Before there was a Marvel Cinematic Universe, there was one other place where Marvel’s greatest superheroes assembled outside of comic books. Activision and Raven Software brought Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and beyond together in one of the biggest superhero mashups ever seen in video games. It was appropritately titled Marvel Ultimate Alliance. Many years passed since the last game and Marvel Games has since passed the Ultimate Alliance torch to a superpowered pair that nobody quite expected to see come together: Nintendo and Team Ninja.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is now weeks away from release, about to grace Nintendo Switch consoles everywhere. But Shacknews couldn’t wait to try this superhero mashup before its July release. So we went to E3 2019 to get a taste of what happens when a team of unlikely heroes get together to tour the Marvel Universe.
The first item to discuss is the game’s setting. On the surface, every hero looks close to their Marvel Cinematic Universe counterpart. The Guardians of the Galaxy look like they would on the big screen, the street-level heroes look like they stepped out of their respective Netflix series, and the Avengers look the way they did when they assembled in theaters. But Ultimate Alliance 3 looks to have a firm foot set in the world of Marvel Comics, touching on some of the label’s recent stories. In addition to that, even though many of the characters take their looks from the movies, the art style is much more animated, similarly offering a comic book atmosphere.
The demo saw any combination of four heroes come together on the streets of New York. In a story straight from the pages of recent crossover event Shadowland, the idea was to rendezvous with Jessica Jones. Again, she looked like she stepped straight out of her Netflix series. (Which just released its third season, by the way.) Jones informed the heroes that the ninja clan known as The Hand was on the attack and they were led by WIlson Fisk, The Kingpin. The Shadowland event in the comics ended with Fisk taking leadership of the hand and setting up operations in a stronghold called Shadowland. In Ultimate Alliance 3, the idea was to march towards Fisk’s headquarters and take him down.
This set up the actual gameplay and it was refreshing to see that the Ultimate Alliance formula looked to be firmly in place. Nintendo and Team Ninja certainly aren’t straying away from what made the original Ultimate Alliance games work so well. This is a top-down dungeon crawler through and through. One player can control a team of four heroes, switching off whenever they want while the AI controls the other characters. Or four players can come together, as Shacknews did at the show. Team setups can be as diverse as desired. In our case, I took Rocket and Groot (a tandem character), while Asif Khan ran with Wolverine, Donovan Erskine took control of Spider-Man (Miles Morales), and the AI played as Star-Lord. But just as in the old games, there are special bonuses attached to creating full team setups, like the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the X-Men, just to name a few.
Ninjas came fast and often as we ran through the rooftops. Approaching Shadowland, we ran into the key trap of the demo. The Hand had searchlights running and running into any of those spotlights would drop explosives from the sky. It wasn’t easy avoiding these, as ninjas would attack around every corner. In fact, we were spotted more often than not.
While there weren’t many opportunities to explore during this demo, the possibility did appear to be there. Taking a sideways turn along the given path would lead to a chest filled with item drops. This feeds into the game’s character building system, something that there wasn’t quite enough time to fully explore.
No, the focus was on combat and there were plenty of chances for that. In running a gauntlet against ninja armies, we got a chance to explore each hero’s abilities. In addition to weak and strong melee strikes, each character has multiple superpowered abilities that could be activated by holding the L or R button and any face button. Ultimate attacks would charge up over time and while they’re capable of dealing great damage to enemies, partners can attach their own Ultimates and create an even more devastating tandem attack.
Just as in the other Ultimate Alliance games, there are many chances to meet up with other Marvel characters and add to the superhero party. The end of the demo saw our crew bump into Iron Fist, who was going to town on a parade of ninjas. The task was to take out the horde of ninjas that continued to pop up, running an intense gauntlet.
As the demo ended, I could only walk away with the sense that I only got the smallest taste of what Ultimate Alliance 3 has to offer. However, the little I saw of it gave me a sense that Nintendo and Team Ninja understand what made the original games so great. If that’s the case, it should be refreshing to get to experience some of the best stories that Marvel has to offer with a special team of some of my favorite characters. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is set to release exclusively on Nintendo Switch on July 19.