There's something incredible about the fact that we're discussing a new entry in the Marvel Ultimate Alliance series in 2019. At face value it seems a bit like a miracle. But in a world years-removed from off-balance Marvel video game releases like Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite and the success of titles like Marvel Contest of Champions and Spider-Man, a return to Ultimate Alliance makes plenty of sense.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order certainly feels like what you'd expect from the series -- if the series had continued immediately after 2009's Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. That's because -- mechanically and visually -- The Black Order feels like a game from 2010.
Ostensibly removed from the first two titles' story, The Black Order follows Earth's (and the galaxy's) Mightiest Heroes as they face off against a number of mainstay Marvel villains. You'll take on the likes of Green Goblin, Magneto, Sentinels and Nebula, eventually rising to fights with each member of the dreaded Black Order as you work your way up to stopping Thanos himself from acquiring the Infinity Stones and destroying life as we know it. Sounds familiar.
The Black Order successfully plays off of the events of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in its rollout while also celebrating the diversity of Marvel Comics' lineup of heroes. Sure, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Iron Man, Black Widow and Spider-Man are here, but so are Ms. Marvel, Miles Morales, Deadpool, Spider-Gwen, Crystal of the Inhumans and a number of X-Men. This isn't the same Marvel video game that's beholden to a lack of mutants in the MCU, but one that's celebratory of all things Marvel, not just what one group has the rights to. Though, it probably doesn't hurt that the X-Men and Fantastic Four rights sit with Disney again.
The story here is thin, but let's be honest: You're here for fun, addictive combat, combination moves and finishers and exceptional cooperative play. But does The Black Order meet those expectations? Well, kind of.
The combat certainly works by all means, and the crew at Team Ninja successfully replicated some of the loop from the original games while adding their own action-based flavor. Each hero has a light and heavy attack that can be chained, a collection of special abilities and an all-out finisher move that can be combined with the rest of your teams' for maximum destruction. Special abilities can also be combined and can sometimes be the perfect foil for a tough boss battle, since damage seems to grow exponentially as you chain attacks.
Heroes level up through story gameplay and challenges or through XP cube items, and abilities have a number of tiers to buff as you rise in level. Team makeup also plays a huge part here, as team comp bonuses from the earlier games make a return -- and are even more privy to knowledge from the comics. You get a heavy hitter bonus for including the likes of Thor and Hulk on your team, but if a group of heroes ever spent time together, be it on Avengers, Secret or Mighty, you'll get a bonus for that as well. This can keep things exciting and nudge players into changing up team comp every chance they get until they find the one that fits.
So, what about cooperative play? Well, The Black Order certainly works as a multiplayer game. While playing docked, four players can team up for a fairly smooth experience, though the game's camera can lock up and make it extremely difficult to perform simple tasks like reviving teammates or locating the boss on-screen.
Undocked, however, changes things a bit, as the game struggles with stable, single player gameplay, and adding additional players to the power of the Switch in handheld mode can be a bit of a pain. It's not a miserable experience, but also not one you'd want to spend hours with. It's a shame, since the game nestles itself neatly between a character action game and a Diablo clone. By all means, you shouldn't want to put it down. Multiplayer can also be played online with friends or with random players, and will vary in stability based on connection.
But there are plenty of redeeming qualities to The Black Order. The game's writers certainly understand each of the game's cast, from Deadpool loving his tacos and Wolverine being the best at what he does, to Drax's dry humor and the lovability of Lockjaw. Some moments in the story feel a bit forced, like when Luke Cage gets a call from his wife which he then shows to the camera (Hint: It's Jessica Jones), but most of these moments just play as fun fan service that totally works. Though, it'd be better if you could actually play as Jessica Jones, and not just have her used as a convenient plot device, considering the rest of the modern Defenders are playable. Another plus are the game's set pieces, like Giant-Man facing off against a giant Ultron, or Sandman needing to be taken down by mounted clay turrets. These moments help to punctuate the story and keep things exciting.
As far as longevity goes, The Black Order promises a season of downloadable content with new playable characters, including some X-Men and Marvel Knights as the first in a series of planned character drops. Though, most players will find themselves done with the game by the time the story's credits roll, which feels a bit weird considering how replay-able the original titles were. Still, spending time with The Black Order is like seeing an old friend, even if they've changed a bit.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is now available for Nintendo Switch. A review copy was provided by the publisher.