Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order isn’t the latest superhero blockbuster. It doesn’t have a huge, emotional storyline that impacts various facets of the massive Marvel universe, one that expands on years of worldbuilding. Instead, it offers something much simpler: the chance to create the superhero team of your dreams and enjoy some deliciously mindless action.
It’s been 10 years since the last Marvel Ultimate Alliance (and even longer since its predecessor, X-Men Legends), so a refresher was definitely in order. Essentially, the franchise is a Diablo-style action role-playing game, only instead of fighting demonic hordes you’re battling the minions of Ultron and Doc Ock. The twist is that it’s built for team-play; you form a squad of four heroes and can play either solo or co-operatively. And you’ll continually unlock new heroes, so much of the strategy comes from how you build your team. That makes it a perfect game for the Nintendo Switch, and it’s notably an exclusive to Nintendo’s console while the prior two were released on almost every platform imaginable.
The Black Order doesn’t change the formula. It still plays out from a mostly isometric perspective, and gives you a huge roster of Marvel stars to choose from. It starts out with the Guardians of the Galaxy, but it’s not long before the X-Men, Avengers, and various spider-people join your team. The story is... well, don’t play The Black Order for the story. It’s a mostly nonsense tale involving Thanos (again!) teaming up with villains from around the Marvel universe to collect the Infinity Stones. One of the key plot points involves a teleporting dog. It’s more Saturday morning cartoon than cinematic blockbuster.
What the story does do, though, is provide an excuse to bring all of these characters together. The core gameplay mostly involves wandering through cramped hallways, beating the heck out of mobs of bad guys, before moving on to a trickier boss battle. The combat is slightly more involved than Diablo — the game was developed by Ninja Gaiden studio Team Ninja, after all — but aside from the bosses it’s mostly mindless brawling with loads of screen-filling special attacks. There are also a few environmental puzzles that involve performing minor tasks like flipping switches and pushing crates.
The highlight of the game is the heroes, though. There’s a roster of more than 30, and they vary from slower brawlers like the Hulk and Daredevil to flying, ranged fighters like Scarlet and Captain Marvel. Even heroes that seem similar have important differences; Spider-Man and Spider-Gwen can both swing around levels, but the original wallcrawler is more of a ranged fighter, shooting globs of web, while Gwen has more powerful physical attacks. My favorite involves tossing a giant sphere of webs around like a wrecking ball.
It’s a lot of fun not only playing around with the different heroes, but also finding the right combination for your four-person team. (The game is playable by up to four people, but if you play solo you can swap between characters at will.) The Black Order doesn’t have the draw of loot like Diablo; instead, you keep playing to unlock new heroes and tweak them via a surprisingly deep skill tree. Even many hours in I’m still fussing with my squad —right now I’m settled on Spider-Gwen, Miss Marvel, the Wasp, and Daredevil, but that’ll probably change soon. The only real drawback is that characters you don’t use will be underpowered unless you boost them with XP items.
For the most part, the game is an ideal fit for the Switch. Given how straightforward the core gameplay is, it’s a great game to play while killing time doing other things; I spent more than a few hours methodically making my way through a hijacked Avengers Tower while also watching baseball. And since the story is largely unimportant, it’s perfect for dipping in and out of. The main issue when playing in handheld mode, though, is that there is just so much happening on screen that it can be hard to follow when you shrink it all down onto the Switch’s rather small display. You might want to save the bigger battles, in particular the bosses, for your television.
The Black Order isn’t the kind of game that breaks new ground with new and exciting elements. It’s more like comfort food. It’s neither perfect nor original, but it scratches a very particular itch and lets long-time Marvel fans live out a very specific fantasy. It might not make a lot of sense, but you can finally see how Venom will fight alongside Miles Morales. That’s good enough.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order launches today on the Nintendo Switch.