The first of three planned downloadable expansions for the Switch-exclusive Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, Curse of the Vampire adds one and a half vampires to the game’s roster and an all-new rapid-fire co-op challenge called Gauntlet Mode on September 30.
Detailed on Nintendo UK’s page for the Ultimate Alliance 3 expansion pass, Gauntlet Mode pits one to four players against a series of co-op challenges, where they can earn rewards for their efforts. The expansion pack also introduces an Endurance Mode, which sounds like a survival mode with online leaderboards, and a new Infinity Rift filled with its own unique missions.
All of that plus Moon Knight, Punisher, Morbius the Living Vampire, and Blade the Half-Vampire. I stopped listening after Moon Knight.
This month, nearly a decade to the month after the release of its predecessor, Nintendo released Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, a return to the beloved ARPG Marvel gaming series that takes comic book crossover mania to a team-based beat ‘em up conclusion. But it also serves as a reminder that…god, things were so different back when Ultimate Alliance 2 was coming out, weren’t they?
In September 2009, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was still just a glimmer in Kevin Feige’s eye. We had accepted that upstart newcomers Marvel Studios might be on to something with the release of Iron Man the year prior (who would’ve thought that gamble casting Robert Downey Jr. as some B-tier comics character would pay off?), and at that point, only what is still the green-skinned stepchild of the MCU, Incredible Hulk, had joined it. The First Avenger, Thor, Iron Man 2, they had all yet to come—and above all, no one going to a movie theater outside of comic book diehards knew what an Infinity Stone was. There were murmurs of the Avengers, sure, after Samuel L. Jackson made us sit in a movie theater a little longer than we were used to (the audacity!). But Thanos? A gauntlet? Nada.
We also had the release of Vicarious Visions’ Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, which unlike all those lame-looking superhero movies we were being inundated with in the ‘00s, looked kind great. The follow up to a surprise 2006 hit and an adaptation of the then-recent comics event superseriesCivil War, Ultimate Alliance 2 presented an intriguingly gamified take on a blockbuster storyline: Superhero vs. Superhero! Privacy vs. Protection! That Guy you kind of know from a movie but he’s weirdly even more of a giant asshole vs. that guy with a shield they’re thinking of casting Jim from The Office as!
MUA2 was an unfiltered window into the world of Marvel’s comic book output as it was directly in 2009 which, in the context of everything has happened since, becomes a fascinating time capsule to reminisce over. It was a time when X-Men and Fantastic Four icons could stand alongside the Avengers and no one would bat an eye, because that’s just what happens in comics. A time when no one knew what an Infinity Stone was. And they were Infinity Gems, if you did.
In June 2019, by contrast, we were coming off the back of the release of something as bonkers asAvengers: Endgame. Over a decade and nearly two-dozen movies, the Infinity Stones haven’t just become part of pop culture lexicon at large, they have been gathered, used, re-gathered, and re-used. Thanos lived, rose up, and now died (twice, technically!), long live Thanos. So has Tony Stark, although the large shadow he cast over the MCU that Iron Man helped create all those years ago will continue to linger without him, thanks to the indomitable legacy of Robert Downey Jr.
At last, the cinematic version of the Infinity Saga is at an end—and here stands Nintendo and Team Ninja with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3. Which is…a quest. To gather the Infinity Stones. And stop Thanos before he does so!
And look, here are your familiar cinematic faces in a roster of Marvel heroes now considerably less esoteric than the one in Ultimate Alliance 2—filled with characters slightly ajar enough to be comics-inspired, but close enough to basically be the characterization of their movie counterparts. Here is the Black Order, aka Those Guys With About 10 Minutes Max of Infinity War and Endgame Screen Time, to find them! Here’s Ultron, please remember that movie that most people thought was just kind of okay! Here is Daredevil making a joke about hallway fights with other Netflix-Approved Heroes!
