Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order Review — Everyone is Here!
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order for Nintendo Switch is the fan service heavy franchise revival you were hoping for despite its flaws.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order
Team Ninja, Koei Tecmo
Review copy provided by the publisher
Like it or not, some licensed video games live or die on not just their gameplay mechanics, but their fan service as well. Ubisoft’s South Park: The Stick of Truth and its sequel, for example, get by not just as solid RPGs, but by being the most authentic South Park games ever with characters people know and love. That being said, games like that can falter if they choose not to fully embrace their roots or sully them with unnecessary or awkward design decisions, like with EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II. Fortunately, Nintendo and Koei Tecmo’s Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order falls into the former category meeting the bar set by its predecessors over a decade ago despite a few quirks.
The camera, technical issues, and the sometimes hard to keep track of action do ultimately detract from the experience, but Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is one of the most jam-packed superhero games in years from a story and character standpoint. The game ultimately strives because does a good job at both introducing players to a wide breadth of the Marvel universe as well as action-RPGs just as the Marvel Cinematic Universe gears up for Phase 4.
” Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is definitely a game you will want to approach as a current or aspiring Marvel fan first and foremost.”
While Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3’s roster and story seem like they will just be made up of the MCU’s greatest hits at first glance, that actually is not the case. There are a ton of characters MCU fans will instantly recognize, but some more obscure villains and heroes like Thane and Elsa Bloodstone do share the spotlight. Also, X-Men! While games like Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite has been ridiculed in the past for not including MCU-friendly characters, that is not the case with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order. It is truly great to see the X-Men (and soon the Fantastic Four) back at the forefront of Marvel when it comes to both games and films, and I’m hoping that this game is just the start of that.
The original Marvel Ultimate Alliance was one of the most integral parts of my introduction to this comic book universe during my childhood, and with its large cast and an extensive database with a lot of information, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order can totally serve that same purpose for today’s up and coming fans. I see that as the greatest purpose of a comic book crossover game like this, so I could not be more pleased that this title succeeds at that.
As an avid fan, the game’s story also managed to consistently keep things fresh and interesting. Every five or ten minutes a new hero, villain, locale, or reference would be introduced. Even in stints where gameplay could get repetitive, I still wanted to see what happened next kept me enthralled. Comic book writer Marc Sumerak contributed to the game’s script, and while it is not the most in-depth plot for a superhero game, it hits all the right notes when exposing players to the world of Marvel while still appealing to longtime fans via fan service. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is definitely a game you will want to approach as a current or aspiring Marvel fan first and foremost, as that is how you will get the most out of it.
The visual style also does a great job at capturing the spirit of the comics. While Marvel’s Spider-Man, the upcoming Marvel’s Avengers, and even the original Marvel Ultimate Alliance games go for a more realistic look, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order plays to the Nintendo Switch’s strengths with a cel-shaded art style. Character designs and locations also look more comics-accurate than MCU-accurate, which once again shows that this game is not solely dependent on the success and audience of those films. Unfortunately, aliasing can mar an otherwise colorful game.
The presence of horrible aliasing makes some of the game’s environments much less enticing to look at despite their color and accuracy, especially when the camera zooms out. The frame rate also struggled to keep up sometimes during gameplay, so it is not the Marvel or Nintendo Switch game with the best presentation. Marvel Ultimate 3: The Black Order’s style ultimately strives in its cutscenes, which are always introducing something cool in this comic book aesthetic. The style also helps this game stand out as Nintendo and Koei Tecmo’s distinct take on the Marvel Ultimate Alliance series, so it is a look they should keep for future installments.
“Luckily, combat itself did not get boring for me as new things constantly kept being introduced.”
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is an action RPG dependent on character abilities similar to Diablo, just like the originals. That being said, these new developers have put their own spin on things with the roster, upgrade system, and Ultimate attacks that can be combined to truly devastate enemies. Each character also has small gameplay quirks that are not obviously indicated to the player; coupled with the large roster, this means gameplay stays fresh despite its repetitive core.
Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo are one of the few developers that can make repetitive gameplay fun, and they did achieve that with this game as well. Still, there could have been some more variety when it comes to objective, as Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is ultimately one long, fan service heavy combat corridor. Luckily, combat itself did not get boring for me as new things constantly kept being introduced.
As soon as I would be getting bored of my current roster, new characters would be introduced for me to try. As they leveled up, they would gain access to new abilities that made combat more interesting. Their abilities and equipped ISO-8 crystals can also be upgraded, and those crystals, as well as the skill tree, gives passive buffs, which leaves lots of depth for those looking to the game for a Diablo-style experience. Infinity Trails are present to provide players with smaller challenges with unique objectives, keeping things fresh in the endgame. The Avengers Endgame, one could say.
Even though combat never got annoying for me, the camera certainly did. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order’s camera attempts to be super dynamic, but because of the aforementioned aliasing and odd camera placement, this never really pans out. The camera would get stuck sometimes, or at least show things at an angle that was not preferable to avoid damage. Things get worse with the new Heroic camera that brings the action closer to the player, as it gets caught a lot and its lock on is finicky at best and useless at its worst. It’s best to stick to the classic camera for the entirety of your run unless you really are not a fan of the camera perspective of action-RPGs like this.
As I predicted in my E3 preview, things can get visually hectic in co-op with three or four players to the game’s detriment. When playing with others, I would occasionally lose my character in all the action despite the developer’s best efforts with visual indicators. Two-player co-op was the sweet spot for previous Marvel Ultimate Alliance games and is where they strived the most from a gameplay standpoint, and the same applies to this new title. The game can get quite tough at some points as well, so having a human player and not just mediocre AI on my side was always helpful.
“Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is one of the most cathartic and fan service heavy Marvel games ever.”
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order also features online multiplayer and it is actually one of Nintendo’s smoother and fleshed out online experiences with customizable lobbies. It also ran smoother than contemporaries like Super Mario Maker 2, so this game could prove to be one of Nintendo’s best online experiences outside of Tetris 99 if an active community forms around it.
Though Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order’s gameplay has its odd quirks, I still thoroughly enjoyed my time with it as a fan of Marvel’s comics, movies, and games. While other superhero games may have better written stories, few tap into the same magic of the Marvel universe that this game does. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is one of the most cathartic and fan service heavy Marvel games ever. If a title such as this can introduce players to Marvel or action-RPGs like the original Ultimate Alliance games did for me, it has done its job correctly.