Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, the first new entry in the MUA series since 2009, launched July 19th, 2019. Published by Nintendo as an exclusive for the mega popular Switch console, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 earned respectable reviews – it holds a score of 73 on Metacritic and the exact same score on OpenCritic – and was the fourth best selling game of the month of July according to the NPD group. It fell behind only Madden NFL 20 and two other Nintendo Switch exclusives: Super Mario Maker 2 at number three and Fire Emblem: Three Houses at number two. This is only the physical copies of the game too as the NPD only recorded sales of physical carts of MUA3. Despite the sales success of MUA3 though, there’s underlying evidence that suggests it was quite possibly rushed to market, and almost strategically so.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 was revealed during the 2018 Game Awards. Many tuned in expecting to see the debut of Square Enix’s Avengers game, now known as Marvel’s Avengers, but instead were surprised to see the return of the long dormant MUA franchise, and as a Nintendo exclusive no less, set to arrive sometime in 2019. The plot for the game, like the last two Avengers film, was to be a hunt for the Infinity Stones to keep them out of the hands of the Mad Titan, Thanos, and his disciples, The Black Order.
The visuals for the game were unfairly compared to a mobile game, but people seemed more than excited to see the return of not only the Marvel Ultimate Alliance to consoles, but the X-Men as well, especially Wolverine, who made an appearance in the trailer decapitating a Sentinel with his adamantium claws. All mutant characters had been absent from Marvel console games since 2013’s LEGO Marvel Super Heroes as Disney didn’t want to push characters they didn’t have the film rights to. This situation changed when Disney bought the film assets of 20th Century Fox who held the motion picture rights to the X-Men and Fantastic four. It must also be mentioned that this unveiling also came not long after the release of the PlayStation exclusive Marvel’s Spider-Man, a critical success that’s now the best selling superhero game of all time. Players were ready for a new era of Marvel video games.
After its debut, the next look at MUA3 dropped in February of 2019 where it was revealed that Captain Marvel, whose debut film was set to launch in March, was coming to the game and that it would launch during the summer. This release was later narrowed down to July 19th 2019 on April 16th, ten days before Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame opened. The big marketing push then came in May when Game Informer announced that their June cover story would be about MUA3 and that they would be doing extra pieces for their website too. This was near perfect timing as in June during E3 2019, Square-Enix would reveal Marvel’s Avengers, a game everyone was dying to hear about after Square-Enix went silent on the game after its announcement in January of 2017.
FIRE EMBLEM: THREE HOUSES
If you visited a dedicated video game website looking for coverage relating to Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 a week before its launch, you would instead find articles related to another Nintendo first-party offering, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, which released exactly one week after MUA3. Sites like Nintendo Life, Kotaku and Polygon were given Fire Emblem: Three Houses early enough to post impressions about it weeks ahead of its release. Compared to Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, Nintendo seemed far more interested in promoting Fire Emblem, even giving it a collectors edition available through such outlets as EB Games in Canada and GameStop in the US. Astral Chain, Nintendo’s major August release will also get a collectors edition, albeit not in North America. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 received no such treatment.
REVIEWS AND RECEPTION
For a game starring characters featured in the highest grossing movie of all time on the best selling hardware for the month of July, things were awfully quiet when it came to Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 leading up to its release. Kinda Funny’s Greg Miller was only able to offer initial impressions shortly after the game’s launch, which was the same for Electric Playground’s Victor Lucas who during a segment of the July 19th episode of EP LIve seemingly confirmed he had only received his code for the game on July 18th. Both hosts are not only video game industry icons, but also huge fans of comic books. If anyone would’ve been early champions of MUA3, it would be these two hosts.
Perhaps the reason why neither received an early code was that the game was not quite up to the standards of other NIntendo first-party offerings. Game Informer’s review for MUA3 landed on July 18th, a day before the game’s launch, and author Andrew Reiner wrote in his review where he scored the game 7/10:
“My time with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 was filled with peaks and valleys. It has great moments where everything is clicking, followed by lulls where it all falls apart.”
