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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (395)

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Indivisible 3/5
Final Fantasy XIV Onlin... 2/5
A Total War Saga: Troy 3/5
Stardew Valley 3/5
Soulcalibur VI 4.5/5
Owlboy 3/5
Battletech 3/5
Bloodstained: Ritual of... 3/5
The Legend of Zelda: A ... 4/5
Hob 3/5
Assassin's Creed Odyssey 4.5/5
Ittle Dew 2 4.5/5
Luigi's Mansion 3 4/5
Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Ga... 3/5
Star Trek: Bridge Crew 3.5/5
King's Quest: The Compl... 3/5
Strange Brigade 4/5
Metro Exodus 3.5/5
Evoland Legendary Editi... 4.5/5
Evoland 2 4.5/5
Burokku Girls 2/5
Finding Paradise 4.5/5
To the Moon 4/5
Marvel: Ultimate Allian... 2.5/5
Valley 4/5

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Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 3 - The Black Order   Nintendo Switch 

Stupor Heroes    2.5/5 stars

Way, way back in 2006, two years before the Robert Downy Jr.-powered “Iron Man” movie kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe and saw the whole of popular culture saturated with the superhero fantasies of little boys who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Activision (now one of the Triumvirate of Evil) finagled a deal with Marvel Comics to create a licensed superhero videogame that was a mashup of all sorts of Marvel IP. That game, “Marvel: Ultimate Alliance,” ultimately spawned a sequel three years later in 2009. Neither of the ‘Ultimate Alliance’ games were made by the same development team, and neither were the cultural smashes that were the Marvel movies released around them. Originally, “Marvel: Ultimate Alliance” earned some small acclaim due to being a superhero-themed Hack ‘n Slash RPG blended with the frenetic button-mashing of the Beat ‘em Up genre. However, by the time “Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2” dropped, the RPG systems had been watered down to the point where the sequel was far more weighted to the Beat ‘em Up end of the Action::RPG spectrum.

I had heard of both of these games when they were originally released on 6th and 7 Generation consoles. I even had some mild interest in them at one point, but ultimately my apathy toward Hack ‘n Slash RPGs combined with my apathy toward superheroes saw me skipping both of them and not feeling like I’d missed much. These days, though, the MJ Crew is uncharacteristically desperate for couch-coop games for 3-4 players, and the ‘Ultimate Alliance’ series has always had that particular feather in its cap. Still, it came as something of a disappointing surprise when I received “Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 3” (“MUA3”) as a birthday gift from Chris in 2019. I had already heard online about the game having a variety of issues and was (am) still (fairly) apathetic about Hack ‘n Slash/Beat ‘em Ups and Marvel superheroes, but he really wanted to play it and really didn’t want to buy a Switch of his own, so we ended up cooping through it together (sometimes with other Crew members when available)… I even had to go out of my way to buy a Pro controller for Chris to use.

Like its predecessors, “MUA3” was created by an entirely different studio, and even got a new publisher. This time around, the Nintendo Switch exclusive release of the game is down to it being the product of a partnership between Nintendo (as publisher), Team Ninja (as developer), and Marvel (as rightsholder). That said, I wasn’t expecting much out of “MUA3”… and I didn’t get much out of “MUA3.” I guess at least a few things are right in the world.

Presentation is easily the high point of “MUA3.” Because it isn’t specifically part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the artists at Team Ninja were free to pick and choose from a wide array of visual stylings for the obsessively comprehensive cast of Marvel heroes and villains included in the game. While, obviously, the characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe are all present and accounted for, “MUA3” isn’t beholden to stylistic decisions made by movie directors, so some of these recent big-screen heroes don’t look exactly the same in-game, but are rather more faithful to the original comics. The game runs off a fully polygonal engine (which I believe is proprietary, since I don’t recall seeing Unreal or Unity in the credits, but I admit I zoned-out), with an over-the-shoulder camera. Character models are detailed and as colorfully outlandish as a superhero comic book can be, while also well-animated, smooth, and clean-looking.

