Friday, July 26, 2019

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order (NSW) Review

Last Friday, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order launched on the Nintendo Switch, so if you've been feeling some withdrawal after Endgame, then why not check it out? But first, before you do so, see if it's actually worthwhile with the SuperPhillip Central review.

Alliance... Assemble!

It's an interesting collaboration, to say the least: Marvel, Nintendo and Team Ninja working together to create a new entry in the Marvel Ultimate Alliance series. Stranger things have happened, of course, but I'm still reeling from this combination. Thankfully, the actual final product with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order ends up being a winner, though not without some truly troublesome issues--and I'm not talking about the "Spider-Man: One More Day" type of issues. Though, that was a troublesome enough series of issues. No, I mean actual gameplay issues.

The campaign of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 tells its tale of the heroes of the Marvel universe trotting through the galaxy to collect the Infinity Stones before Thanos's servants known as the Black Order nabs them first. It's told through its ten chapters, each taking place at a familiar Marvel multiverse location. Levels are mostly running through corridors with very little in the way of exploration. Yes, there are some hidden treasures to be found and pillaged, but these are usually in easy to find locations that aren't really off the beaten path. However, for a game that's meant to be action-heavy, the levels are built more for those moment to moment bits of action, where you move from room to room and clear out foes. Throw in a copious amount of engaging boss battles, and you pretty much have a taste of what each of the ten chapters offers players.

The gang's (almost) all here, bub.
During these ten chapters, you amass a collection of superheroes who join your cause, usually willingly so, and eventually you'll have a cast of over 30 characters to choose from. Each character--whether popular like Captain America, Spider-Man or Iron Man, or deeper cuts like Ms. Marvel or Iron Fist--plays differently from one another, so while it's fun to do so, it can be overwhelming as well to build the team that you're most comfortable with. This is all the while worrying about having your characters at a proper level for story mode battles, as characters not in your active party do not gain experience. Fortunately, you can boost their levels through earned experience cubes dropped by enemies and found in treasure chests.

Captain America and Spider-Man give a helping hand in taking out these ninjas.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 makes it a blast to use the various characters as well. They have varying ways of attacking, moving about levels, offensive and defensive abilities (these are mapped to the face buttons in conjunction with the R button), and different pairings and groupings of heroes offer different results. For instance, teaming up fellow Avengers together will give a stat bonus, while partnering wisecracking characters like Spider-Man and Hawkeye will provide a bonus as well. There is a great supply of varying team bonuses that enhance characters currently in your active group.

The alliance is ready to rock these monsters.
When it comes to gameplay, there's some Koei Tecmo influence in the combat of the game with lots of mashing X and Y to perform combos and to clear rooms of enemies, similar to the Dynasty Warriors style of games. Of course, simply mashing buttons without properly dodging or guarding with the L button is a recipe for disaster. There is also the option to use the aforementioned abilities of your characters, and these are terrific for crowd control and dishing out damage to larger foes--though, they do require energy, which replenishes by hitting enemies with normal attacks.

Abilities like this one demonstrated by Iron Man can be leveled up with Ability Points up to four times.
When you have enough energy and you are in close proximity to an eligible hero, you can unleash two abilities together, one from your currently controlled hero and one from the nearby hero, to let loose a combined Synergy attack that is fantastic for clearing rooms as well as lowering the stun gauge of foes.

Bosses and stronger enemies all have a purple stun gauge in addition to their health bar. When the purple gauge is fully depleted, the enemy becomes temporarily dazed, leaving them open to more damage than usual. Using abilities on dazed foes allows even more damage to be dealt to a baddie's health bar. The actual boss battles are plentiful and mostly enjoyable. Few battles truly stand out from one another, as they're basic arena battles with multiple phases, multiple attacks to avoid, and strategies to consider, but they're excellent excuses to throw in even more Marvel universe characters for fans to enjoy.