Joe “Angry Joe” Vargas posted his review for MUA3 on July 24th, and while he enjoyed the game, he mentioned that some of the mechanics, like the Synergy attacks where heroes combine their abilities, were a step down from the fusion attacks featured in 2009’s Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. YouTube personality Jim Sterling was far less kind in his review that also dropped on July 24th. Sterling felt that that game was simply not ready, citing issues with the poor camera, lackluster AI when playing single player, cumbersome menu navigation and the need to replay early levels to grind experience to be able to defeat jump suit wearing goons who were more threatening than certain bosses.
Sterling’s suspicion that MUA3 was prematurely released is far from unfounded as there are plenty of things about the game that indicate it was rushed to market. The previous Marvel Ultimate Alliance games for example featured dialogue that would change depending on the characters you had in your party. In this video from YouTube user MegaMan, Bullseye will bring up his history with Elektra, namely that he killed her once:
Such care and attention was not given to the writing featured in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, as seen in this tweet from Diego Rivera, who produces videos about comic book themed video games:
There’s also the issue of two characters who are in the campaign, X-Men members Cyclops and Colossus, who are being added to the game free of charge this week, and how MUA3 handles alternate costumes, at least initially. In the non-Nintendo published Marvel Ultimate Alliance games, players could unlock alternate costumes for the cast of heroes. Spider-Man for example could swap out his classic red-and-blue suit outfit for the Iron Spider or black suit symbiote costume. In the base game, MUA3 only features alternate color swaps for characters that sometimes will resemble something that has its roots in comics; Hulk can become Gray Hulk. This will change starting August 30th as Nintendo will be offering new costumes in waves through free updates. The first three will grant new looks for Spider-Man, Hulk and Captain Marvel. If anyone of this sounds oddly familiar, it’s because its a eerily similar strategy to another fairly recent Marvel video game.
MARVEL VS. CAPCOM: INFINITE
In December 2016 during the Sony event PSX, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, the first new entry in the MvC franchise since 2011’s Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was announced with a 2017 release date.Just like Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, it would also feature a story mode featuring Thanos, as well as the Infinity Stones, that had fallen into the hands of the villains Ultron, from the Marvel Universe, and Sigma from Capcom’s Mega Man X series. During the plot, you meet up with Black Panther and Monster Hunter, two characters who weren’t in the initial roster but would be added to the game on October 17th, just under a month after the game’s September 17th, 2019 release date. Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite suffered from a poor showing at E3 2019 where it received heavy criticism for its visuals. These were polished somewhat before its release, but upon its launch, it would get a tepid response, averaging 72 on both Metacritic and OpenCritic.
It would later be revealed by video game historian Liam Robertson that Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite’s development was plagued with problems, with the largest being its budget, estimated to be a fraction of what Capcom had set aside for Street Fighter V. Black Panther and Monster Hunter, who were initially set to appear in the main game, were pulled to be sold later as DLC, along with other characters and costumes that would roll out from the game’s launch thru December 2017.
The only real difference between MvC:I and MUA3 in too many respects is that Nintendo graciously provided free updates whereas Capcom put a price on all bonus content.
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, in many respects, is a throwback to the movie games of old. It isn’t a retelling of the last two Avengers films, nor did it launch alongside Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, but given the lack of polish compared to other Nintendo first-party games and the story similarities, MUA3 very much feels like a game that was rushed to sell big numbers during the apex of the Infinity saga. If you look at Nintendo’s first-party line up for the rest of the year, which includes entries in franchises like The Legend of Zelda, Luigi’s Mansion, Pokémon, not to mention Astral Chain, a new property from PlatinumGames which is getting stellar reviews, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 landed precisely when it needed to and the numbers prove it. If this was given more time to be polished, it would surely not move as many units, especially given the comparisons it would get to Marvel’s Avengers. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is far from a bad game, but it also feels more like a product and less like a celebration of the Marvel Universe like the past games were.