To be fair to Ultimate Alliance 3,it wears its inspirations on its sleeve—it does not mask its pretty direct connections to that giant movie you (and what feels like the rest of the planet) have just seen to the tune of a gabillion dollars, as if they were something worth masking in the first place. Marvel Cosmic Bullshit is just as good an excuse as any to smash all these heroes together, and smash Ultimate Alliance 3 does with an earnest abandon. It, thanks to the comics, can even go one better than the films, adding beloved comics heroes like Ms. Marvel—well, Kamala Khan, specifically, now that Carol’s had her well-earned promotion to Captain Marvel—and Spider-Gwen, alongside familiar names from the movies.
There are even X-Men characters and a whole level set at the X-Mansion! As if this game didn’t already serve as a reminder of what a long, strange decade it’s been, this marks the mutants’ first major foray back into Marvel tie-in media since that whole awkwardness with Marvel attempting to blacklist mutants and the Fantastic Four in its gaming spinoffs over a spat with Fox, who owned the movie rights for them. Well, up until the point Disney grew tired of the charade and absorbed the film studio into its giant, Mickey-ear-adorned mass earlier this year. At least we can play as Wolverine again?
But as fun as it is from a “I can play as Scarlet Witch and Elsa Bloodstone smashing up faceless bad guys for several hours” perspective, Ultimate Alliance 3 is still about smashing up those faceless bad guys in a saga we are now intimately, tiredly familiar with. Not just thanks to the movies, either, but because it seems like the Infinity Stones have been the catch-all reason for any Marvel crossover outside the comics lately—including other recent games like Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite.
A decade in the waiting, I wish it had been bolder—to take more direct inspiration (not even necessarily like its predecessors) from a particular arc of comics, and to embrace the idea behind why we love these superheroic crossovers at all in the first place. To do something silly, and wild, and zany to match the candy-coated Spandex it otherwise revels in thanks to its thankfully-comics-inspired-aesthetic.
We have had a decade of Infinity Stones. There’s so much more Marvel can be, whether it’s on the big screen (where we’re finally getting an intriguing glimpse of such a thing), in its comics, or in games like Spider-Man, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, the upcoming Avengers game, and beyond. Perhaps, after one last indulgence in this familiar well, its time to put the Infinity Gauntlet away for a good long while.
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Most of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3’s story chapters are lengthy affairs filled with enemies to fight, puzzles to solve, characters to recruit, and multiple boss battles. Chapter seven, set in the moon-based Inhuman city of Attilan, is a ten-minute trip to the most boring place in the Marvel universe.
Of all of Marvel’s properties, the Inhumans have had the hardest time breaking out of comic books into more mainstream media. The Inhumans movie was announced in 2014, then canned. It became a 2017 television series, which was laughably bad. The only time the Inhumans have been entertaining outside of comics is in ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series, and that’s because the show never went Attilan to hang out with the Inhuman royal family.
Chapter seven of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 sees our assembled heroes doing just that: stopping by Attilan to hang out with the Inhuman royal family. At the urging of Crystal, an Inhuman who joins the team earlier in the game, the alliance seeks Attilan’s aid in protecting the Infinity Stones from Thanos’ Black Order. Speaking for King Black Bolt, whose voice can shatter mountains, Queen Medusa tells Crystal that the Inhumans live on the moon in order to stay out of human affairs and they’ve no plans to change that now.
Fortunately for our heroes, villains attack. Which villains? Why, the only real villain the Inhumans have, Black Bolt’s brother, Maximus. Ever jealous of his brother’s power and ever hungry for the throne, Maximus chooses the exact moment a cadre of the universe’s greatest superheroes show up in order to stage a coup.
To back up and provide some context, the Inhumans are an ancient race of super-powered humans created by Kree scientists to use as soldiers in the ongoing conflict between the Kree and the Skrull. After the Kree discovered a prophecy that stated the Inhumans would be the downfall of their empire, they left to the Inhumans to fend for themselves on Earth. Young Inhumans gain their powers through exposure to something called terrigen mist, though in rare cases the terrigenesis process does not result in powers. Maximus is one of those rare cases, and it’s made him a real dick.
The entire chapter involves three battles against Maximus’ Alpha Primitives troops, who are as generic as lackies can be, followed by a battle against the man himself. It’s not a boring boss battle, as one might expect when pitting powerful heroes against a guy with a gun. Maximus has robot drones that fire powerful beam attacks. A guest character, whom I will not name for spoiler reasons, joins the battle, creating shields that players can hide under to avoid damage.
