Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 (2019)

After almost 10 years to the date, the Ultimate Alliance series receives another addition to the franchise. This time published by Nintendo and only available on the Switch, it leaves the dungeon crawler with performance and graphics still sitting on the table in order to focus more on portability.

UA 3 is familiar because nothing really has changed all that much from Raven’s amazing X-Men Legends and Ultimate Alliance series. You control a cast of 4 out of the possible 30 Marvel characters to try and stop Thanos from getting the Infinity….ugh… stones. Honestly I’m bored with the Infinity Gauntlet storyline at this point. It was fun in the 90’s, interesting the several times it showed up in comics and games throughout the years, Heck, we got a Infinity Gauntlet story with War of the Gems that came out on SNES! But having several games released in the past two years, and the movies all culminating to the loosely based Infinity Gauntlet story, I’m just tired of the same thing over and over again. Please stop using Thanos as the big bad, or having the Infinity gems as the Mcguffin for every single Marvel storyline. It’s played out.

That being said, Ultimate Alliance does do a lot of things right, which isn’t really surprising since the originals were already so well done, it’s got to be hard to screw up a formula like that. And that is exactly what this game is, it’s a formula. You have a team of 4 of Marvel’s best and they follow the levels that are extremely linear with a hidden box or two that contains extra materials, you meetup with a new character or two, fight by their side, then have them join your party to take down one of the villains  that have taken control of the Infinity Gems. That’s really the only bad thing about the game, it’s just so by the books. So formulaic and doesn’t do anything new or interesting. Sure, Thanos can cause mass destruction if he gets the power of the gems, but we never actually see the ramifications of that. In the original Ultimate Alliance, Dr. Doom caused such havoc that The Watchers actually had to break their rule of never interfering because it was such a big deal and the entire universe would collapse in on itself. Same with Ultimate Alliance 2, which split the game into 2 separate story lines, 1 being the Civil War, and the other being  the world overrun by nano machines (which I just learned was an animated movie tie-in story released at the same time). We saw the chaos happening all around and made the stakes of failing real. With UA 3 all you hear is how bad it will be if Thanos gets the gems, but you never actually see anything bad happen, so it just sounds like everyone is bluffing their way through the story.

The gameplay itself is extremely fun and fast paced. The characters are the big reason to play and with them adding so many huge heavy hitters of the Marvel universe to the roster, it allows everyone to have a favorite or two anytime you play. There are a lot of new faces when it comes to picking characters, while I don’t mind the inclusion of Spider-Gwen, having Spidey, Venom, Miles Morales and Spider-Gwen Stacy all as characters, some franchise seem to have a little bit too much representation. The Guardians of the Galaxy also show up and have Rocket and Goot as one character, as Rocket just hangs out on Groot’s shoulders and shoots the bad guys while Groot uses his tree arms to deal serious damage. There is someone for everyone here, and even some inclusions that make you scratch your head a little… like do we really need Ms. Marvel? As much as I hate the Fantastic Four, I’d much rather have Mr. Fantastic than the lamer millennial “fangirl” knock off version.  

With the game being so chaotic at times, as fun as it is, it can become a bit too distracting to the point that I frequently lost focus of where I was and who I was attacking. It’s a real big issue throughout the game, and never goes away. I was able to change the default camera from “Classic” to “Heroic” and that brought the camera closer, which was a bit harder to see all the action, but at the same time focused on the character that I was controlling, bringing a bit more of an attention to who I was attacking.

Even with the game being glued to the Switch, I was actually pretty blown away by how absolutely rad this game looks. Every character comes to life and pops on the screen. The cell shading and discernible black outlines of all the characters is a artstyle when done right… really stands the test of time and makes everything looks exactly like a comic book. The performance is another issue altogether. Having stuttering and frame drops in several fight no less than 5 minutes into the game was really telling of why the Switch sucks. And yes, it does. It’s a handheld gaming device that is too underpowered for anything that is not an indie game from 2014. Heck even Nintendo themselves had a launch day Zelda title that performed terribly in certain parts and was underpowered even on the day the console launched.

Bland story aside, the 10ish hours to complete the game just made me want to keep playing even after the credits roll. They do allow for “Infinity Stories” which are basically Danger Room scenarios that allow you to gain extra levels for your characters and get extra bonus items depending on how many optional objectives you complete. Some objectives maybe something like beat the level in a certain amount of time, or could be, cause a certain amount of damage to an enemy. It varies and does give the game some more replay value, but for me, there is nothing really special about adding a ton of filler content and with no new levels or backgrounds or enemy types, it’s just fluff to pad out the length of the game.

Another piece of filler content is the absolutely massive amount of math involved with all sorts of extra buffs and debuffs provided by the ISO-8 crystals, an element discovered to give new abilities to the heroes. As you progress through the game it drops different colored ISO-8 crystals. These range from 8% more damage, to 10% more money dropped by enemies. It’s little but can become overwhelming when trying to craft and upgrade them and I found myself just ignoring them altogether and was able to beat the game without too much difficulty.

I had a blast playing through the game and even played the game co-op with my wife and creating the perfect team of two characters each that we preferred, we leveled up quite quickly and laid waste to everyone in our path. We did find a couple spots where the difficulty spiked hard. One area required us to restart around 6 times and then we took a break, I came back the next day and tried it on my own and was able to defeat the area on the first try, so I believe there is a bit of scaling in the difficulty with another player. This isn’t all bad, as I like a good challenge, but when the game isn’t decently balanced it makes it harder to enjoy when you never had a lot of trouble before and it seems like it’s your fault. I always question if I missed a section of road and shouldn’t be there yet, or if I need to switch out characters for someone else… it just slows down the gameplay and the speed of these games suffer when everything slows down. I mean, if Thanos can be beat without dying once, yet his little crony is more powerful and takes 8 tries to defeat, there is something wrong.

Ultimate Alliance 3 if a fantastically fun and enjoyable game with not much in the way of a complex story. Be prepared to feign surprise when you see twists coming from miles away, or spending the entire game to unlock a character you wish you had from the beginning. The game seems to be extremely bare bones when it is compared to the others in the series. Gone are the hub worlds, the fun trivia games, the running around talking to characters and finding out backstory or learning new heroes you never heard of before. The deep cuts of including people like Spider-Woman or Penance or Red Hulk or Moon Knight, are thrown aside and tossed off instead to include the movie characters most known by the masses. Other than that, it’s the usual dungeon crawler game that is best played with a friend by your side as you team up and use special moves that obliterate everyone on screen.