It’s been nearly a decade since the last Ultimate Alliance game. I’ve played this entire series and in 2016 it was safe to say I never expected another entry into the franchise. I should have thought twice. Over in theaters the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) was burning through box office records. The Infinity Saga, as it’s now known, was sprinting toward Avengers Endgame and the ultimate record of highest grossing movie ever.
Developer Team Ninja is hitting the Marvel wave at the perfect moment and that’s not hyperbole. San Diego Comic Con just announced Phase 4 of the MCU and post-Endgame hype is through the stratosphere. Thanks to the current Marvel zeitgeist and a very well designed game MUA3 is currently trending past most of its projections. And it should be, this game is (mostly) great.
Already Posting Surprising Numbers
It’s very possible that MUA3 could be the third highest release on the Nintendo Switch of 2019. The only games currently ahead are both Mario titles. It’s currently #1 in Canada’s Nintendo eShop and is tracking ahead of many big name titles including Mortal Kombat 11 and Crash Team Racing. It’s often hard to differentiate between what’s a “successful” game and what’s a legitimate “hit.” Clearly, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is both.
The roll out of the ten hour mainline campaign is dolled out nearly perfectly. New characters are unlocked every few sections and are level-paced along with your current team. New abilities open up roughly every five levels and new synergies with teammates can be revealed.
Updated and Expanded Character Roster
Obviously in any Marvel game ever there’s a fair number of fans crying that some character wasn’t included. “I won’t touch this game until they include blah blah blah.” I’m here to tell you the roster is exactly what it needs to be. Also, we’re getting paid AND free DLC characters in the coming months. Marvel crybabies are wrong on this one because there’s always someone missing. The Marvel roster is simply too big to make everyone happy.
The game has firmly established plans to expand the roster and after its initial numbers are so favorable we can expect more of your favorites to be added as the months go on. Fanboys should chill on this front.
A Well Balanced Difficulty Curve
Through the first few sections of MUA3 I survived purely by using my favorite characters, button mashing the quick attack, and spamming one particular special move. That strategy slowly became less feasible and mid-game a certain boss in particular rolled me hard. I won’t name the boss for spoiler protection but it was the moment I realized strategy needed to become part of my game.
While I was being owned by this boss I actually thought there was a story connected reason. I figured everyone dies at this moment and it’s part of the story. It’s an old gaming trick going back to the days of yore. I was wrong and greeted with a Game Over screen. Reality had set in. My spamming ways weren’t feasible any longer.
It was time to pump up. Lucky for me (and you) characters can be powered via several methods. Those methods can be mixed and matched quickly and easily via a great menu system. Every time I died I was able to re-spec my team quickly and easily and jump right back in. The Marvel standard “Isotope 8” (called ISO-8) is plentiful and can be geared toward specific character metrics.
Grinding can be done via a collection of “Infinity Trials.” The trials themselves have special rules and special rewards. As a result you can level characters up without ever repeating campaign sections. That’s a game changer for this genre. At one point in my play-through I moved my team forward five levels each, increased their special moves, and strengthened their ISO-8 without ever re-playing any of the old levels. It’s a trick that’s especially difficult with action RPGs and it’s very welcome in this game.
After the campaign the goal becomes simply making your team as powerful as possible. The “Infinity Trials” leave a long trail of challenges and “git gud” moments long after Thanos has finally been defeated.
The MCU Influence is Undeniable
The lack of a fully original story is something I see as a slight negative, though not everyone will view it that way. This game really shows how we’re in the firm infinity gauntlet grasp of the MCU and its influence.
The Guardians of the Galaxy are your starting team, an unthinkable gaming decision five years ago. The plot revolves firmly around the infinity stones and the character dialogue and personality’s mirror the MCU almost exactly. This isn’t the game for you if you’re seeking a new take on the Marvel world.
Synergy, the Real Hero of the Story
The real creativity and excitement comes with synergy, the ability to combine special moves into new and creative ones. Wolverine can do a classic flurry of claw slashes and Deadpool can spray bullets sure, fine. Put the moves together and Deadpool uses his uzi’s to bounce bullets off of Wolverine’s claws, sending bullets all over the battlefield in every direction. There’s hundreds of examples of this and a few choice ones are significantly overpowered. Mix and match to find the combos that work for you.
Early on you’ll also learn about Ultimate Combos. These are the real eye-candy of the game, pulling your team members into a massive colorful spectacle that spreads tons of damage and tons of dopamine to your brain.
Post-Launch Content, Much and Often
While we don’t have a firm release schedule yet, we do know at least three DLC chapters are coming to MUA3 starting this autumn. The paid DLC packs will come along with free DLC packs. A great move that should encourage more playtime from season-pass and non season-pass gamers. We already know the first paid expansion will feature Morbius, Moon Knight, Blade, and The Punisher. Along with the paid drop there’s also a free drop coming on August 30th that will add Cyclops and Colossus.
My hope is the game keeps this format and gives two free characters with each paid drop of four characters. Thanks to some of the more recent Nintendo Direct presentations we already know to expect the Fantastic Four and more X-Men in the future. Archangel, Rouge, Iceman, and perhaps a Phoenix sighting are all in the cards.
Nathan is the co-host and co-creator of the Splash Damage Bros. A group of gamers creating content and barely staying friends. He can be found @splashdamagebro and @thenatejc