It goes without saying that the last ten years have been very good for Marvel. Specifically, I’m talking about Marvel Studios, the production company responsible for the Marvel Cinematic Universe which is comprised of over twenty films that make up the theatrical retelling of the Infinity Gauntlet story. Through TV, films, cartoon shows, and video games, it’s easy to see that Disney’s mere $4 billion investment in the company has paid off. Like it or not, the MCU changed the way how people consume popcorn pop-culture and its influence is likely to be felt for years - maybe even decades - to come. Case and point? Team Ninja’s Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order. While previous MUA titles were built drawing upon the years of comics that span Marvel’s publishing history, The Black Order adopts a framework that feels closer in tune, both from a narrative and aesthetic angle, to the MCU. Still, there’s just enough content drawn from the comics that prevents the game from being Avengers: Infinity War: The Video Game, if that’s of any concern.
The Black Order once again gives power to the player to assemble their own team of superheroes to fight evil and save the day. Capitalizing on Avengers: End Game, which has now beat Avatar for the highest-grossing film ever made, the game introduces Thanos and his anti-Avengers, the titular Black Order, as they scour the galaxy to hunt down the six Infinity Stones. As fate would have it, the Guardians of the Galaxy stumble upon a hidden Kree warship where Ronan the Accuser has managed to find and secure all of the Stones with the intention of keeping them away from The Black Order. The ruse fails, as both parties are confronted by Proxima Midnight who battles them for possession of the Stones. Peter Quill manages to snatch one of them during the scuffle and he and the rest of the Guardians are transported to Earth where the magical jewels scatter themselves. Enlisting the aid of Nick Fury and the superhero agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the world’s mightiest heroes do battle against Marvel’s most infamous villains as they seek out their own desires the Stones can grant them.
There are two sides to The Black Order’s coin. The shiny side is made up from the pure spectacle of seeing your favorite Marvel heroes come together to form dream teams and use them against an infamous rogue’s gallery. The hunt for the Stones is the perfect crossover event as it brings a ton of people out of the woodwork. From Ultron and the Sinister Six to Venom and Loki and everyone in between, the game is chock-full of familiar faces to do battle with, using popular heroes like Spider-Man, Captain America, Hulk, Deadpool, Psylocke, Wasp, and many, many, many more. Marvel Ultimate Alliance has always been about superhero wish fulfillment and The Black Order is no different. The characters bring with them their classic weapons and abilities, like Cap’s shield, Iron Man’s repulsors, and Wolverine’s ability to heal, offering a lot of gameplay options and variations to try out. The Black Order’s story features a rapidly expanding list of heroes and picking up who to play with gets more and more difficult because each visit to the game’s Team Select screen feels like going to a Costco-sized candy store and told you can only pick four things.
The other side of the coin, one that’s a little rough and hewn like Two-Face’s silver dollar, is character micromanagement. There’s a lot of downtime in the game that’s reserved for making your characters stronger and more capable. This gets to be a problem because there are so many systems in place that could easily be accomplished with a simple, straightforward leveling system. Instead, you’ll have to contend with leveling, spending experience cubes of varying quality to boost characters you don’t play as often, collecting and setting ISO-8 crystals, spending ability orbs to power up special attacks, and working through a hexagonal grid that increases base stats for all characters. And to top it all off, you’ll get an additional percentage boosts by building themed hero teams, like all women, members of the Avengers and X-Force, all webslingers, and anti-heroes to name a few. All these boosts, both permanent and temporary, are necessary because without them, you’ll quickly discover that these superheroes grow increasingly weaker to bosses as you advance through the story. There comes a point, though, where I feel that a lot of these systems could either have been consolidated or removed outright because it feels like you spend as much time (if not more) worrying about numbers than playing the game.
Even with its accountant-level numbers game, The Black Order is still really fun to play and is a great addition to your Switch’s library. You’ll travel across familiar Marvel locations and landscapes battling mobs of enemies on your quest to fight a boss for control over an Infinity Stone. The levels themselves are fairly long and mix straight-up fights with some light puzzle solving to keep things interesting and engaging. The game can be played entirely by yourself with the computer controlling the other characters. The AI does a decent job backing you up but when you’re up against hard bosses and the various challenge stages, you’re gonna probably want to play with a friend (online or couch co-op) and enjoy the advantages that come with it, like verbally coordinating strategies and jumping over obstacles (believe it or not, the AI sometimes has a problem with this). No matter who controls the other characters, watching them work together is super fun. With every strike against the enemy, each character builds up a meter that can be used to deploy a powerful and devastating area attack. When two or more heroes have full meters, you can trigger all of them at once for an incredible, screen-clearing (and framerate-dropping) all-out attack.
One part of the game I was frequently at odds with was the camera. Even though most of the game takes place in large outdoor spaces, the camera tends to have a problem with accommodating good views of the action. You’re given a small amount of freedom to move the camera around, however, it’s often locked at fixed angles or you can only move it around 90 degrees or so, especially in indoor levels. There was a part during the earliest levels that was hard to clear because I had to fight with the camera to let me see what I needed to see to help clear a space with laser tripwire. Unless I moved my character to a particular spot, I couldn’t see what they were doing or what was in the room, which made things pretty frustrating.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order has a few nagging concerns that, fortunately, don’t detract from the overall joy of calling upon the high pantheon of Marvel heroes to face down villains intent on ruling the world. It’s also a good-looking game, even in the handheld mode (give or take some aliasing and framerate drops during the heaviest action scenes), and the character models look really great as a blend of their MCU and comic counterparts. Character management can be tedious and a little overwhelming but I suppose, at the end of the day, it’s better to have all these systems in the control of the player lest certain items, like ISO-8’s and ability orbs treated as premium microtransactions. I also found that the game can get really hard with its bosses towards the later half of the story because the fights are really long, trying, and laborious when played solo. Overall, The Black Order is easy to pick up and play and there’s nothing to keep you from enjoying the thrill of fighting alongside pop culture’s most popular fictional heroes.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.