But that’s it, really. The entire chapter spans all of three rooms, so there’s no exploring to do. No new characters join the alliance. The Inhumans don’t change their minds and decide to help. Instead, the group receives a distress call from the Winter Soldier and rush off to Wakanda, kicking off a much lengthier and more interesting chapter.
Marvel’s been trying to make the Inhumans a thing for the past decade, mainly to fill the role of mutated humans with powers, since Fox had the film and movie rights to the X-Men. Now that Disney owns Fox, Marvel could just focus on the entertaining mutants and stop shoehorning the boring Inhumans into otherwise exciting video games. I guess someone felt the need to give it one last shot, though. Too bad it still didn’t work.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 has only been out for a couple of days, and already players have figured out how to break it in their favor. Using a glitch in the game’s Infinity challenge system, players can create parties made up of four of the same hero, which means four times the experience points for super-fast leveling.
The character dupe glitch, which was first posted to the Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 subreddit by ShinobiSekiro, takes advantage of solo missions in the game’s Infinity mode. These are special side missions that put players in control of one character instead of the normal team of four. The first solo mission is for Spider-Man, so I’ll use him to demonstrate how the glitch works.
When Spider-Man’s solo challenge is selected, the game injects Spider-Man into the player’s party in the first slot. It’s the game’s way of ensuring the player has the right hero available for the mission. When the player finishes or fails the mission, Spider-Man is still in their party in the first position. To make the glitch work, players then must go into the select party menu and move the injected Spider-Man into the second, third, or fourth party slot. Then, if they enter the solo mission again, the game will once more inject Spider-Man into the first slot.
Players can repeat this process three times, winding up with a party full of Spider-Men. Spider-Mans. Spiders-Man? Peters.
This trick currently works with any character who has a solo mission in the game’s Infinity mode, which includes Captain America, Luke Cage, Gamora and Hulk. Imagine that, a party of four Hulks. That’s three more Hulks than anyone needs. These duped parties can compete in Infinity challenges and play through story mode, as long as the chapter select option is used. Selecting “continue” will re-mix players’ parties.
Fans in the Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 subreddit are still figuring out all of the particulars, but there are already obvious benefits to having four copies of the same character. All four characters gain experience for defeating villains and completing tasks, but with this glitch in play, all the experience is applied to one character, so experience gain is technically four times as fast. The duplicate characters all have the same stat and power-enhancing ISO-8 equipped, which seem to stack.
Plus it’s a whole lot of fun tearing through hordes of ninja or Raft prisoners or Ultron drones as all the Spider-Mans. It’s cheating a little bit to take advantage of a glitch or exploit, but it’s not a competitive game, so use it at your discretion.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is here, and there’s a lot to it. There are more than 30 different characters at launch, each with different abilities and skills to juggle, and menu after menu of ways to enhance and upgrade them. There’s so much to keep track of while you take on the most challenging entry in the action role-playing series yet. In lieu of harnessing the power of the Infinity Stones, we’ve got some tips that should help.
Know How To Do Synergy Attacks
Before we get deeper into the game’s systems, there’s one important mechanic Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 doesn’t explain very well. Holding down the R button on the Switch controller gives players access to the special abilities of the character they are controlling. When characters with complementary abilities activate them when nearby to the character you’re controlling, players can press the A button to fire off their own special ability, which then combines those two abilities into a new, more powerful form. That’s called a Synergy attack. What’s not really explained is how players can initiate Synergy attacks on their own.
Holding down the ZR, or trigger button, also opens the ability menu, but now abilities are only highlighted if a nearby character controlled by another player or the computer can perform a complementary ability, activating a Synergy attack. In the screen above, I am controlling Black Panther. Holding down ZR shows I can perform a Synergy attack with either Captain America or Crystal.
Each character in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 has six attributes.
