Unfortunately, most superhero games fall between horrible and meh. There’s something about capturing the diverse powersets and abilities of heroes and villains that development teams can’t quite get right. The earliest game I can recall that bucked this trend was Raven Software’s Marvel Ultimate Alliance. While the sequel trended more towards the meh end of the scale, it still had its charms. With the recent success of the Marvel Studios films and the Marvel NOW! initiative, now is definitely the time for a new entry in the series.
One of the most appealing aspects of the series was how it explored every almost every corner of the Marvel universe. The huge roster of heroes, antiheroes, and villains that populated the game gets a bit overwhelming at times. The first game in particular threw character after character at you in levels based on numerous Marvel locations, including Atlantis, the Skrull homeworld, and even Hell (at least Mephisto’s realm in Hell). It was awesome seeing lesser known characters like the Shi’ar Imperial Guard or Arcade getting screen time and even being the focus of certain missions.
The first game was an original story that spanned the Marvel U and doubled as a good introduction to the greater universe, including characters and locations. The sequel was based on the massive Civil War crossover event which was an excellent and brilliant way to introduce that specific story to gamers who didn’t have prior knowledge of the comics. As one of the longer events, its length translated well into a full game without being as unnecessarily long as the original game. Civil War’s status as one of the better events plotwise couldn’t hurt either. At hub worlds in between missions, players could even play a trivia game that, over time, will make you as knowledgeable of the canon as somebody who has read Marvel for years.
Another appeal of the game was playing co-op with friends. Even the servers are still up! Getting together with my Twinfinite coworkers and blasting through levels with our favorite characters entertained us for weeks. As a beat em up, the Marvel Ultimate Alliance series works better than most because of the wide variety of moves and power sets that you can choose from. Figuring out different combinations of special attacks and discovering the most powerful ones is a game in and of itself. The one tip I’d have for anyone who wants to play the game with friends, don’t let the Trey Highland of your group play as Storm. He’ll fly around the entire game blowing things around with his tornado powers and just be a big ol’ pain in the ass.
With all the success of the Marvel Studios movies and the explosion in popularity of the superhero genre, I’m surprised that Marvel hasn’t started developing the third game yet. Obviously there are kinks that need to be worked out but if they can find a developer that can iron out the kinks from the first two games. The main problem I’d like them to focus on is figuring out a way to decrease the repetitive aspects of the game. With any beat em up there is some repetition to be expected but storytelling and gameplay has grown a lot since the first two games were released. The ideal Marvel Ultimate Alliance game would have the depth and customization options of the first game while having a plot that mirrors the comics and focused storytelling of the second game.
The stars seem to be aligning perfectly for Marvel with the continued success of their movie studio and the highly successful quasi-reboot of their comic books under the Marvel NOW! banner. An RPG/beat em up with the story from a story-arc from one of the big two comic publishers and a roster filled with Earth’s mightiest heroes and villains sounds like the perfect combination to me. If nothing else, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 can revitalize the beat em up game landscape.