Like most licensed games of quality, people don't bring up Marvel Ultimate Alliance as much as they should. Before Diablo 3 proved that action RPGs worked spectacularly on a controller, Raven's ultimate labor of love towards the Marvel universe was right there serving as a prime example. This was pre-MCU Marvel too, a time known for sporadic movies of disparate quality and comics that are sometimes best left forgotten. Now, at least some of that has changed, and Ultimate Alliance has returned for a third iteration that could serve to remind people why they loved this franchise in the first place. This is Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order.
Will Team Ninja be able to pick up where Raven left off and bypass the missteps of Vicarious Visions? Is this somehow the best Marvel game at an E3 that also includes Square's big-budget Marvel's Avengers? The answer to both of these questions seems to be a resounding yes. Getting hands-on in the Nintendo booth, I was able to pick up and play Ultimate Alliance with little fuss. Jumping right in as Venom, I was able to web swing and unleash powers that wouldn't look out of place in a Capcom fighting game. Teaming up with fellow editors, we jumped right into co-op fun despite having to learn the controls on the fly.
My demo afforded access to a good mix of the roster. Sure, it's heavily slanted towards MCU favorites, with characters from Guardians of the Galaxy appearing for the first time. However, it does preserve MOST of the heroes you'd want to see in an Ultimate Alliance followup. Apologies to the Cyclops fans out there, but we are in the post-Disney buyout era, so there are still plenty of X-Men to choose from. Designs lean heavily towards comic book interpretations even if characters are more movie inclined, which keeps a level of consistency that is much appreciated.
As far as team dynamics, Ultimate Alliance 3 has that in spades. Your roster of four heroes will get bonuses and buffs if they've worked together in the past, a system brought forward from previous games in the series. If you have an all X-Men team, you'll gel far better than throwing Psylocke in with Hulk and Ghost Rider. As you run through levels, you'll probably want to keep switching characters, as each hero has their own voice and quips they'll throw into the action. Also, while I wasn't able to play around with this myself, the developers have confirmed that alternate costumes are available, meaning that Beta Ray Bill may once again fulfill his role as the ultimate alternative.
I got to play on a Switch Pro Controller, and that feels like the right way to take in the game. Each hero has four skills to choose from, so I can see some difficulty in adapting that control scheme to a single Joy-Con. Gameplay was smooth on the TV setup, and there was nothing in the demo that suggested that this would change while taking the Switch on the go. If that all does work out, this will be one in a list of hundreds of games that will be perfect for a quick bite-sized session on the bus.
It's been 13 years since the original game came out on Xbox and PS2, so you expect a significant graphical leap even on Nintendo's Switch. The graphics aren't going to blow anyone away, but they're still a welcome improvement. More important than technical details, Team Ninja brings a distinct over the top style to the action. Damage numbers in a striking bold font fly off enemies. Character portraits burst onto the screen during ultimate attacks. Big characters get a Borderlands-style introduction screen. It's all very fitting for a game that clearly harkens back to the comic book origins of these heroes.
Going in with little to no expectations (and not even knowing I'd get to demo the game at E3), I came away with high hopes for Team Ninja's crack at the long-running franchise. I can't see the game blowing anyone away when it makes its debut this July, but it should provide some good comic book fun to any True Believers who want an authentic comic action experience. Let's just hope that we don't have to wait another decade before the next one.
TechRaptor previewed Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Hand inside the Nintendo booth at E3 2019. For more E3 2019 coverage, be sure to check out TechRaptor's E3 Coverage Hub.