the cartoon-like style guarantees each of them an authentic and decidedly comic-style personality.
The story begins with Guardians of the Galaxy that detect a powerful energy signal from a Kree spaceship: Star-Lord and the others discover that Ronan and Nebula have found the gems of infinity, and as they struggle to take possession of it they are interrupted by the Black Order of Thanos, a team of hired assassins aliens who intend to carry the gems to the Titan. In the bustle, however, the gems disappear and end up on Earth. Warned the Avengers, begins a treasure hunt that will bring together the most powerful heroes on the planet: even the worst super criminals are looking for gems that cannot and must not fall into the wrong hands. The gems, in the end, are a pretext to bring together heroes and villains, but Sumerak writes a fluent and not at all forced script that leads the protagonists from one chapter to another, passing through the most famous imaginary scenarios Marvel: the Raft, the villa of the X-Men, the Wakanda, Asgard, the Dark Dimension and so on. Divided into a total of ten chapters, at the standard difficulty level – they are initially two, but another higher one is unlocked – the campaign is completed in ten hours or so.
There are no dead moments or interruptions. The campaign is like a long film in which we gradually recruit more and more characters, to the point that already halfway we can draw on a roster of twenty heroes on the thirty-two available at the conclusion, to which are added another four to unlock with the Infinity trials : Elektra and Magneto, but we already knew this from the beginning, and others two surprise that we do not want to reveal to you here. In some moments of the game you catch your breath, near a checkpoint, and you can talk with the heroes in the neighborhood: they are short exchanges that offer some more details about the story and the characters and that tell small but interesting anecdotes. The most interesting thing, however, is the way in which Sumerak manages the narrative: rather than crowding the shots with the boundless roster of characters, the Cleveland scriptwriter chooses the most significant ones in the context of the turn and, in doing so, manages to give space practically to every hero, both through the intermezzo scenes, and through the dialogues during the action. There direction she is intelligent, self-deprecating and well-kept: she really seems to be playing one of the best superhero crossovers ever.
The synergy of heroes
Despite all the trailers and information released in the past few months, it was difficult to accurately frame this Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 until the last moment. An action game? An action role-playing game? A strange hybrid like the previous iterations? Joy-Con in hand, within a few minutes we had no more doubts: the new Team Ninja title is, essentially, a beat'em up of those who, played together, seal unforgettable evenings. The mechanisms are immediate and intuitive, you learn to play literally in a few seconds. Each hero has a light attack, which can be chained together in quick and effective combos, and a heavy attack, more damaging but also slower, which serves above all to reduce the indicator of daze of some enemies: once cleared, these opponents remain paralyzed and suffer more damage for a few seconds. A key allows you to jump – and to fly, in the case of certain heroes – and another to block enemy shots: keeping this last button pressed while moving the analog stick, our hero will duck in the direction concerned.
So far it all seems very simple, and indeed it is, but then take over special moves to complicate the dynamics a bit. Each hero learns up to a maximum of four, one every five levels, and although they are personalized, these moves are divided into various categories. Performing them is very simple, just hold down the R backbone and press the front button assigned to each move. It is not possible to use them to the bitter end, since they consume a special indicator that regenerates over time or with blue globes that drop some enemies. A last yellow indicator is charged by attacking and, once at most, allows the use of the Extreme Technique, practically a super move to spectacular and devastating area, which moreover can be launched simultaneously by more heroes. As we have said, they are simple dynamics that are assimilated in a few minutes and are translated into extremely scenographic fights that recall the deeds of our favorite heroes on paper and in the cinema: Cap that launches the shield, Iron Man that fires missiles and proton beams to the right and to the left, Spidey that swings and traps enemies in its webs, Hulk that breaks and so on.
The enormous roster of heroes – to which others will be added in the autumn with the DLC already on sale – guarantees a variety of situations and techniques already extensive in itself, but it is destined to improve with a very important mechanic that, progressing in the campaign, it becomes fundamental to learn: the synergy. Some heroes, in fact, can combine their special moves to inflict greater and varying damage. Doctor Strange can project his Faltine Flames on Storm or Star-Lord vortices to generate real fiery tornadoes, while Iron Man can shoot his rays at the shield of Captain America who will think of diverting them against surrounding enemies as in the iconic scene of the movie Avengers. There are hundreds of combinations that do not just add up the damage of special moves, as you might have guessed, but in some cases even change the elemental attributes. In this sense, it becomes increasingly fun not only to change the heroes to learn how to play them, but also the combinations of the team, made up of a maximum of four characters, to exploit the best synergies depending on the situation.
Co-op: guaranteed fun
Using synergies is very simple even when playing alone. There are two ways, in fact. The first occurs whenever a nearby hero uses a special move that can be combined with one of those characters you are controlling, and that you can change at any time by pressing the corresponding keys on the left Joy-Con: for a brief moment, the 'interface will suggest you press the A key and if you are fast enough, your hero will use the appropriate special move along with his ally. The other way instead allows you to decide for yourself when to use a synergy and with whom. Just press the ZR button to see what special moves you can combine with the surrounding heroes at that moment, then press the corresponding button to unleash hell on your enemies. Artificial intelligence, in truth very good, will always respond to your orders and in this way you will be able to shred enemies or special barriers that guard treasure chests and others collectable and that can be demolished only by specific synergies.