In the audio department, “MUA3” is not particularly ambitious. While the game’s many lines of dialog are fully voices, Team Ninja saved Nintendo’s money by NOT casting the Marvel Cinematic Universe celebrities, but the typical cast of anime dubbers and sound-alikes (hello Nolan North and Crispin Freeman!). In most cases, though, these celebrity knock-offs sound very much like their movie counter parts (though Chris took particular giggly glee in making fun of “Bargain Basement Samuel L. Jackson” as Nick Fury). No, the real downer in “MUA3’s” audio is the soundtrack, which is utterly forgettable.

Technically, “MUA3” is kinda alright, but could be much better, considering it is a console exclusive, after all. First, playing this game with a single Joy-Con held sideways is a non-starter. It just feels awful, and a single session of playing that way convinced me to order a semi-generic Pro controller for 2-player play. Second, the load times are abysmal, like with most Switch games. Remember when Nintendo fanboys couldn’t shut up about how much faster N64 cartridges loaded than PS1 discs? And remember how excited they were to see the Switch return to cartridges? Yeah, that didn’t really pan out. “MUA3” also has a butt-load of DLC, and no “Complete Edition” cartridge on the horizon, so buying this game with the intention of experiencing ALL of it will require some copious wallet-opening on Nintendo’s cruddy online store. Finally, the game’s over-the-shoulder-for-the-whole-team camera merits a special callout for its awfulness. I haven’t dealt with truly awful in-game camera frustrations since the N64… but the camera in “MUA3” manages to be even worse. Half the time it won’t focus on bosses, leaving them off-screen to telegraph what they’re going to do next to an audience of none. Even worse, with multiple players all spreading out across combat arenas, the camera refuses to go into any kind of birds-eye mode and zoom out enough to see everything (even if it’s really small), so even the players themselves in a coop game can disappear from sight. At least in single-player mode this flea-ridden mule of a camera can be beaten into submission via manual control with the right analog stick, but in coop mode, the team is at the stupid thing’s whim. The bright side, though, is that the game never crashed on us.

Superhero stories started out with the ability to be infinitely creative. However, as the genre and the characters and settings of the Marvel universe have coalesced (more like “congealed”), superhero stories have become stupidly formulaic, and “MUA3” doesn’t do anything to try to break that tradition.

The Infinity Stones are on the loose, and various groups of Marvel good guys and bad guys have gotten their hands on them. The good guys all decide to team up with each other in order to more effectively seize the Stones held by the bad buys. But a group of REALLY bad guys called The Black Order (they’re in the game’s subtitle) who all work for Thanos (an alien warlord who fancies himself a Platonic philosopher-king) are simultaneously doing everything in their power to claim all the Stones in order to give them to their boss so he can “fix” the universe.

So, yeah, it’s basically a rehash of the story told by the decade-long string of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, only with gobs and gobs of fanservice for Marvel fanboys and a bunch more obscure heroes and villains thrown in for the heck of it.

“MUA3’s” runtime is a hard one to nail down. We spent about 30 hours with it (rough estimate) just playing through the ‘normal’ Mighty difficulty once, and doing a bit of grinding in the optional Infinity Trials. A Marvel fanatic, however, could easily get thousands of hours out of this game grinding all the heroes to max level and getting the best ratings on the Infinity Trials. They’d have to be an absolute fanatic, though, as neither the story nor the gameplay would keep anyone on the MJ Crew engaged or even moderately happy for longer than we actually spent with the game.

I would be hard-pressed to call “MUA3” an “RPG” of any kind, as it feels strictly like an Action/Beat ‘em Up title from a gameplay perspective. The player is in charge of a team of four Marvel superheroes at any given time, with the ability to palm-off control of this team to extra players. Any character not controlled by a player will waddle around ineffectively under the control of an AI. Interestingly, AI controlled characters are immune to some obstacles and take reduced damage from enemies. If a hero goes down, remaining heroes can revive that character a limited amount of times between the checkpoints that dot the game’s 10 Acts. Checkpoints not only act as save points, but restore all player health, energy, and revives.

The core Beat ‘em Up gameplay is bog standard and not particularly well-executed. Each character can launch a light attack and a heavy attack, jump (or fly, if they have that superpower), raise their guard to block attacks, or dodge out of the way. The obsession with dodge-rolling spawned by the new (and atrocious) Soulsborne subgenre is nowhere more obvious than in “MUA3,” where walking normally during boss battles is a recipe for death, and chain-dodge-rolling through the onslaught of attacks and exploiting the dodge’s temporary invincibility is the only path toward success.

