Despite loving the MCU and Marvel comics in general, I admit that I’ve never played a game, outside of arcade cabinets, that is led by Superheroes. I got my first glimpse at what I thought would be the first I would have wanted to dive into, but my general reaction to the footage just felt off. Maybe it’s the character model differences, maybe I just want to continue hearing Chris Evans or Chris Hemsworth as those characters instead of other voice actors. I just know that I left that trailer without a hint of excitement to play the game.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 came onto my radar shortly afterward and the feeling was different. Instead of realistic character models, the game had more of an animated comic-book feel and models more so mimicked what you would see in the comic books rather than the MCU, or even the Netflix TV series. The Marvel Ultimate Alliance games are beat em’ ups, a genre I haven’t played much of lately and the cast of characters was really exciting. I’ve been so ingrained in the MCU and exclusion of the X-Men that the thought of having Wolverine prancing around with Thor increased my excitement ten fold.
Lastly, the games story revolves around Thanos, the Black Order and the Infinity Stones. Already loving Thanos, I couldn’t wait to jump in to this version of that character and the villains surrounding him.
The story begins with the Guardians of the Galaxy aboard the Milano, not unlike a scene that we’ve already witnessed from the MCU films with them joking around and getting along. Soon after, a scanner that detects high concentrations of unusual energy like cosmic cubes or Asgardian hammers.
You’re then led to a Kree warship that is suspiciously abandoned.
Narrator: It wasn’t.
You unluckily uncover the Infinity Stones, the Black Order and more. Tomfoolery happens which causes the Infinity Stones to get blasted in different directions, which sets you on your quest to collect the stones before Proxima and the rest of the Black Order.
I felt that as you progressed in the game and traveled from area to area, the narrative reasons for doing so were satisfying. Different villains also join the Alliance, for comical reasons at best, but that sort of thing should be overlooked for this type of game. My enjoyment was never diminished for that sort of thing.
One aspect that stuck out to me was the rate of receiving new heroes on your team. You’re hammered with half the characters in the first two chapters, receive most of the remaining half in the next few, then it tapers off dramatically. I feel that they may have wanted you to just have access sooner than later to most of the characters, but I felt myself getting excited for characters in later chapters that just weren’t going to be coming.
The control scheme is pretty straight forward and does have a few nuances associated with it the more you play Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3.
Y is your light attack which is quicker, but deals less damage and stagger damage to enemies.
X is the heavy attack which does more damage and stagger damage, but is much slower and can serve as utility for that particular character.
B is your jump and double jump/fly based on which character you’re playing.
L-Trigger has a few uses. You can either hold it to block attacks, or hold it and move the control stick to roll away from attacks.
R-Trigger is your basic ability wheel selection tool for your characters. You would hold R, then select A, B, X, Y to choose the ability move that you want to execute.
ZR-Trigger is the same as the above explanation of R-Trigger, except this wheel is for synergy attacks with your other team members.
D-Pad switches between your four selected characters in single player, or any unselected heroes while playing co-op.
At first glance, everything noted above is very simple and should be something you get used to within a few minutes of playing. The truth is, the experience varies greatly depending on which character you’re choosing to play.
Thor, for example, is close range and melee for his light attacks, but his heavy attack has him throwing Mjolnir from mid-range. So in cases where you need to back away from an enemy or boss due to an area attack, you can sit back and throw hammers until you’re able to jump back in. Wolverine’s heavy attack on the other hand, has him dashing forward with both of his claws. I hard a hard time getting used to the physics of using his heavy attack and it seemed more sporadic than other characters moves. Each character has these little details that you have to get used to if you really want to master them.
Staggering/Stunning: The bulk of the strategy when facing tougher opponents in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, is to stagger them, then stun them. Tough enemies have a purple bar located underneath their health which is their stagger bar. Once you reduce that to zero, that enemy staggers and doesn’t move or attack for a few seconds. While that enemy is staggering, your abilities and attacks have a chance to stun them, which extends the stagger effect for another length of time. This is the best way to deal damage to these enemies because your characters are at little to no risk because they can stand around and just wail on an enemy unfettered.
Ability Moves: Each character has four abilities which are mapped to the A, B, X and Y buttons and have a range of uses outside of just dealing damage. Hulk’s first ability is ‘Hulk Smash!’ where he leaps into the air, and lands with his fist, knocking enemies back. Once fully upgraded, both Stagger and Damage is rated as C, so it’s not really that great in those respects. However, having a character that is able to crowd control with this type of attack could synergize really well with another characters abilities. And this is where the variety of gameplay lays, with the player trying out different teams and coming away with something that feels fun, intuitive and effective.
