We live in a wild world indeed these days, my friends. When I was a kid, I didn’t think we’d ever see the likes of Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and The Guardians Of The God Damn Galaxy team up on the big screen, but then the Marvel Cinematic Universe happened and changed everything.
Before films like Civil War, Infinity War, and Endgame, us Marvel fans had to get our crossover kicks through comic books and video games – most notably the Marvel Ultimate Alliance titles, which blended button mashing arcade brawler gameplay with light RPG elements and stories that were essentially an excuse to throw as many heroes and villains into a game as possible.
They were perfect examples of mindless fun for Marvel fans, even if they weren’t really must-play titles for anyone outside of that bubble, which was a helluva lot smaller at the time.
But 2019 is a very different time. Spider-Man and the X-Men are as popular as ever (well, Spidey is at least), but even your gran is able to tell you who Groot and Rocket Raccoon are these days. Marvel has gone from strength to strength on the big screen, and the company – once on the verge of bankruptcy – has become a household name in a way I don’t think anyone could have predicted.
You can imagine my surprise then, when Nintendo announced a brand new Ultimate Alliance game exclusively for the Nintendo Switch. It’s not that the franchise wasn’t good, or even that the games sold badly, it’s just that after a decade since the last game’s release, we kind of all assumed it was done and dusted.
Regardless, Nintendo saw fit to revive the Marvel series with developer Team Ninja at the helm, but does it do everything fans of the first two games expect while doing enough to appeal to the new wave of True Believers who’ve come in off the back of the MCU? I’d say yeah – for the most part.
Anyone who played the original games will immediately be right at home with Ultimate Alliance 3. It’s best described as a Marvel brawler crossed with Diablo; you assemble a team of four heroes to run through story chapters full of enemies to beat on, level up your characters, and upgrade moves and stats as you go.
Mechanically speaking, Ultimate Alliance 3 isn’t exactly as deep as Blizzard’s action-RPG, but it never really tries to be. The focus is on delivering over the top spectacle with a massive selection of heroes, and in that respect the game is a rousing success, with a massive 36-strong roster of Marvel’s mightiest to choose from.
Said roster is a well-balanced affair, with characters ranging from the well-known (Captain Marvel, Spidey, Wolverine, and pretty much all of the big screen Avengers and Guardians) to the more obscure (Crystal, Moon Knight, Elsa Bloodstone, Kamala Khan).
There are even a few lovely nods to the Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse via the inclusion of Spider-Gwen and Miles Morales. Both have been around in the comics for years now of course, but the recent film catapulted them to stardom, and it’s great to see Ultimate Alliance 3 give them more time in the spotlight.
My only real gripe here is that I didn’t get the option to play as Jessica Jones, who is quite frankly better and far more interesting than most Marvel alum. Fix that in a DLC pack please, Team Ninja.
What’s immediately clear in Ultimate Alliance 3 is just how much this game has been influenced by the MCU rather than the comic books. Not just from the overall roster, but in the way the game looks, sounds, and feels.
Unlike the original games, Team Ninja has wisely opted for a cel-shaded feel that’s not only better suited to the Nintendo Switch, but helps to bring out the brighter and more outlandish elements of the comics in style, with gorgeous comic-accurate costumes popping whether docked or in handheld mode. On a practical level, it also makes it a lot easier to keep track of what’s going on in the heat of battles.
Dialogue, for the most part, has that quip-heavy feel from the movies, and a sense that none of the heroes are really taking themselves too seriously. Whether you’re into that or not is a matter of personal taste, but I found it to be charming, especially thanks to some excellent vocal performances.
I have to give a shout out to Yuri Lowenthal, who fans may remember as the voice of Spidey in the PS4 exclusive Marvel’s Spider-Man from last year. He returns as the wall crawler in Ultimate Alliance 3, and it’s a genuine treat to get to hear him get straight back into the swing of things, further cementing his status as the definitive voice of one of the greatest heroes of all time.
Elsewhere, Nolan North puts in fantastic shifts as Rocket Raccoon and Deadpool, and Eric Loomis does an Iron Man that genuinely comes close to passing for Robert Downey Jr at times.
Their work helps to elevate a fun, if by-the-numbers story in which the heroes race to track down the Infinity Stones before Thanos, in a narrative that throws out references and villains at an almost alarming rate – by the end of the first hour you’ll have tangled with almost half of Spider-Man’s rogues gallery.
