Considering the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s seemingly unending rule over the box office, it seems strange that - with the exception of last year’s brilliant solo Spider-Man game - you’re scratching your head for a Marvel game worthy of the films.
So is Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order that game? In short, probably not. The Nintendo Switch exclusive is a welcome reawakening of the series after a 10-year hiatus, but it could easily be a 2009 game itself. Although pleasingly comic book-y in its presentation, it’s hardly a graphical showcase, and there are other games in the genre that are more satisfying to play.
But those games - and this is crucial - don’t allow you to put Spider-Man and Venom on the same side, nor do they let you witness a Luke Cage/Hulk double-team. Want to take on the bad guys as the Guardians of the Galaxy? Fine, but why not sub in Captain Marvel for a few fights along the way?
The 30+ roster of Marvel characters dwarves anything you’ve seen in the MCU, and it’s easily the game’s saving grace. Leave your brain at the door and there’s plenty of fun to be had here.
Avengers (and others) assemble
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is an action RPG in which four Marvel heroes (or anti-heroes) of your choosing move from room to room fighting hordes of enemies that usually precede a boss battle. I won’t spoil any of them here, but expect an appearance from all the villainous stalwarts you know and hate.
Tying this altogether is a pretty disposable story that has you racing Thanos and the titular Black Order to the six Infinity Stones that have crash-landed on Earth. Imagine the last two Avengers movies but with fewer one-liners, slightly inferior set pieces, and less dust.
Luckily, the barebones narrative allows developer Team Ninja to ram in as many characters from across the Marvel universe as is feasible, and it matters little how and why they turn up. Think Saturday morning cartoon more than big-screen blockbuster. All the crowd-pleasers are present and accounted for, as well as lesser known characters like Elsa Bloodstone and some of the more obscure X-Men mutants.
It’s a real Marvel pic ‘n’ mix. You begin as the Guardians but new characters are introduced (along with an amusing namestrap) non-stop throughout the game. Pretty soon everyone from Daredevil to Miles Morales will be vying for a spot in your ragtag Alliance.
Punch, kick, chain, repeat
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is a party game first and foremost, and its accessible gameplay reflects that. Each playable character has a light and a heavy attack, both of which can be chained with a jump (or a swing if you’re playing as a member of the webhead community). You can block and dodge attacks as well, though I rarely did the former.
You also have up to four special attacks which unlock over time and operate on a cooldown. They're hit and miss; I couldn't get enough of Hulk’s charged Thunder Clap or Ms. Marvel’s appropriately named 'Giant Foot Spinny Thing!', but others, such as Spider-Man’s drone, are a bit naff.
There are synergy attacks you can perform with another character during a small window of opportunity, and finally, Extreme attacks, which take far longer to recharge. The idea is that everyone in the Alliance saves up and triggers their Extreme metre at the same time, which is effective and hilariously chaotic in equal measure.
All of the above may make it sound as if there is more depth to the game’s combat than there actually is. The strangely lightweight fighting quickly becomes repetitive, and save for the trickier late-game boss fights, you can pretty much get by with button mashing. Insultingly basic puzzles and some occasional box-ticking stealth sections don’t add much in the way of variety either, but you’ll gradually unlock Infinity Trials, which are essentially re-runs of bosses you’ve fought in much more punishing circumstances. These should keep completionists going for a while.
It’s always better when we’re together
The appeal of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 lies in experimenting with your ever-swelling arsenal of superheroes until you find a combination you like. It’s a good idea to have a tank-like character in your team, and someone like Iron Man, who can hover and gain an aerial advantage. You get boosts for picking multiple brainy characters, for example, or uniting the original Avengers, but the game won’t punish you too much if you ignore the obvious alliances.
Captain America was a mainstay for me, partly because his final special attack grants a temporary power boost to everyone in the group. Although Cap's famous “Avengers assemble!” line that was 10 years in the making in the MCU is decidedly less stirring when he’s saying it several times a minute here.
Playing the game in single-player allows you to hop between your four chosen heroes whenever you want, preventing things from becoming stale. It’s also a bit easier to keep track of your characters playing solo, thanks to an optional over-the-shoulder camera that keeps the focus on you. But even so, this is undoubtedly a game best enjoyed with three friends on the sofa, despite the inevitable on-screen mayhem. You can play on one TV, with individual Switches locally, or online.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 does contain plenty of RPG elements you can mess about with to maximise your team’s abilities. Provided you’re using them in combat, characters will level up pretty quickly, increasing their stats, and you can apply various stat buffs with ISO-8 crystals, unlocked several hours in. You’ll accumulate in-game currency too, which can be spent on expanding hexagonal skill trees. It’s just a shame navigating the menus is a bit clunky, and load times keep you buried in them for longer than you’d like.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order verdict
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is mindless video game fun that never asks you to take it seriously. It also feels outdated for a full-price game, while the skin-deep, repetitive nature of the gameplay will likely cause some players to bounce off it before they reach the credits.
But if you’ve got a Nintendo Switch, some friends and you love Marvel, there are far less entertaining ways to spend an evening.