In addition to their basic moves, each hero can equip a number of iconic super moves. These moves cost energy to use, and while each character starts from each checkpoint with full energy, the only way to recharge it is to land normal light/heavy attacks or pick up blue balls that occasionally drop from slain mook enemies (likewise, red balls that drop from dead mooks restore health). Each character’s super abilities can be leveled up, but it is an excruciatingly slow process, largely because leveling-up in general in “MUA3” is excruciatingly slow. We only managed to get our most-used characters to level 44 (out of 100), and there were some dedicated grinding sessions involved in that.

In general, the RPG elements in “MUA3” are both very opaque and very weak. Like in other pseudo-RPGs like “The Witcher 3,” characters seem to deal and receive scaling damage based on their level compared to their opponent, while any numerical ‘stats’ they might have are hidden. And, aggravatingly, the rate at which characters gain experience and levels by playing the game normally isn’t quick enough to keep characters feeling “super” in comparison to the random mooks they face off against most of the time. Heroes can get stunlocked and knocked out of attack animations far too easily and generally take far too much damage from simple attacks… that is, unless the player spends some time grinding out a few levels above the official level they’re ‘supposed’ to be for the content they’re playing, at which point things start to even out and feel a little more balanced.

There are, of course, other gameplay systems involved that can make the team more powerful without grinding, such as the synergy system that provides percentile stat boosts based on the composition of the player’s 4-man team of heroes. Using all ‘Original Avengers’ or characters from the same comic book typically provides a boost, plus there are other, more esoteric ‘Alliances’ that unlock even more power… provided you look them up online, since the method of keeping track of them in-game is decidedly lacking. Of course, switching characters out of the roster is almost NEVER a good idea in “MUA3” because characters who aren’t being actively used don’t gain levels. Throughout the game, the team will collect things called ‘experience cubes,’ which grant blobs of free XP to any character they’re used on, however when we decided to swap-in an under-utilized character toward the end of the game, we discovered that it took nearly ALL of our accumulated cubes to bring him up to par. ONE CHARACTER!

But wait, there’s more! In some semblance of an homage to the Hack ‘n Slash RPG genre is vaguely tries to emulate, “MUA3” has two other major gameplay systems for making characters more powerful. The first is the Lab system, via which players save up money and points to unlock passive stat buffs for ALL characters via an enormous, sprawling… bland, generic skill tree. The second is the ability to discover randomly-generated magic rocks called ISO-8, which serve as equipment. Up to four ISO-8 rocks can be equipped on each character (they unlock slots as they level up), and there’s no restrictions on who can equip what ISO-8. Crappy, useless ISO-8 can be ground into powder and used to upgrade more useful ISO-8 with a number of augmentation levels. Unfortunately, we found that most ISO-8 that drops on the default ‘Mighty’ difficulty setting is garbage and the buffs it offers not particularly interesting. Allegedly, much better ISO-8 drops on higher difficulties (natch), but we didn’t find the overall experience interesting enough to even consider another playthrough.

What about that core experience? Take an Alliance of four superheroes through linear environments, beat up hordes of (overpowered) mooks, occasionally find hidden items slightly off the beaten path, recruit more heroes, check to see if any good ISO-8 dropped (nope), check to see if you have enough points to buy an upgrade in the Lab (usually nope), and fight a boss. Repeat. Of course, players who are feeling particularly ambitious can tackle the Infinity Trials: A series of side-quest/rehash activities that award greater experience than re-grinding through completed Acts and also give the opportunity to unlock a handful of new heroes as well as incredibly bland alternative costumes for other heroes. We played a few of the Infinity Trials for grinding purposes, but never found them to be particularly fun or engaging… like the rest of the game.

If you’re REALLY into Marvel superheroes and Beat ‘em Ups, “Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 3” might float your boat. If you’re not, don’t bother, as it’s a bland, repetitive, tedious, mind-numbing experience. What did you expect from a licensed superhero game?

Presentation: 3.5/5
Story: 2.5/5
Gameplay: 2/5
Overall (not an average): 2.5/5



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