What I could live without is the needlessly frequent quipping that takes place during gameplay, especially when all that amounts to is characters repeating the same lines over and over again, announcing their attacks like Pokemon, or else grunting like they’re being forced at gunpoint to compete at Wimbledon.
I was so incredibly excited to play as Daredevil, for example, but had to swap him out for another hero after an hour, as the man without fear constantly spouted one-liners such as “case closed” or “I object”. Yes, I get it, he’s a lawyer by day. Calm it down.
Villains also get a pretty raw deal with dialogue. While the heroes have the good grace to be self aware, the likes of Green Goblin and Ultron will fly around screaming things like “it’s not easy being green” and “does not compute.” If it was anymore on the nose I think I would have rolled my eyes right out of their sockets.
Fortunately, none of this really does anything to detract from the fun of the story, or the brainless button mashing joy that awaits you. You can pick up four characters from generously placed SHIELD save stations, each with their own special attacks that help to keep combat feeling fresh as you zip between characters at the press of a button.
Unleashing a barrage of webs as Spidey before switching to Cap to bounce his shield between multiple enemies, finally finishing up with a burst of pure cosmic energy from Captain Marvel never stopped pleasing the massive Marvel nerd in me.
Meanwhile, certain team buffs based on who you’ve got in your lineup pays sweet references to the relationships and history between characters, while adding a welcome layer of strategy to your assembling.
For example, having Miles Morales and Peter Parker will net you a web warriors bonus, while adding members of the OG Avengers or X-Men to your team will grant stat boosts of their. If you just want to pick your favourite heroes however, there’s nothing to stop you doing that, though those that want to pursue more of a strategic approach will be rewarded for thinking their roster through.
Your teams also have special, extra powerful combo attacks in addition to their individual special moves based on who you’ve chosen to assemble. This adds a nice (if light) extra dollop of strategy in building your team, as you’ll want to make sure there’s plenty of potential for that sweet bonus combo damage.
There are also screen-filling super duper attacks for each character that deal ridiculous amounts of damage and clear most arenas of enemies in satisfying fashion.
Charging these attacks up take time, so you’ll have to hold onto them and wait for the optimum moment to unleash – it’s usually in those moments when hordes of enemies start to really pack onto the screen and overwhelm you, which can happen a lot – especially towards the end of the game.
I’d say the easiest way to play Ultimate Alliance 3 by far is in co-op with one to three other human players, given that your three AI teammates can be absolutely useless at dodging powerful attacks, meaning you’ll often have to waste time reviving them instead of getting on with saving the universe.
Still, it’s certainly not unplayable in single-player by any means. You’ll still have a great time – you’ll just have to learn to put up with teammates that enjoy throwing themselves into certain death at every available opportunity. That, and a camera that can be a little uncooperative at times.
On the rare occasion that your current team isn’t properly leveled, or you want to try out a new hero or heroes that aren’t anywhere near the same level as your current roster, Team Ninja has smartly hidden away XP cubes that can be found hidden away in story chapters and earned via certain special challenges, called Infinity Trials.
Infinity Trials range from fairly simple horde battles to remixed boss battles which need to be completed under certain conditions (like a strict timer or pre-picked set of characters). Beating these challenges will earn you XP cubes, alternate costumes, and other pieces of gear that can be used to upgrade your heroes.
It’s a neat idea that really helps to eliminate the grind, and the fast-paced nature of each challenge is perfectly suited to the pick-up-and-play nature of the Switch. If you only have a spare five minutes on the train, instead of diving back into the story you can simply go through a few Infinity Trials to level your characters some more.
As far as superhero games go, Ultimate Alliance 3 isn’t exactly up there with Arkham Asylum or Marvel’s Spider-Man. It’s a light, breezy experience that’s perfectly suited to the Switch, in that you can pick it up and mash some buttons as your favourite heroes without really thinking too much about what you’re doing.
Given that Team Ninja also developed the sublime Nioh, I do find myself wishing they’d gone a little deeper with the combat, but as an arcade-style brawler that offers a good handful of hours of entertainment with some of Marvel’s finest, all wrapped up in a big dumb story, Ultimate Alliance 3 doesn’t disappoint, just like its predecessors.
In fact, the only people I’d say won’t get anything out of this game would be people who have absolutely no interest in Marvel – but do any such people even exist these days?
Ewan Moore is a journalist at UNILAD Gaming who still quite hasn’t gotten out of his mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), he went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis, before landing a full time gig at UNILAD in 2016.