Energy (ENE): Influences how much energy a character has to perform special attacks
Vitality (VIT): Influences how much health a character has
Durability (DUR): Resistance to physical damage (punches, swords, bullets)
Resilience (RES): Resistance to energy and magic damage (fire, lasers, sorcerers supreme and otherwise)
Strength (STR): Enhances physical damage
Mastery (MAS): Enhances magical and energy damage
Know Your Characters
Now that we know which stats affect which attributes and abilities, it’s pretty easy to figure out which stats to focus on when upgrading a character. These upgrades involve assign points to the Alliance-wide enhancement grid or assigning stat-enhancing ISO-8. Let’s look at Ms. Marvel.
Ms. Marvel is a brawler. All of her attacks are physical, as denoted by the fist icon under he abilities on the left side of the screen. That means to do more damage, she needs strength. Since she’s going to be in the thick of battle, having a good amount of vitality is helpful, though good durability will keep her from getting too roughed up. Her resilience could be better, as magical attacks tend to tear her up. She is desperately in need of more energy, as her special attacks hit hard, and I would like to be able to use them more often.
Storm is a ranged attacker, and her abilities all energy-based. She’s equipped here with a chunk of ISO-8 that greatly increases her health. I focus on energy and mastery for Storm’s attacks, because I want her to hit hard and often.
Level Up A Variety Of Different Characters
It’s tempting to create a party featuring four of your favorite Marvel characters and to just stick with them, but there are good reasons to have a wider range of party members at your disposal.
Exploiting Enemy Weaknesses: Special abilities have types—piercing, melee, ethereal, and energy, to name a few. Certain enemies and many of the bosses are weak to specific damage types. If you’re up against an enemy who is weak to piercing, swapping in a character like Black Panther, who is heavy on piercing abilities, can make a big difference.
Resisting Enemy Attacks: Check out Ororo’s Hero Traits. Note the Electricity Resistance. Suddenly, that fight against Electro isn’t so difficult anymore. Captain America isn’t the most interesting character in the roster, but his defensive shield ability saves lives in the right situation.
Avoiding Environmental Hazards: At multiple points in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3’s story mode, characters have to avoid a barrage of ground-based hazards. Traps and explosions on the ground are nothing to a character who can fly or web-sling.
Mixing Things Up Is Fun: When a game gives you more than 30 characters to play with, play with them. You never know when you’re going to find a new favorite.
Team Bonuses Make The Dream … Wonuses
Team bonuses reward players with attribute bonuses for forming parties of heroes who share common ground. There are 29 different groups characters can belong to, from spider-themed heroes to the Women of Marvel to Ultimate Alliance newcomers. Teams consisting of two, three, or four members of a certain group gain small, medium, and large attribute boosts, respectively.
Team bonuses overlap and are cumulative, so a team can earn enhancements from multiple categories at once. I’m sure members of the game’s Reddit community are hard at work calculating the most bonus-laden team possible.
Have A Plan For The Alliance Enhancement Grid
Most of a character’s attribute bonuses come from the Alliance Enhancement grid. It’s a series of hex-shaped clusters where players can spend credits and enhancement points earned through playing to increase attributes for every character across the board. The center hex in the grid is filled with less potent enhancements that don’t cost much. Filling out each corner of the central hex opens up six additional hexes, with upgrades that are more expensive and much more powerful.
I filled out the center hex and then started buying enhancements from the surrounding hexes at random, whenever I could afford to activate a spot.That was dumb, and a waste of points. Had I paid more attention, I would have realized earlier on that the center spot on each hex contains an extremely useful upgrade. The blue hex, for example, grants a 10 percent experience upgrade when fully unlocked, making it easier to level up characters. I wasted so much time and so many enhancement points on the other hexes, when I should have been focusing on that one first.
Also keep in mind the composition of your party when unlocking Alliance Enhancements. If you’ve got a group of melee berzerkers, save the mastery upgrades for later, focusing on strength instead.
Don’t Be Afraid To Futz About With ISO-8
In the game’s third chapter, you start collecting ISO-8, which are magic space crystals that offer a wide variety of bonuses, from attribute increases to boosts to specific damage types. Soon after, players gain the ability to break down ISO-8 and reinforce it using credits and other in-game resources. Don’t be daunted by the menu. Tear that crap down and build it up.
