REVIEW: ‘Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order‘ is Stuck in the Early 2000s (Xbox One)

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Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is an action role-playing (RPG) brawler developed by Team Ninja and published by Nintendo. Up to four players get to take control of a massive selection of Marvel’s most notable characters as they brawl their way through many of the most iconic locales in the Marvel Universe.

The story concept for Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is one that has become very familiar to Marvel fans both new and old over the last year and a half. Cosmic bad guy Thanos seeks the Infinity Stones so he will possess the power to decimate the universe. And while this may not be the most thrilling plot at this point it is used with great effect. As the chase for the Infinity Stones sweeps across the Marvel Universe characters from every corner quickly find themselves caught up in it.

This is the biggest selling point to Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order. With so many characters to choose from it would be hard not to find a team make up a fan could love. What’s more they lean into these characters and their history with wonderful references throughout the adventure. Whether it nods to old storylines, or the laughable “wink and a nod’ moments, my personal favorite being Daredevil’s statement of “I do my best fighting in long hallways”, there is a lot to enjoy in this game’s personality. Now if only the gameplay held up so well.

While there is fun to be had with all these characters, it is, at best, a flawed gaming experience that finds itself mired in game design that is both outdated, and at times, frustrating. In the early stages of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order things go pretty smoothly. The first few levels pass by without too much trouble. You’re given access to many of the biggest movie franchise characters and it feels like this is going to be a fun romp. It’s only once you get about halfway in, and the difficulty starts to ramp up that the big flaws in the game systems start to reveal themselves. The biggest frustration being the allied A.I.

Many games are designed to be best played with friends in cooperative storylines. By the end of the campaign in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order isn’t just best played with friends, it’s just short of required. The allied A.I. is extremely inconsistent. While it was very proactive, and not in the least concerned about using powers and dealing out damage, it’s self-preservation often left much to be desired.

Almost every boss in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order has a huge area effect attack that consumes much of the playing field. These attacks are very distinctly marked with one bright glowing color or another. And almost never would the A.I. get out of the way.  And with only three opportunities to bring back fallen comrades per boss fight, a player can quickly find themselves out of allies and standing alone. With no other targets for enemies to attack the player can quickly become overwhelmed. This gets even worse when coupled with the game’s other biggest flaw. The inability to break enemy attack animations.

In most games, if an enemy starts to attack and the player uses a big special attack, the enemy’s animation will get disrupted and the player will be safe. This is not the case in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order. Most of the time, unless they are killed by an attack enemies will swing away and continue to do damage to the player. With the numbers often being stacked highly against the heroes this often leads to a “death by a thousand paper-cuts” scenario as a character’s health is chipped away bit by bit. And to make matters worse, health orbs feel much less plentiful here than in other games in its genre, and during several boss fights, they aren’t present at all.

The Black Order

Even with these problems, there are still moments of general fun to be found in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order. When it’s all flowing as it should and you are landing combos, and activating a character’s Extreme Attack, the game can be a source of comic fueled glee. It’s just not nearly common enough for all these elements to be flowing together, unfortunately. Visually Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order does a good job of capturing all the brightly colored fantastical mayhem superheroes are loved for. While not particularly detailed I liked the simplicity of the design myself. Plus, with the large numbers of explosions and other effects that can fill the screen, any more detail probably would’ve only served to confuse an already chaotic picture.

The last major aspect of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is the leveling system. The hardest thing to deal with in this regard is the decision to go back to the old set up of only allowing those characters actively being used to level. With a game so chock-full of characters I wanted to jump around and try many of my favorite heroes out. But knowing it would take a significant amount of work to go back to characters I had dropped from my party I very quickly found myself locked in with three of my four party members.  While i did rotate out the final slot for new characters as they appeared. This was facilitated by the fact that characters always showed up at a level appropriate for that point in the game.

While this is the only major flaw to Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order’s leveling system there is sadly no major positive to offset it. With the vast majority of improvements to your party taking the form of incremental stat increases, and enemy difficulty keeping steadily up with those stats, you never really feel like you have improved much. Instead, you find yourself on a leveling treadmill. Running as fast as you can just to stay were you are.

In the end, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is a flawed experience that tried to rejuvenate a fan-favorite franchise from yesteryear. However, instead, it serves only to tarnish the memory many of us hold so fondly.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is out now for the Nintendo Switch.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order
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    Rating - 5/10
5/10

TL; DR

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is a flawed experience that tried to rejuvenate a fan favorite franchise from yesteryear. However, instead it serves only to tarnish the memory many of us hold so fondly.