Ultimate Alliance is somehow a series I have never played before now, which is strange considering my affinity for all things Marvel. When Marvel Ultimate Alliance the 3rd was announced at The Game Awards last year, I rejoiced and revelled at the thought of being able to jump in the series finally and beat the not so holy hell out of the biggest baddies I have watched and read about for so long. What I was especially excited about is the subtitle, The Black Order. Now for the more casual Marvel fan, a.k.a me, what I know of this order is all that’s been shown in the MCU, before the films I knew nothing Jon Snow. I love the idea of The Black Order and the chance to explore that some more, count me in.

Now the story follows that age-old tale, of an alien dreaming of a peaceful universe as he sets off on an adventure with his childhood friends to compile a handful of pebbles that he can use to slaughter billions of entities. At least that’s what it would be if you played as the bad guys, playing as the superheroes however, the goal is to put an end to the efforts of Thanos and The Black Order. Thanos is a titan who seeks out six of the most powerful items in the universe, the Infinity Stones, named because of their seemingly unlimited power, both on their own and when combined. The end goal is to bring obscene destruction to the universe. He uses an elite team to help bring his plans to fruition, featuring five vicious beings known as the Children of Thanos.

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This is where the heroes step in, an all-star cast of some of the most known and even obscure characters of the Marvel universe. Iron-Man, Captain America, Wolverine, Thor, Star-Lord all the way to Elsa Bloodstone, Ms. Marvel and the Inhumans. You start off with a group of four as you set off to recover the stones before Thanos can get his hands on them, recruiting many faces along the way to the Alliance with the hopes to stop the Mad Titan. I absolutely love this story through and through, the Ultimate example if you will of good versus evil and on as grand a scale as any.

Throughout each chapter the sheer joy when meeting each new face never subsided meaning I was more or less on a high for the entire thing. This leads to many meaningful moments where a recognisable face jumps in to get in on the action and aid in the fight to survive. Not only did I revel at the characters encountered, but the locations too, being sent to some of the most iconic settings, from Wakanda to Asgard and from Knowhere to what quite literally feels like nowhere. All characters feel authentic to the source material, from not only their looks but voices and actions too. It’s pure fanservice, in a good way, straight to the veins.

What makes a great beat ‘em up is gameplay that is tight, responsive and most importantly addicting. Fortunately, all three boxes are checked here however I still feel something is a little lacking. Aiming seems to be at the core of my troubles, there’s a slight delay between aiming and hitting the action button and the attack following through which allows for the enemy to move and attack you whilst it feels like it shouldn’t, not like it’s a natural dodge and hit. This is only noticeable when using abilities or chaining moves, so by all means not game-breaking, just a little nagging issue and in no way ruins the fun.

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Now onto the good, combat is satisfying with each hero playing differently, having their own way of attacking, different abilities and extreme moves that all reek of the character you are playing. Such variety does wonders in stopping boredom kicking in, because if you want to freshen things up, then just swap out members of your team and go at it. To further the fight against repetitiveness there are a few systems in place that allow upgrades for your hero that can do anything from increasing specific types of damage, to increasing stats like vitality and durability.

Alliance enhancement is a system that isn’t so much complex, but it is incredibly deep, with so many options to choose from. The greatest benefit is that any enhancements are applied to the entire team not just the one, making it a worthwhile investment of effort and time. ISO-8’s can be equipped to each character for further improvements and if that wasn’t enough you can upgrade the ISO-8’s to increase the percentages that they boost your stats. Combine all these different features and become a powerhouse on the field, simple yet effective.

The story is linear with the flow of events feeling natural and straight-forward, there are opportunities to sort of travel off the beaten track. Rifts can be found in every mission and offers the chance to jump into challenges to earn rewards, those come in the form of XP cubes, currency, and when enough stars are built up you can unlock new costumes for a selection of your superheroes. It’s just nice sometimes to break up the action by challenging yourself against a slew of objectives.

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Rather than go for a more realistic aesthetic, the developers have stuck to the roots of Marvel and created a look that is inspired by where the source material originates from and comes across like a fluid, moving comic. The quality is limited by the hardware of the platform and displays these limitations mostly in the form of rough jagged lines. In many areas where the camera zooms out, everything looks worse and is a shame because up close it looks so good, which is strange as you would usually expect the opposite. I want to be up close and personal in the fights but instead controlling from afar is a little atmosphere reducing.

By far the best thing from a visual standpoint is those smooth, sweet character designs that get the blood flowing, being able to watch as I control my favourite Marvel hero’s wreak havoc is joy inducing.

Voice acting is one of the highlights for me with each performance nailing what I believe to be authentic to the character voices. The soundtrack itself is enough to get you pumped and march onward just blasting or hitting enemies out of the way but combined with the voices and sound effects I felt like what I was doing was just pure epic. Being able to lose myself in a battle because of the combination of sounds flooding my ears is addicting, which in turn pushed me to continue the fight so I could listen to more of that tantalizing sound design.

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There’s replayability which I feel will vary from person to person how much you get from it. If it’s for you then you can take the extra challenge by going through the campaign again at a higher difficulty which is unlocked after first completion, maybe you just want to try the missions with different teams and loadouts or keep grinding the rifts to get the best rating. Certainly, there is content there to have at, but its depth will kind of depend on how you take it.

OVERALL: 7.9/10 – GOOD

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is a much-welcomed addition to the Nintendo Switch exclusive library and one that I feel was much needed in bolstering the beat ‘em genre on the platform. Team Ninja have once again proven why they are experts in the field of fast-paced action gameplay. It feels like a comic book come to life with both visuals and sound design that ooze that Marvel charm. It’s nostalgic, fantastical and above all enjoyable. I was happy with my time spent, however don’t feel the need to jump in again at any point soon without fresh missions to play.

Written by Rhys Baldwin.

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