Between ISO-8 gathered or rewarded during the story mode and that which is acquired via the game’s optional Infinity side missions, you’ll be swimming in extra ISO-8 from here until Ultimate Alliance 4. There’s plenty for deconstructing and experimenting with crafting more powerful versions. The biggest, most rare pieces are protected from deconstruction automatically, and players can tag their favorite bits to preserve them. Safeguards are in place, so there’s no way to pull a Tony Stark here.
Farm Those Infinity Missions
By the latter third of the game’s 10-hour story mode, enhancement points needed to unlock spots on the Alliance Enhancement grid become incredibly sparse. Higher level enhancements require a lot of points, and the story gets really stingy with them. What’s a player to do?
Infinity missions, that’s what. Enhancement points are one of the many rewards that can be harvested in the game’s side mission challenges, along with credits, ability points to upgrade character skills, alternate costumes, and the odd unlockable hero. Along with a wealth of resources, Infinity missions are also excellent bitesize bits of action that are perfect for a quick bathroom gaming fix.
If Something Drops, Pick It Up And Throw It
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 does not have a lot of random destructible environmental stuff. If an object appears with the option to pick it up and throw it, there’s usually a damn good reason for it.
For example, during the battle with sentinels at the X-Mansion, the mutant-hunting robots drop mechanical cores when destroyed. These little explosive goodies deplete a sentinel’s stun meter significantly, opening them up to serious damage more quickly than normal attacks. When a boss sentinel shows up, tossing the cores is an integral part of taking it down.
And if throwing the dropped thing doesn’t work, give it a sec. Sometimes items need to be charged by a boss’ attack in order to be weaponized. Which leads me to my penultimate tip.
While many mini-bosses in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 can be blitzed, going down in a relentless flurry of attacks, every major boss I encountered required more than just an all-out assault. They’ll fire attacks that must be avoided. They’ll spawn lesser enemies that have to be taken out first because they drop important items when killed. They’ll set up massive, screen-clearing onslaughts that can only be avoided when characters are in just the right place.
In mid-battle, Ultron flies to the edges of the screen and commands drones to sweep the battlefield with beams that do a ridiculous amount of damage to characters caught in them. Later, he summons a group of drones onto the field that will explode unless avoided or quickly destroyed. I wiped on his metal ass three times before I got the patterns and timing down. Frustrating, but it made victory so sweet.
If a boss gives you trouble, don’t agonize, analyze.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is an entertaining game with colorful comic book characters doing important comic book stuff. If it’s giving you trouble, don’t be afraid to dial down the difficulty. If you hate Scarlet Witch, despite her being one of the game’s heaviest hitters, don’t use Scarlet Witch. Play the way you want to play, and ignore everything I just wrote. What’s important is having a good time.
That, and harassing* Marvel Games and Nintendo until we get Squirrel Girl.
Heroes from all corners of the Marvel universe unite to stop mad titan Thanos from collecting six Infinity Stones and unleashing their vast destructive power. What took the Marvel cinematic universe a decade and 23 movies to achieve, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order gets done in one game, and I didn’t sleep through any of it (looking at you, Marvel movies).
When last we visited the four-player, team-based action role-playing game series Marvel Ultimate Alliance, it was 2009, and the MCU had barely even started. The first Iron Man film and The Incredible Hulk hit theaters in 2008, with Iron Man 2 due out in 2010. Marvel fans who were eager to see Marvel heroes of all shapes, sizes and origins come together to kick villain ass outside the pages of comic books got their fix from 2009’s Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. Lacking a series of interconnected films to take inspiration from at that time, the Activision-published game was instead based on Marvel’s popular Civil War comic book crossover, in which superheroes clashed over the idea of losing their secret identities and registering with the government. The setting and themes made for a gripping, dramatic game.
Marvel fandom has changed over the past ten years. Millions of moviegoers have watched the saga of Thanos and the Infinity Stones play out on movie screens around the world. Marvel’s Civil War is the Captain America movie where everybody fights at the airport and Spider-Man shows up. The Guardians of the Galaxy, a B-list superteam in the comics at best prior to 2014, are now one of Marvel’s hottest properties. So now we have Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, an action role-playing game for the Nintendo Switch that brings together Marvel’s greatest heroes to battle Thanos over the Infinity Stones, again. It’s what the people want.
