Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order Review

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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Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition Announced

During todays Nintendo Direct Mini, it was announced that Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition is on the way for Nintendo Switch.

The game will feature every map, character and mission from the Wii U and 3DS versions. Including all original premium downloadable content. It will also run at 1080p in TV mode and allow players to get in on some split-screen action.

Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition releases sometime in Spring 2018.

Written by Rhys Baldwin.

Fire Emblem Warriors Review

I may not be a Fire Emblem veteran, far from it to be honest, but this leap into the series has sold me on its ability to produce memorable characters with a fascinating story to boot. Of course, I realise this isn’t your typical Fire Emblem game, crossed with the Dynasty Warriors franchise to make a hack-and-slash Action RPG, instead of the usual Tactical RPG style fans of the beloved Nintendo franchise are used to seeing.

A new story has been created specifically for the game and brings characters from various titles together in one big mash-up of heroes. It’s this collection of characters that help in bringing new players to the series whilst pleasing the veterans who know and love these familiar faces. As a newbie, I felt it gave me an insight into the history of the series whilst also making a unique sensible story as to why these characters are now in the same realm as each other.

Series original protagonists Rowan and Lianna are the royal twins of Aytolis and are joined by the likes of Marth from Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, Chrom from Fire Emblem Awakening and Corrin from Fire Emblem Fates just to name a few. Aytolis is under attack and it turns out someone is trying to revive the Chaos Dragon Velezark who will absolutely wreak havoc if allowed to roam free. The royal twins with the Shield of Flames in hand given to them by their mother must journey to find the five gleamstones that will power up this powerful artefact, that can then be used to thwart Velezark.

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The developers have done a good job in almost spoon-feeding the introduction of new characters to the player, so you don’t feel overwhelmed right from the get go. You are given time to let the name and backstory of a character process in your mind before the next set are thrown right in. There are some similarities between how a number of the heroes were brought in with some being almost the exact same. A misunderstanding followed by a fight, then followed by you trying to convince the other person that you mean no harm, after already having killed a lot of their warriors because they started it. Doesn’t always make sense, but it ultimately works when in context of the fantasy world.

What I love about this title is its rewarding and addictive gameplay loop. Team Ninja and Omega Force just know how to deliver on the gameplay front. It isn’t incredibly complex, being simple by design which allows all players to jump in and be good at the game. But that isn’t it, there is depth to the system that rewards players for being strategic. You have your typical dodge, guard, regular attack and strong attack which are the usual mechanics present in this style of game. Joining those are the Warrior Special and Awakening features, the former being a special attack which can be used once you fill the Warrior gauge and the latter being a mode that grants advantage against all weapon types and gives bonus rewards for large KO counts.  The awakening mode also allows you to perform a Warrior Special without using up your normal gauge.

Upon activation, special moves go into a small cutscene style segment with the character performing their various strikes and then finishing off with a satisfying blow. I just love the combat, it makes me want to keep fighting and hit special after special. It’s certainly better however to reserve these moves for the right enemies at the right times rather than waste them on the lowly troops. The weapon triangle is like your classic game of rock, paper, scissors with this version however, being Swords beat Axes, Axes beat Lances and Lances beat Swords. Having the advantage grants benefits such as increased damage dealt with the opposite happening when you’re at a disadvantage. The weapon triangle doesn’t hinder you greatly on the lower difficulty settings, but when playing at higher difficulty it forces players to think about their team and pick the right combination. All in all, the gameplay caters for all players from casual to the hardcore.

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Throughout each battle you will acquire weapons, items and other loot along the way. This is where the Convoy and Camp come in with their RPG style mechanics. In Convoy you can change your unit’s weapons, equipment, skills and costumes. Camp then gives players the chance to strengthen their team and weapons. You can spend a lot of time outside of the missions just customising and improving your team, experimenting with all the different elements. It’s all there for you if you want it and if not, these things aren’t fully necessary to enjoy the game on easy mode.

History Mode offers a different experience compared to the Story. Choose a campaign to get started on and be presented with a 2D map that has sprites drawn on it. Select an enemy to face and jump into a Warriors battle and complete the objectives. The goal is to beat the boss at the end of the campaign. Rewards include new characters, items and experience. This mode features more content than the story, providing multiple hours’ worth of battles to take part in. On the content front, Fire Emblem Warriors is not lacking.

The character design is fantastic, each having their own unique looks. That being said, some will have similar clothing styles which is based on their allegiances and yet they still look different enough to be memorable on their own. World and level design is key to any fantasy based RPG game, you need to be immersed in the world and feel as though you are part of that universe. Each level looks the part, be it a desolate wasteland or lush forest, it has that aesthetic that draws you in and makes you want to see more.

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Detail wise it could definitely be better, but without focusing too much on the textures and world around you it is a good-looking game. When you stop to take a look, there are quite apparent jagged lines and flat textures which aren’t the most eye-pleasing. In handheld mode it looks better, but with the smaller screen that’s to be expected, the jagged lines are less noticeable and on a surface level it just appears more polished. But I’m not trying to take away from the TV mode because I played the majority of the game on the big screen and had no issues doing so.

Sound design is king, not only featuring a stunning, awe-inspiring soundtrack but great voice acting and pleasing sound effects too. Through each level your treated to epic tracks in the background that motivate you to fight on and conquer evil. Every slash of the sword has this distinct metallic clink upon connection with an enemy that makes it hard to stop swinging. Full voice acting helps in building a connection with the warriors just by being able to convey their emotions to the player.

STORY: 8/10
VISUALS: 7/10
SOUND: 9/10
GAMEPLAY: 9/10
GAME DESIGN & INNOVATION: 8.5/10

Fire Emblem Warriors boasts a large amount of content, addictive combat, fantastic sound design and a memorable story. It’s a great starting point for those who wish to take a look into the Fire Emblem universe without being disheartened by the tactical RPG style some players find challenging. For the longtime fans, I feel it offers a unique story with the top characters of the series and hopefully quenches the thirst of those looking for the next main series instalment.

OVERALL: 8.3/10 – GREAT

Reviewed by Rhys Baldwin.