Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order feels like a game a very long time coming. The first entry in this series came out back in 2006, and the sequel came out in 2009 (back when the Marvel Cinematic Universe was only a year old).
We’ve had a decade since players could control a variety of heroes and villains and smash their way through a virtual Marvel world. Earlier games in the series released on Xbox, PlayStation, and PC. However, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is currently a Nintendo Switch exclusive.
Did Nintendo and publisher Team Ninja get everything just right? Or is this game as forgettable as Thor 2: The Dark World? We’ve got our full breakdown below.
The MCU Connection
The first Marvel Ultimate Alliance game pre-dated the clean and organized MCU. In fact, your core group in that game (Captain America, Thor, Spider-Man, and Wolverine) felt like a hodge-podge of popular characters simply thrown together.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 has Thanos, his killer crew, and a search for The Infinity Stones. So, is this an MCU game? The answer is both “yes” and “no.”
Canonically, the series takes place in a separate universe from both the comics and the movies. However, the plot, character selection, and Easter eggs are heavily focused towards the MCU.
You can expect to play as your favorite MCU heroes, but don’t expect any likenesses of actors such as Chris Evans or Chris Hemsworth.
A large part of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3’s charm is the “dump out the whole toy box” aspect. It is not simply an X-Men game or an Avengers game or a Guardians of the Galaxy game. Instead, it’s a little bit of everything!
The roster includes MCU favorites like Star-Lord, Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, and Black Panther, with comics favorites like Miles Morales and Spider-Gwen. You can unlock certain characters through Infinity Trials (like Loki and Thanos) and get some as free DLC (like Colossus and Cyclops).
Paid DLC options let you bring in more serious characters like Blade and Punisher. In short, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 has a little something for everyone.
Gauntlet: The Next Generation?
From the outside looking in, MUA3 looks like a button-mashing beat-’em-up. It’s easy to mistake it for a much prettier version of a simple game such as Gauntlet.
Fortunately, that comparison is both unfair and inaccurate. This game involves a high degree of coordination and challenge, and someone who merely mashes buttons will be dead sooner rather than later.
As a player, you are rewarded for discovering character combos (in which characters combine their attacks into something more devastating). And you even get a boost for selecting four characters who have thematic connection to each other.
Throw in the “RPG-lite” aspect of upgrading as you go, and you have a surprisingly robust game.
Upgrade As You Go
The RPG elements of this series have waxed and waned over the years. The first game featured extensive options for upgrading characters via ability points and new equipment. The second game ditched most of that to focus simply on combat.
In Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, such upgrades are back with a vengeance. You can upgrade via a cool grid called Alliance Enhancement, and you can gather and distribute Isotope-8 to get serious enhancements. Or you can chase down all of the extra costumes via Infinity missions, adding serious reply value to the game.
So, is MUA3 a very deep game? The answer is, once more, “yes and no.”
The plot is paper thin. Many events (such as the initial scattering of the Infinite Stones) simply occur to move the narrative along. And much of the plot is basically cool Marvel moments that the writers tried to loosely connect to the main narrative.
At the same time, combat is rich, innovative, and rewarding. And this game is mostly combat. If you can look past the thin plot, you’ll find an action game that’s worth coming back to over and over again.
The Return of Co-Op
Another thing that makes the MUA series so popular is the “couch co-op” angle. You can always bring in a friend for some “drop in, drop out” fun of beating on assorted Marvel baddies.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 has brought this feature out swinging. Up to four players can play locally or online. That means you can have an entire team of human beings tackling every challenge this game has to offer.
While it’s relatively simple, I love to see a good couch co-op game in the modern age. And the portability of the Switch means that you can bring an awesome cooperative adventure everywhere you go.
Easter Eggs Galore
It should go without saying, but this game is extra-rewarding for longtime Marvel fans. In fact, you’ll find fanservice just about everywhere throughout the adventure.
For example, Daredevil has a cute throwaway line about doing his best fighting in hallways. This references the epic, one-shot action sequence in the first season of Netflix’s Daredevil.
Dr. Octopus, meanwhile, will keep referring to himself as “superior.” This is a reference to the Superior Spider-Man comic in which Doc Ock’s brain was inside Spider-Man’s body.
Heck, Psylocke, the X-Men’s resident Asian ninja, even speaks with a British accent. This references the decades-old comics body in which her mind was swapped into another body. Weird? Of course. But this provides further proof Team Ninja did their homework.
So, what’s my final verdict? It’s not just for Marvel true believers. I actually recommend this game to anyone who loves awesome action and a rewarding combat system.
You don’t have to be a Marvel zombie to appreciate the dynamic gameplay and appealing character designs. At the same time, Marvel fans will likely want to play through this multiple times to catch every awesome Easter egg and reference.
What are you waiting for? Go put down that comic and pick up your Switch!