Review by TKDBoy1889
Great game for Marvel fans and Switch owners alike
I remember back when I first played Marvel Ultimate Alliance during the Xbox 360 days. It was one of the first games my cousin and I tried out on the system aside from Halo 3. While neither of us considered it a favorite, we had very fond memories of our time spent with the title. It brought forth the more advanced graphics of the latest hardware but retained the archaic, arcade-style gameplay that we had been used to from years past. It was the best of both worlds in a sense, simply being a really solid title rather than an overblown AAA cinema-fest. There are times when that's the kind of game you need- not a game that's obviously trying to sell millions and win GOTY awards from various outlets, but rather a game that's simply there to have a good time. This is the feeling that was invoked when I played the latest game of the series, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order. As a huge fan of the Switch, I feel like this is what the system needs to solidify its legacy. The system already has a plethora of 1st-party classics and a gold mine of indies on top of some miraculous AAA 3rd party support, but what it needs is more mid-tier exclusives that are there to bolster its exclusive library.
From the very moment the gameplay started, it felt like returning to an old friend. Rather than rely on slow, deliberate gameplay or take an hour to get through an opening, the game is quick to get you to the action and show off it's fast-paced action mayhem. MUA 3 is referred to by some as an action-RPG, but that's simply because anything with any degree of customization gets labelled as an RPG. MUA 3 may have some RPG elements, but at it's core it is a beat-em-up/hack n' slash title that hooks you in with intense, furious combat and a fantastic roster of characters to acquire as you progress the game. The main jist of the game is pretty straightforward. You have a light attack that can chain combos, a heavy attack that can stun or knock back enemies, and special abilities that are learned as you level up characters. The basic mechanics are very easy to get a hold of, allowing you to quickly get a feel for the game and its gameplay. While the basic gameplay is simple, it’s hectic and fast-paced nature will ensure it is far from boring. In order to get through hordes of enemies you need to have good reflexes in dodging attacks or knowing how to escape less-than-ideal surrounding. Sometimes objects in the environment can be used to even the odds, and if playing solo, you may have to switch between party members to get a hold of the situation. Breaking up the action bits are the occasional puzzle sections sprinkled throughout. Although never exceptional, they serve to make a nice addition to overall gameplay. Puzzles are never frustratingly hard or challenging, but do manage to be entertaining.
MUA 3 features a diverse roster of 30+ characters in its base game, ranging from various favorites to lesser known heroes that get a chance to shine. Fan-favorites obviously include Wolverine, Spider-Man, Deadpool, Psylocke, and any of the Avengers. You've also got characters like Crystal and Elsa Bloodstone who are not quite as well-known but help to diversify the cast. Crystal became one of my quickest personal favorites, despite having barely heard of her prior. The characters feel different as well, thanks not only to varying stats but also their abilities and powers. Some rely on physical strength while others have better magical potency. Some are very tank-y characters whilst others have more ranged attacks to fight from a distance. Some are more durable, while others are like glass cannons. On top of this are their different special moves, which truly shine in tandem with allies. Bringing back the synergy mechanic from MUA 2, characters with compatible moves can time their attacks together to perform synergy attacks that deal much damage than separate moves. This makes an assembled team more than the sum of its parts, and makes it important to decipher how well various characters synergize with each other. Most characters have several potential synergies that range in the hundreds, although a few are more limited in their alliance potential. Going beyond these synergies, however, are the team buffs that various parties will bring. Having multiple Avengers, for example, will provide stat boosts. Having characters known for durability will make your team a tad bit tougher.
In terms of aesthetic and art-style, MUA 3 opts to keep itself distant in from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and instead retain a visual look that is more based on the comics and cartoons of the brand. This choice is for the better, allowing both the tone and visuals of the game to match up better. This is not a knock against the MCU, of which I’m a fan of several films. The MCU, however, is known for a being a bit more serious and darker in its tone, however, whereas the MUA franchise has been more about the frantic action. By distancing itself from the MCU, MUA 3 is able to be its own thing. This isn't a title that focuses all that much on narrative anyway, and that is for the better. All you need to know is that the team assembles to stop the infinity stones from falling into the wrong hands, and different characters sometimes have different motivations for joining. From a narrative point, the strength of the game is in its occasional interactions and banter between characters. Retaining the more lighthearted tone of the franchise, these moments are minor but make for good entertainment between or even during epic battles.