Synergy Moves: These are your characters same ability moves that can be done in combination with another character in your party, effectively using two moves at once as long as you’re nearby to that character.
Extreme Gauge: Along with your ability mana bar and health bar, you continuously generate your extreme gauge so that you can unleash an extreme attack by pressing L-Trigger and R-Trigger at the same time.
All of this combined, can lead to very dynamic battles against your opponents. Once you get used to switching back and forth between your R and ZR triggers to use either synergy abilities, or just your regular character abilities, you can really get into a flow. It’s always a ton of fun to stagger a boss, fire off a few synergy attacks then cap it off with a four person extreme attack right afterward.
A large portion of the game can be found in the Infinity trials. As you play through story mode on various difficulties, you’ll find these sort of tears in reality, which lead you to trials. The actual trials each have a different objective, rewards and even special circumstances in that trial, forcing you to play differently regardless of your team.
Each trial also has three ‘star’ challenges built into them, which eventually leads to unlocking alternate character outfits once you reach certain star amounts.
Below are a few examples, but there are many other different trials for you to encounter.
Level 8, Wave: Defeat 100 Enemies in the Kree Ship. This trial places you in a single room and generates more enemies as you defeat old ones. Good for leveling up characters and having non-stop experience gain.
Level 12, Countdown: There’s only 50 seconds on the clock! Extend your time by defeating enemies. These trials require you to be quick and efficient with your killing so you don’t run out of time by the end of the trial.
Level 20, Solo: Complete the challenge using just Captain America. These solo challenges give you a single character to complete the trial. I found these to be among the most difficult trials, especially if that character is not leveled up appropriately.
The Lab holds two integral pieces of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, the Alliance Enhancement grid, and your ISO-8 Management.
Alliance Enhancement: This thing is gigantic, and holds a multitude of passive bonuses to your entire team. When it’s first unlocked, you have one giant hexagon available with each point being an upgrade that you can purchase with gold and enhancement points.
Upgrades range from extra stats, to straight attack damage boosts and even giving your team an extra teammate revival when they fall mid battle. Hexagons also give a larger upgrade once you complete each full hexagon such as ‘Increase the critical hit chance of basic attacks by 10%.’
As a person who obsesses with things like this in games, my excitement plummeted once I realized where enhancement points come from; leveling characters. As a general idea, this doesn’t sound like a crazy mechanic, but you’ll soon realize that you will need to level many of, if not all of your characters to even come close to completing the grid. The developers way of keeping you playing their game…has been revealed.
After completing the story, I tried my hand at leveling a lot of those characters still stuck between levels 6-10 that I never rotated into my team. I figured that I could use one high level character and three low level characters in select Infinity trials to level up very quickly. The problem, is that even then it doesn’t seem quick. To be efficient, you’ll have to replay the same few Infinity trials ad nauseam to fill out the grid.
Later, I found that some Infinity trials have enhancement points as one time rewards, but it didn’t feel like enough to feel like progress was being made.
ISO-8 Management: At a certain point in the story, your introduced to ISO-8, which was originally mistaken as an Infinity Stone. Your team finds out how to harness their powers, which makes it the primary ‘equip’ item for each of your team members.
The powers of the ISO-8 stones can vary dramatically and increase in quality as you upgrade stones. a green ISO-8 can ‘Decrease your damage taken by 14.6% when under 25% health’ while another green ISO-8 stone of the same rank will just give you a straight 10.4% boost to that characters durability.
To be honest, I felt completely disinterested in this entire aspect of the game. You start finding ISO-8 stones everywhere, and you can only hold a set amount, which forces you into the ISO-8 Management screen so that you can destroy weak stones for resources, or combine stones to upgrade them.
As I write this review, I currently have 144 ‘Class D’ ISO-8 stones, the weakest you can find and completely useless to me at this point in the game. You may think, fine, just destroy them all and get resources, and that would be logical. However, you can only select 10 ISO-8 stones at a time, meaning just for Class D stones, I need to do this 14 times. It may seem petty, but the menu system is cumbersome, and it’s very time consuming. I bought Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 to play as some of my favorite superheroes, not go through processes like this.
You end up unlocking four ISO-8 slots for each character, giving you the option of having to sift through, upgrade and manage 16 ISO-8 stones at once. Some will really like this whole process, but it just felt boring, repetitive and uninteresting to me.
Out of the two initial difficulties, I played co-op on friendly, and single player through mighty. For mighty, I can say that I felt challenged at times during the first parts of the story, while at others everything seemed trivial.