While many bosses are straight up showdowns, some employ unique
mechanics to them, such as this early battle with Spider-Man villain Sandman.
However, the most impressive and devastating of the means and methods to take out enemies both henchmen and bosses alike is the Extreme attack. As you take damage and as you dish out damage, a yellow circular gauge slowly fills. When it's full, you can press the L and R shoulder buttons together to bring about a powerful attack. When a full team has their Extreme gauges full, whoo-doggy, is there enough power from your force's shower of attacks to bring down the proverbial house... or at least bring a foe's health bar down a considerable enough amount.

I was able to play through Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 by my lonesome and had a great time. The AI is capable for the most part, but other times like during boss battles, they can be rather sloppy. Of course, the main draw to a game like this is the co-operative play, which MAU3 offers in both local and online forms. Both work well and local co-op features drop-in and drop-out play while online features the ability to create or join a group. The latter can suffer from lag and some spotty connection issues, but overall it is a blast.

If you didn't like your traditional prison cell, how about a webbed prison for you instead?
That said, let's talk about the elephant in the room, and boy, can it be a messy one. It's Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3's camera. In solo play, you have control of the camera, guiding it with the right stick, and can even select from one of two camera types: Classic and Heroic. The latter is more zoomed in to your currently selected hero, and it was my preferred way to play to see the action as best I could. That said, there are sections of the game where you completely lose control of the camera, and it shifts to a specific perspective. These were less than pleasant moments, and were decidedly the first signs of the wonky camerawork that Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 possesses.

When played solo or online, the camera is... serviceable. Local co-op, however? Not so much.
In local co-op, the camera issues are exacerbated severely, and the more players who have, the worse the experience gets. You have zero control of the camera whatsoever, so you're under its complete whims and fancies. Plenty of times it'll face the wrong direction, it'll get caught behind scenery, it'll be so zoomed out you can hardly see what's going on, or it can cast invisible boundaries on players, making it so players can't get too far away from one another. That sounds fine in theory, but in practice, it is incredibly limiting. Many times while playing, my friend and I would be attacking foes on opposite sides of the screen and they'd be just out of reach so we would be whiffing our attacks while the enemies would be quickly depleting our health bars. The camera in local co-op is simply put, one of the worst I've seen in a modern console game. It's frustrating, it's awful, and it's basically broken.

It says something, however, about Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 that even with the embarrassingly bad camera that my friend and I were able to sincerely enjoy our co-op playthrough of the game. Moreover, I found myself continually engaged with MUA3, wanting to level up my characters and outfit them with the best ISO-8 stat-enhancing crystals I could find, aim to complete the immense skill tree, and unlock as many alternate costumes for my characters as I could. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is a content-rich game with plenty to do long after the credits roll. There are multiple difficulties that unlock, as well as the over 100 Infinity Trials to take on. These put your team of heroes in familiar surroundings under different scenarios. Three-starring each and every Infinity Trial will take a great deal of time and effort for those that wish to accomplish such a task.

Meanwhile, presentation-wise, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 finds itself as the best looking game in the series from a style point of view. The dark and dreary appearance from past Marvel Ultimate Alliance games has been traded in for a brighter, more colorful, more comic book-like design. The music is fittingly bombastic, and the voicework features a robust roster of fantastic performances. Though on a less positive note, the actual performance of the game leaves plenty to be desired with periodic bouts of slowdown as well as resolution bothers, specifically when playing in handheld mode. This makes it where it can be a challenge to distinguish characters among the action.

Cutscenes dazzle, but the performance issues MUA3 suffers with do not.
It's neither the deepest game nor the most polished, but Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order delivers an exciting and engaging amount of beat-em-up action to thrill both Marvel fans and lovers of the genre in general. It's a comfort food--no, better yet, popcorn gaming is more fitting of a culinary analogy. With the planned DLC featuring new characters and new story chapters, the adventure continues for the trifecta of Marvel, Nintendo, and Team Ninja's joint effort. Marvel Ultimate Alliance is back, and in many regards, the series is better than ever.

[SPC Says: B-]

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