It is clear, however, that the synergy in single player is not at all as satisfying as that in multiplayer, especially if you are playing together with someone who is physically next to you, who is playing on the TV screen or on his Switch connected to yours wirelessly. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 can also be played online, but we have not had the chance to try this feature; having said that, it was priceless to face the most difficult Infinity tests by perfectly coordinating the attacks, perhaps placing a nice fiery tornado at the point where a new boss would have appeared a moment before it appeared, or dividing to revive fallen comrades – you can do a maximum of three times per fight, and not always – while our partner keeps the enemies busy. To make the experience even more fun we think about the way in which not only the various stages are designed, which sometimes require simple resolution environmental puzzles, but above all the same clashes with the bosses who, in the dynamics, are reminiscent of those of the MMORPGs, with lots of telegraph attacks to dodge and weak points to hit at the right time.
The GDR dynamics
However, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is not just an ignorant scrolling fighting game, as it includes some fairly simple but significant role-playing dynamics. We have already talked about it in a special special a few days ago, but let's take stock of the matter. In summary, you will have to essentially manage four GDR components. The first is the level up, and this is easy: your heroes gain experience points and level up, by doing so they learn new special moves and unlock new ISO-8 slots. They also gain the Technical Points that you can spend together with other consumables to enhance the individual special moves: fortunately you can also reset them and change the distribution at any time. Unfortunately you will have to grow each character individually, but fortunately there are ESP cubes that help to fill these gaps and that the game lavishes generously both in the campaign and in the Infinity trials.
Then there is the Alliance Enhancement, accessible from the laboratory, where you can spend the Upgrade Points earned, along with the credits, to unlock various passive bonuses that will affect the whole team, regardless of the heroes you have chosen. Considering that certain combinations of heroes guarantee additional bonuses, it is important to carefully choose the path to follow, because the initial hexagon branches off into further hexagons that allow you to orient the choice of attributes you intend to improve with greater precision. Remaining on the subject of attributes, the last GDR component is made up of Iso-8, special crystals that you will begin to find after a couple of chapters of the campaign and that you can equip like normal accessories in a role-playing game. They improve the specific attributes of the heroes or guarantee bonuses of various kinds, but above all they can be broken down into primary materials which you can then consume to enhance your favorite ISO-8s. Ultimately, the RPG component of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 becomes more and more interesting as you progress through the game, but you don't need to master it perfectly to complete the campaign. However …
The Infinity tests
The GDR components take on a decidedly greater relevance when they decide to face the Infinity tests, essentially the Marvel Ultimate Alliance endgame 3. You will unlock them in different ways: automatically completing the chapters of the campaign, finding the breaches on the stages or some hidden special chests. Accessible from the checkpoints of the S.h.i.e.l.d. or from the main menu, the Infinity tests reproduce some objectives of the campaign, which can be short glimpses of internships or real bosses, with very specific rules and variations: sometimes you will have to fight alone, in some cases you will have to defeat a certain number of enemies in the shortest possible time, sometimes you will face two or more bosses together, maybe losing health points over time or dealing damage only with a certain type of attack.
The purpose of the Infinity tests is pretty obvious: they not only guarantee a longevity that extends beyond the campaign, but also allow you to grow the lower level heroes with or without ESP cubes. They also unblock numerous rewards: Iso-8 crystals, free ESP cubes, illustrations and information to consult in the special gallery, alternative costumes for the various heroes and even some more playable characters such as, precisely, Magneto or Elektra. Each Infinity test also offers up to three specific objectives and by accumulating a certain number of successes, other costumes are unlocked. Not all Infinity tests are available immediately: you will have to find some of them, then you will be able to face them only if you have passed at least one of the adjacent tests, going up a kind of pyramid from the easiest to the most difficult. It is clear that the structure implies a certain level of repetitiveness that varies depending on your predisposition to this type of additional content: for our part, perhaps we would have preferred actually different costumes, rather than subtle color variations.
Better on TV
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is played discreetly even in portable mode, but the confusion that is generated on the screen, together with the lower resolution and the obvious aliasing, entail some difficulties that are attenuated as the hours go by, getting used to it, but that always persists anyway. The image, in portable mode, is in short unclear and even less defined, a sacrifice necessary because the game does not miss a beat in terms of frame rate even when the screen is filled with special effects, heroes and enemies that are beaten to the bitter end. Much better to play with the Switch in the Dock: the title Team Ninja returns a much cleaner full-screen image, thanks to excellent anti-aliasing and drastically higher resolution. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 does not sport billions of last generation polygons and textures, but the artistic direction is extraordinary in its fidelity and gives extremely satisfying moments that seem to come out literally from a comic book.
Even on TV, the frame rate rarely vacillates, and it is easier to admire the extremely fluid and well-kept animations of the various heroes. The only problem, in this sense, is the camera: the game allows you to set it in two different ways (normal, that is rather far and angled from above, or Eroica, practically behind the character we are controlling) but often you cannot move manually and end up getting stuck in the narrowest corners, losing sight of ours especially when we're indoors. Team Ninja has already distributed a corrective patch that solved the situation a bit, although there is still ample room for improvement that could make the experience much less frustrating. In outdoor locations, when there is more space, the camera behaves better and manages to embrace the scenario more naturally, but it remains a significant weak point in a technical framework that has pleasantly surprised us, and not only on the front of graphic: even the soundtrack it is excellent, always apt, and every single dialogue with Italian subtitles has been dubbed very well in English.
- Compelling and well written campaign
- Simple but interesting GDR mechanics
- Fanservice to the stars
- Fun in multiplayer
- In portable mode it loses clarity
- Definitely improved camera
- Infinity tests tend to be a bit repetitive