"Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order doesn't do much wrong, save for its camera angles, especially if you're just looking to have a fun time with some friends."
It has been over twelve years since the last Marvel Ultimate Alliance title, and a lot has happened to the Marvel brand during that time. Those gamers who've long awaited a return to the series — along with anyone who happens to be a Marvel fan — will want to take a look at the Switch-exclusive Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order. Though there is a "3" in the title, it isn't required that you have knowledge of the previous games in this action RPG series. The storyline is simple, and anyone who knows a little about the Marvel comics or the extensive Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), will be able to dive easily into the plot: the Mad Tyrant Thanos and his acolytes, the titular Black Order, are after the reality-altering Infinity Stones. In response, a selection of Marvel heroes and some more morally dubious antagonists form an alliance in order to save the universe itself from oblivion. With such a large cast, it's fortunate that the characters are all likable enough to help keep the adventure going, even with plot focus being severely split between them.
In order to keep the Infinity Stones out of Thanos's grasp, a team of four characters from the alliance must traverse through various Marvel locales. These locations range from the Xavier Institute, Avengers Tower, Wakanda, and even the Inhuman city of Attilan, so those familiar with Marvel lore will recognize many of the locations right away. Of course, there's more to Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 than sightseeing. Fighting hordes of villains and their henchmen, traversing the game's comic book settings, and simultaneously working through some tricky puzzles and ability events are just some of the things to keep busy with.
Combat is where most of this title's RPG elements come into play. Each character has unique statistics and skill sets that can be customized for battle, and these abilities are learned and powered up as levels are gained. S.H.I.E.L.D. Checkpoints allow access to several menu options, including the ability to save the game, and are usually quite plentiful throughout. There is also an Alliance Management system that can be accessed via the "Lab" option in the menu. Here, materials collected out in the field can be used to strengthen the characters through a grid system that boosts the party's overall stats. As one grid is completed, others will open up so that the process can be repeated.
The Lab also hosts a modification menu for the highly valuable ISO-8 crystals that are acquired throughout the adventure. These can be equipped to individuals to help further boost their stats or attacks. Through modifications, the crystals can become more powerful or be deconstructed into raw materials when no longer being used, adding yet another welcome RPG element into the mix.
While fighting through some of Marvel's most famous locales, characters gain experience and level up, but this process is relegated to each individual character and not the alliance as a whole. Given that, it is generally a wise strategy for players to pick which characters they want to use as "mains" and stick with them throughout the game, despite the large roster of characters available. New characters usually join at higher levels, so an alternative option is to simply add them to the main party when they become available in the Story Mode. Those are really the only two ways to have a strong enough party to contend with the Black Order. For instance, once they were available, my team consisted of Crystal, Psylocke, Nightcrawler, and Deadpool because I found their abilities and attack styles to be the best fit for my combat approach. By focusing on keeping them sufficiently leveled, I had a pretty sound team for the final portion of Story Mode. It is unfortunate that with such a large cast of characters to pick from, the player is somewhat pigeonholed into sticking with only four.
Story Mode itself is roughly 12-15 hours long. Playing it to completion grants access to the "Superior" Difficulty Mode, for those wanting to replay the game with greater challenge. There is also the Infinity Trials Mode, where further experience and items can be obtained by completing optional fights. New playable characters such as Elektra may even join through winning certain Infinity Trials. More trials open up as players progress through Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, and some truly harrowing ones await once Story Mode is completed. I found the Infinity Trials offered both a nice variety of challenges and an opportunity to level up. They certainly helped keep my four chosen heroes in tip-top shape for the Story Mode fights.
Battles play out largely by pressing buttons in a combo sequence to initiate attacks. Even those new to games who might be prone to button mashing will still feel accomplished, given how flashy moves are when executed. This includes special Extreme Attacks, where your characters can all join in together for impressive amounts of damage, or Synergy Attacks, where moves may complement one another. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is a title that makes it easy to pick up and quickly learn the ropes, even if it sometimes relies a bit more on trial and error regarding how to approach certain obstacles. Overall, I would say that it almost plays a bit too easily, especially if you're playing with other people controlling additional party members. As the game seems designed with multiple players in mind, co-op is definitely where this game excels, and even though it's possible to go solo, I found it much more enjoyable to play with others.
Despite what feels like a focus on multiplayer, there are still some noticeable hiccups when not playing alone. Sometimes during my playthrough, even if a second player would initiate a conversation with a character out on the field, player one would have to step in with button-pressing to get the conversation to continue. During battle, the game wanted the party to stay roughly in the same area as each other, so going too far ahead ended up teleporting additional players closer to player one again, even if they were in the middle of a fight. While these were just minor hiccups, they could certainly be annoying at times.
Unfortunately, there are definitely notable gameplay snags in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, the most horrendous of which happens to be the very unforgiving camera angles. There were times during play, where between the camera placement and the large amount of characters on the screen, I completely lost sight of my character. This would be especially punishing during boss fights and when trying to revive a fallen party member. Even when readjusting the camera was possible, the matter never seemed to be fully fixed, and I found that the camera itself would take me right out of enjoying certain parts of the game. The camera is probably my biggest source of frustration with the title.
Graphics-wise, while Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 doesn't look bad by any means, it won't win awards for its visual presentation. There were some surprising and noticeable exceptions, such as camera usage during a fight scene in the Shadowlands that involves a particular ninja temple hallway. In the Dark Dimension, the camera would also cleverly twist to showcase the reality-altering powers of a certain Infinity Stone. Still, the graphics do generally have a more dated look to them when compared to other Switch titles, and plastic hair is aplenty. There were also times where a ton of characters and action happening on screen would cause the game to visually lag. However, a very colorful, comic book-inspired palette is provided and is fun to see included in a title such as this.
In terms of sound, the background music is just enough to help speed along the action and battle segments, though I wouldn't say there were really any standout tracks. I do have to give the game credit for its voice acting. They tried to stick with a universal cast for the title where they could, by bringing in talent from various Marvel mediums — such as the cartoons and other video games — to supply character voices. It was fun hearing most of the Telltale's Guardians of the Galaxy cast reprising their roles, or Yuri Lowenthal playing Spider-Man again after voicing him in the PS4 game.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order doesn't do much wrong, save for its camera angles, especially if you're just looking to have a fun time with some friends in the Marvel Universe. Overall, it is a decent action RPG that I had fun with while it lasted. However, if you aren't someone with a passing fondness for Marvel lore in general, there are other action RPGs on the Switch that you might want to try out instead.