The game opens with the Guardians of the Galaxy stumbling across all six Infinity Stones on an abandoned Kree starship, because this is a video game and no one wants to have to sit through Iron Man 2 or Thor again to get to the good bits. During a battle with Proxima Midnight, a member of Thanos’ evil Black Order, Star-Lord manages to grab one of the stones, teleporting his team to Earth and scattering the remaining five to random locations convenient to the game’s plot. The problem of getting Marvel’s cosmic team onto the planet with the rest of its heroes is therefore solved. After that point, an alliance is formed between heroes and the race to collect the Infinity Stones begins.
I am so tired of the Infinity Stones. We all know the deal with them by now, right? They’re colorful artifacts, each granting mastery over one of six cosmic forces—space, time, reality, power, soul, and mind. Should one user gather all six Infinity Stones, they gain ultimate power over the entire universe, though they never seem able to hold onto it long enough to affect any lasting change. They’ll always leave some of the heroes alive to change things back, or decide the power is too much for them and send them off to the corners of the universe to be found again later. Thus, the Infinity Stones are green, orange, blue, purple, yellow, and red herrings, existing only to facilitate epic crossovers.
Like so many Infinity Stone stories before it, then, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order isn’t really about the Infinity Stones. It’s about bringing together a diverse cast of heroes and villains and letting them play. It’s forming a party with Venom and Spider-Man and Miles Morales and Spider-Gwen and seeing what sort of webs they spin together. It’s taking common Marvel Comics events, like a breakout at super-powered prison The Raft, or Ultron attempting to take over Avengers Tower, and then seeing how those events get handled by your personal dream team. It’s the ultimate Marvel Team-Up. Oh, and Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel are there, too.
The story isn’t great, but the dialogue is very good, giving each new character a moment in the spotlight. Occasionally we get little asides between certain groupings of characters, like Miles, Gwen and Ms. Marvel celebrating their first ninja temple after taking down the Kingpin in his Shadowland base. The game is filled with cute little interactions.
While set in its own pocket Marvel universe, Ultimate Alliance 3 draws heavily on the MCU. Characters are well-voiced, with many actors doing a fair impression of their live-action MCU counterparts. The entire Kingpin level is filled with references to the Netflix’s various Marvel TV shows, from Jessica Jones’ ripped jeans, leather jacket, and bad attitude, to Daredevil’s “I do my best fighting in hallways” line. When Iron Fist showed up, I wanted to take a nap until his section was over—just like the TV show. Developer Team Ninja really captured the spirit of live-action Marvel.
As they partake in what my co-worker Paul Tamayo aptly calls “fan service tapas,” players are forming a team of four Marvel heroes and running them through ten chapters of old-school action role-playing goodness. Utilizing a combination of light, heavy and special attacks, characters dispatch hordes of whichever faceless troops are native to each of the game’s locations—Kree soldiers, Ultron robots, escaped prisoners, ninjas and the like. Tougher versions of each enemy type feature stun meters that must be depleted before significant damage can be done.
Each character has up to four special abilities they can use in battle. These abilities can be combined with those of other characters, creating powerful combo attacks. Combining Storm’s whirlwind attack with Dr. Strange’s fire attack creates a controllable fire tornado that tears into enemy ranks. A meter that fills as characters use normal attacks allows them to unleash Extreme attacks that all four members of a team can join in on. These massive, screen-filling spectacles do massive damage to enemies and the game’s framerate alike.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is not a mindless hack-and-slash game. Spamming attacks might get players through the first couple of chapters, but enemies get strong pretty quick. Dodging and blocking is a must. Enemies appear in massive numbers, often making it hard to pick out the character you’re controlling in the chaos. Switching from the game’s default difficulty of Mighty to the lower setting, Friendly, mainly seems to make enemies drop more health and power orbs, giving players a slightly better chance of surviving.
Staying on your toes is especially important during boss fights. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3’s boss battles are like dungeon boss fights in a massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Attacks are telegraphed via glowing circles on the floor. Players need to learn and pay attention to boss movement and vocal cues. Positioning is important in order to avoid sweeping area-of-effect attacks.