There was definitely a point in the game where it seemed the difficulty spiked and largely continued on for the rest of the story. Up to that point, I had largely used the same team give or take one hero for the majority of the game, so I felt I was leveling with the content and unlocking upgrades in the Lab. If you’re having a tough time, the logical path would be to grab more upgrades from the Lab. To do that, you need ‘Enhancement Points’, to get those, you need to level up characters. See my rant above for how that realization felt.
Puzzle Sections: There are a few sections throughout the beginning of the game where there are puzzles. The first involves a maze-like grid where you have to walk from room to room, hit switches, and progress through more doors to the exit. The second, requires you to walk through another grid-like maze to reach a terminal to shut off the grid. These puzzles seem painfully misplaced in this game and only act to slow down Infinity challenges and the story. Luckily, they sort of just disappear later in the game, but their inclusion was an odd choice.
There are other ‘obstacle’ sections I guess we can call them? When you reach Daredevil near the beginning of the game, his vision for traps is highlighted and as the player, we can see a ton of red boxes on pathway that you are meant to avoid. When I got here, I just flew up as Thor and whizzed right by the obstacle in a few seconds. Not a huge deal, but it was comical for being a focal point of the level.
Voice Acting: Overall, most of the characters sounded great, especially Nick Fury and Rocket in my opinion. The one that sounded incredibly off, was Ultron. It feels tonally out of place for how big of a character he is and the role he plays in the story.
Handheld Performance: Since we are using the Nintendo Switch, I tried out a few different Infinity trials in handheld mode. There weren’t many times that I noticed a drop in frames or lag, though I would say that playing on the Joy-Cons was quite uncomfortable compared to the Pro-Controller.
Couch Co-op: Playing with someone locally was largely fun, but there were points of lag that we noticed. The major problem for us, was the camera boss. There were multiple times that we went to different sides of a room to defeat our foes, but the camera does not adapt and zoom out. Many times, we were fighting off screen and just had to deal with it. The worst example of this is the fight with Bullseye. He intentionally runs away from you. Pair that with a camera that doesn’t react appropriately to your movement and it was really just an awful experience.
Enemy Tracking: One thing that can be frustrating in games, is how unbelievable enemy tracking is. What I mean by that, is having computer artificial intelligence so advanced, that they just land attacks no matter what. There are a few bosses in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, that will just contort and twist around mid-attack, even though you’ve dodged out of the way, and still land an attack. I’ll even make the same observation that despite there being four team members, the computer AI is targeting the character you control most of the time anyway.
Blocking: Blocking in general feels very strange. You hold L to block attacks, but if you move the control stick, you roll. If you do that, there is a noticeable delay before blocking again. With that, if a boss or enemy has a combo attack, if you’re late to blocking the first attack, you’re just going to get hit through the entire combo and will be unable to block mid-combo. Things like this honestly left me to primarily just rolling as a deterrent to being hit instead of actually using the blocking mechanic.
Load Timers: The loading times in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 are very noticeable. The forgiving aspect of this comes from the Infinity trials. If you decide to replay a trial because you want a better result or maybe just grinding levels, you don’t have to go through this prolonged load screen over and over again. Otherwise, get used to seeing that ‘3’ across the screen quite a bit.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is a lot of fun. For someone who hadn’t played another game in the series, I was constantly surprised, shocked and excited to see what was up next for me to encounter.
I feel that a lot of the narrative of the game is catered to those who have followed the movies. The main villains, outside of Supergiant, were all featured in the last two Avengers movie as well as the Infinity Stones scattered throughout. More than that, many of the villains we’ve seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe can be found here in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, I find the ISO-8 equip upgrades to be boring and I was uninterested in sifting through them to find the best combination, a feeling I don’t normally have in games that offer passive bonuses like that. I also felt that the story had some awkward pacing. The beginning felt slow and the locations weren’t very interesting. Everything picks up and becomes fun, just to end on that uninteresting note again.
I think the main offender for me though, is not being able to direct your teammates in any way. It would be great to put Hulk on crowd control mode where he frequently uses his ‘Hulk Smash!’ attack, or direct Scarlet Witch to prioritize ‘Chaos Blessing’ healing ability when characters go under 50% health. It seems like a missed opportunity when many other games of this nature have put that effort in to make fights feel more interactive.
The character selection is varied, but I’m definitely spoiled by Super Smash Bros. Ultimate because I wanted more. Cyclops and Colossus are coming for free at the end of August, with three extra character packs coming over the course of the next year.
There’s a ton of game here for those who want to keep trying new character combinations or maxing out that enhancement grid. It’s definitely not on the level of content from games like Hyrule Warriors, but it should be enough to tide you over until the eventual sequel.
If you want a taste of what the post-game grind looks like, check out my analysis on three infinity trials here.
If you want my opinion on the best way to level your characters and earn XP, check out my post here.