MUA 3, as stated, gets referred to as an RPG thanks to its customization options. While still more of a hack n' slash game, it's custom options definitely serve to enhance the game. As you level up, you not only unlock new powers as well as the abilities to upgrade those powers, but you also have a diagram that can be used to power-up your whole team. Picking the right powers to upgrade is not just a cool feature, but one that can make the game feel ever-so-slightly more strategic. Some powers work better in certain situations. Better yet, some are better at synergizing with teammates. It's a basic but it's implemented well. The alliance enhancement grid is another feature that aims to enhance your entire team by upgrading various stats. As you level up characters, you gain enhancement points that can be used to unlock spots on the grade for health, magic, durability, etc. It's a pretty straightforward upgrade that is split into various hexes, each featuring an extra upgrade should you completely unlock that hex. While nothing exceptional, these upgrade systems serve to add flavor to the game in small but meaningful ways. The biggest feature for custom upgrades, however, is the ISO-8 mechanics. As you play the game you will obtain ISO-8 cores, which basically serve as enhancement slots that can be equipped to characters. Another seemingly straightforward upgrade option, what makes the ISO-8 mechanic special is the ability to upgrade cores you obtain. By spending currency found in the game and sometimes by combining compatible cores, these items can be made more potent the longer you play. Whether you want to use them to enhance character strengths or cover their weaknesses, they add a little extra depth to a simple action game.
Then you've got the Infinity Stages, which are great for both challenge and replayability… as well as the unfortunate need to grind on occasion. Infinity stages can be accessed both through the main story and from the main menu. These stages spice things up by giving a specific objective to achieve, and often times a certain trait to the battle. You might have to beat a boss where synergy attacks do massive damage but normal attacks hardly do a thing. You might have to win a section with a certain character. The better you perform, the better your reward will be. There are also a few unlockable goodies to be found by winning certain challenges. It is a definite fresh air to have proper unlockables that are earned through skill without the requirement to fork over extra real-life cash. Of course, there is additional content to be found in the season pass, but there is a very solid amount of content found within the core game itself.
There are a couple technical grievances that cannot be denied for MUA 3, although their detrimental effects are not too severe. The camera is a little too stiff, not allowing you complete range of motion and occasionally getting stuck in very poor positions that can work against you. This is not a very common occurrence, however, and simply moving usually fixes the problem. A definite annoyance, but not a severe one. The framerate also stutters at times, but its hardly ever a hindrance on gameplay. Visually demanding special attacks and various arenas definitely pull the FPS down, but controls remain responsive and the game is never lagging too much in either docked or handheld mode. No, MUA's most severe flaw is not technical one but a designed one. Being a game that focuses on leveling up characters, later enemies will obviously get tougher as a means to retaining challenge. The problem is that if you dilute time between multiple parties rather than focusing on a single team, you can end up stonewalled against certain boss fights where it feels like you have to grind infinity levels for XP. This happened to me during the Doctor Strange boss battle. After previously dying less than five times total, this particular fight took me out 4 times in a row and simply made me feel like I was underpowered. As a result, I jumped into infinity levels to grind some XP. I love the infinity stages- they make for some fantastic side content that provide in-game bonuses as a reward for skill. However, when forced to grind with them they feel less optional and more mandatory. This occasional need to grind and keep up with the enemies is MUA 3's big flaw. This is what holds it back, but the game in itself is still fantastic for what it is. It's arcade-y team beat 'em up action, and it does that very well.
MUA 3 is hardly a system seller for the Switch, but more of a system bolster. Instead of encouraging one to buy the system outright, it simply strengthens the library options for anyone that has already purchased it. It retains the fluid, arcade combat of previous titles and expands upon it with tweaked mechanics. The main combat is solid and addicting, and the boss fights are mostly fun and inventive. The customization and side missions are simply icing on the cake to a very solid title, giving it more replayability. This is a recommended purchase to anyone looking for a good ole' hero mashup where you blast and pound villains into oblivion in your quest to save the universe. Those who dislike grindy mechanics, however, may want to tread with caution. The possibility to be stonewalled by certain battles if under-leveled is one of the major flaws keeping the game from being among the elite for the Switch. Even so, this is a great action game for Marvel fans and Switch owners alike.
Final Score: 8/10
Product Release: Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order (US, 07/19/19)
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