I’ve died a lot playing Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, mostly in boss battles, but I’ve not gotten frustrated. Each time I’ve come right back, armed with a little more knowledge of what makes big guys like Ultron or Dormammu tick. While I’ve played a little online with my co-worker Paul, I’m really looking forward to going online with the public and seeing what a coordinated team can do against these challenging encounters.
No amount of outside help will help me conquer Ultimate Alliance 3’s greatest foe its camera. Sometimes it shakes when players turn corners. It gets locked behind a character from time to time, shifting perspective in disorienting fashion. A few times, the camera’s gotten stuck on geometry, forcing me to fight blind. It’s worse in handheld mode, especially when it pulls way back on a scene, making characters incredibly difficult to make out in a crowd. A day one patch will address some of the game’s camera issues, but not all. Here’s hoping for more patches.
One of the few disappointing aspects of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is it severely stripped down the role-playing elements from the 2006 original. There was barely any character and stat management, leaving players who enjoy fiddling with upgrades and enhancements in the cold. I’ve got good news for those players.
Ultimate Alliance 3 has a whole lot of management to perform between battles. There’s Alliance Enhancement, a multi-section grid where players can spend enhancement points and credits to boost the entire team’s statistics. Players unlock Infinity missions as the story progresses, bite-sized tasks that reward upgrade materials, alternate costumes, and a couple extra characters.
This is also the first Ultimate Alliance game to feature Isotope-8 (ISO-8), the mysterious power-enhancing material that’s been shoehorned into almost every Marvel video game since 2012. Characters can equip different colors and potency of ISO-8 collected in the story or through Infinity missions to provide a wide variety of enhancements. Some of these enhancements are straight-up stat upgrades. Others grant benefits in special circumstances, like increasing the damage a character does when their health is under 25 percent. Eventually players gain the ability to upgrade their ISO-8.
As with earlier games in the series, teams gain special benefits when formed with related characters. My party of Venom, Spider-Man, Miles Morales and Spider-Gwen gains an eight percent boost to their resilience stat for having four members of the “Web Warriors” sub-group. Three members are in the “Agile Fighters” sub-group, granting a two percent boost to the mastery stat. And since Miles and Gwen are in the “Ultimate Alliance 3” group of characters new to the series, they get a one percent boost to vitality.
Basically, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is menu management heaven, and every stat tweak makes a difference. Many of my deaths during the game’s story were immediately followed by a trip into the menu system to switch up ISO-8 assignments, unlock a few more spots on the Alliance Enhancement grid or swap around characters. Each time I felt a difference in how my team took and dealt damage.
I’ve got a lot more menu fiddling ahead of me. It took me ten hours to finish Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3’s story on Mighty difficulty. The credits have rolled, but since I spent the back half of the game relying on a team of Storm, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and Ms. Marvel, they’re the only four characters I have beyond level 40. That’s four out of the 33 characters I’ve unlocked so far. I have Infinity missions to complete, several of which require solo characters I’ve neglected thus far. On top of all of that, finishing the story unlocks Superior difficulty, which starts at level 40 and ramps up from there. I’m not putting down this game any time soon.
Marvel is in a very different place in 2019 than it was in 2009. Marvel Ultimate Alliance and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 were made for fans of comic books, cartoons and the early Spider-Man and X-Men movies. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is very much a product of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The characterizations are straight from the films. The game prominently features characters no one cared about back in 2009. In the game’s gallery, there’s a report section with biographies on heroes and villains with commentary by members of the Guardians of the Galaxy, to be enjoyed by people who had no idea what a Groot was prior to 2014. I love that characters I’ve grown up with have so many new fans. I’m just mildly disappointed it led to another Infinity Stone hunt instead of a game with an original story to tell.
But that’s fine. If an animated rehash of 10 years’ worth of movies and television is the framing needed to get me an action role-playing game as rich, challenging and satisfying as Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, then so be it.
Almost 10 years after the last game in the series, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order comes to Nintendo Switch this week. It feels like a throwback to the simple style of combat that I remember from games like X-Men Legends on the PlayStation 2. Having it on Switch makes for that same kind of couch co-op action on the go or at home.
