Announced at The Game Awards last year, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is an action role-playing game much like the last two in the series and the X-Men Legends games before that. It’s been over 10 years since the last game and unlike past entries which were on a host of devices ranging from the PS2 and PSP all the way to (poorly) remastered variants on the PS4 and Xbox One, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is seemingly a Nintendo Switch exclusive. What’s more is, development duties have shifted from Activision-owned studios such as Raven Software and Vicarious Visions to Koei Tecmo’s Team Ninja.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3’s art direction has more in common with X-Men Legends than prior Ultimate Alliance titles, ditching the realistic visuals for a cel-shaded look. Although static screenshots may suggest a simpler game that would be more at home on smartphones than a dedicated gaming console, the actual gameplay decimates that assumption, with looking like a comic book being a welcome bonus. This is because there’s a welcome element of strategy to the proceedings.
You’ll assemble a team of four heroes and modify attributes with ISO 8 crystals. With only four characters in play at any given time from the roster of 30-plus to choose from, you’ll tweak your party for the best stat boosts. For example: a team with Venom, Spider-Man, Spider-Gwen, and Miles Morales increases resilience (resistance to damage from energy and ethereal attacks) thanks to the Web Warriors bonus. On occasion you’ll run into ISO 8 crystals, these let you customise your party further such as adding a permanent bonus to strength or increasing the effectiveness of special abilities.
What’s more is, as your party ventures forth and gains experience and cash with each battle, you can use them to give all your heroes, even those not in battle, enhanced health, attack power, and more. Throw in ability upgrades like adding stagger damage to Spider-Man’s webshots and you’ll soon realise that paying attention to Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3’s menus is as important as avoiding fatal blows from the likes of Ultron. Managing these details is rewarding and adds interesting wrinkles to the gameplay particularly if you want the best combination for your style of play.
At the same time, while pouring over the minutiae is bound to keep number crunchers enthralled, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 doesn’t penalise those looking to put together their own fantasy team. Want to take the fight to Thanos with Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Hawkeye, and the little known Elsa Bloodstone? Go right ahead. It might not be the most effective squad but you won’t be punished for following your dreams.
And speaking of Thanos, much like the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, you’ll be up against the mad titan and his cronies, the Black Order. The game begins with the Guardians of the Galaxy discovering all six Infinity stones aboard a kree ship and soon enough, they’re dispatched to all corners of the galaxy.
Before you know it, Nick Fury and Shield are involved in addition to the Avengers. It’s not the most original set up, but it ends up being entertaining in part thanks to the breakneck pacing that pits you against the biggest and baddest of the Marvel Universe from classic villains such Mysterio and Dr. Octopus to the likes of Proxima Midnight and Doramamu before you take on Thanos himself.
All along the way you’ll be treated to responsive controls, over the top special effects, and a serviceable frame rate at least when you’re playing in docked mode. That’s not to say Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 isn’t playable in handheld mode, far from that. However the cramped Joy-Con layout makes it less enjoyable than it should be. More so when combat is in real time and dependent on quick button inputs.
Regardless of your tolerance for less than accommodating Joy-Con ergonomics, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3’s camera is far from ideal and its easy to lose focus of the hero you’re controlling as it either zooms out too much or fails to track it altogether. Reseting the camera is as simple as tapping the right analogue stick and you’ll be doing that more often than you’d like.
Nonetheless, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3’s moment to moment combat is good enough to overlook these niggles. From basic attacks to ridiculous special moves, it’s an absolute joy to play. Pummelling rank and file henchmen and bosses is a treat. The latter more so due to the presence of a stagger gauge. Deplete it and for a brief period they won’t counter-attack, allowing you to land devastating attacks. It’s an interesting mechanic that makes these encounters just a bit more thoughtful than your usual action RPG fare.
All in all, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is a welcome to the Nintendo Switch library. The fresh additions in terms of gameplay make it a welcome step up from past entries. It’s not perfect, but does enough to warrant a playthrough even if you have a passing interest in all things Marvel.