Watch the video to see the game in action or read the transcript below:
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 starts with a re-introduction to the Guardians of the Galaxy, influenced by a blend of the comics, TV shows, and movies. It’s nice to see an alternate version of the characters I’ve come to love. Some of the characters have a lot of fun dialogue to chew through, and some voices sound like their silver screen counterparts. Each scene feels like a self-aware Saturday morning cartoon.
The game follows a constant rotation of super heroes as they track down those pesky infinity stones and prevent all of Marvel’s most infamous villains from getting their hands on them.
Combat is fairly straightforward. The Y button handles your light attack, while the X button is for more deliberate heavy attacks that can be switched up depending on whether you’re airborne or on the ground. Knowing when to go for quick attacks and dodge out of the way or flank an enemy is part of the constant hectic action.
Higher level enemies and villains have a purple stun meter that goes down with each attack you land. When the meter fully depletes, they’ll be temporarily stunned and you can go to town on them with your beefier attacks.
Attacks break down into four categories: light, heavy, special, and extreme. Special and Extreme Attacks have meters that fill up based on how much damage you deal. They dole out slightly more damage than regular attacks and can be paired up with other players for a Synergy Link where you can double up your attacks on an enemy.
Extreme Attacks are your most powerful attack and come with a huge blast of damage that can also be stacked with fellow players.
Characters have different strengths and moves. Ranged characters like Starlord can fire guns from a distance, while Captain America has good old fisticuffs and a nice combination of bashing with his shield and launching it at enemies.
Movement also changes depending who you’re playing as. If you’re playing as a more grounded character, you’ll get access to a handy double jump. Unless you’re a big boy like The Hulk, who just gets one hefty leap instead.
If you’re playing as someone like Iron Man or Captain Marvel, double-tapping your jump button lets you fly around the room, just out of reach of most enemies. My personal favorite, Miles Morales as Spider-Man, lets you swing around until you decide to slam the ground with one of your attacks. This also works for Spider-Man and Spider-Gwen.
Characters feel slightly different based on their abilities, but all handle pretty similarly. Their main attacks and ranged attacks don’t always feel too different, but there are still enough options to find a character that fits your playstyle, even if they might not be your actual favorite hero.
The game does a great job of giving you steady drip feed of Marvel super heroes to choose from as you progress through the story. It’s fan-service tapas, and there’s plenty to go around.
Along the way, you’ll find some pretty basic switch puzzles or the occasional blocks to push into place. These slow down the action and can be pretty boring, but sometimes the game throws in some baddies for you to pummel while you figure the puzzles out.
Forming your team of up to four players is a fun puzzle in team composition. Could this upcoming boss use a ranged attacker? Are their attacks easy to avoid if you can fly?
The game’s team selection menu also provides certain stat bonuses based on who you combine to form your team. Each hero comes with handy key phrases paired with icons for stats like health and defense. Selecting Captain America will give you an “Original Avengers” tag that gives everyone a special attack boost if others pick a fellow Avenger with the same corresponding tag, like Iron Man. This helps you know who to pair together for added bonuses, which you’ll need for challenging boss fights.
Playing solo is fine, but gathering actual humans in real life to play alongside you makes certain fights not only more fun, but easier to handle. The computer-controlled characters don’t always do what you want. It’s easier to tell a buddy to fall back or revive someone than hope the computer will finally get it.
The camera can be your greatest enemy when it decides to randomly point in the opposite direction of incoming attacks or enemies. It sometimes gets stuck on parts of the geometry until you move everyone into a different part of the room.
After a few hours of play, I’m really enjoying my time with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order. It’s a goofy celebration of my favorite heroes that combines the cool parts of the comics, movies, and TV shows that’s wrapped in the simple mechanics of an action role-playing game that reminds me of huddling around an arcade cabinet with friends.
And having it on Switch makes it easy to jump into co-op action on the go or at home. We’re still testing out the online portion, and we’ll have a review up on Kotaku soon. I’ll also be streaming the game on our Twitch channel this Friday, so be sure to swing through and see the game in action live.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order comes out on July 19 for Nintendo Switch.