There are certainly a lots of options for comic book fans within the expansive world of video games. It’s a good thing too, because we comic book fans can certainly get a bit intense. Unfortunately, not all of the options available to us are all that good. In the days of yore, retro games often mined the world of comics for material, and that resulted in a handful of decent beat'em up games. More modern games generally focus on a single property, and the better ones feature a deep dive into characters like Batman or Spider-man. But what about those of us looking for the carefree fun of a beat'em up? What about those of us who are hungry for the ability to play a bigger chunk of comic characters? Well, the Marvel: Ultimate Alliance games have proved to be great for exactly that.
The first Marvel: Ultimate Alliance game was released in 2006 and was created by Raven Software. This developer cut its teeth making two similar games called X-Men Legends and X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse. This time around, it expanded the roster beyond just the titular X-Men. Gamers could even play as Deadpool before Deadpool was the massive, blockbuster character that he is known as today. Trust me when I say that that was a rare treat, seeing the wisecracking, fourth-wall-breaking character come to life in a video game. And this is representative of one of the series' strengths: diversity.
As far as playable characters go, there were almost 40 options to choose from. Even the relatively unknown character Moon Knight could be played. The story took players from setting to setting to combat a giant gallery of villains, many of whom wore classic costumes. It was delightful to experience and, because the game was multiplayer, it provided a lot of opportunity to geek out with fellow nerds. I even indulged my more obnoxious tendencies by educating the less nerdy types I sometimes played with as we encountered Modok or Fing Fang Foom. In many ways, the game felt like a superhero theme park, and the thrill of upgrading favorite characters through the game’s light RPG elements is something I long for.
The entire point of the game seemed to be appealing to hardcore comic fans. There are even trivia sections, and completing them felt rewarding for the geek inside me. It also had a bunch of unlockables which is, in itself, something we rarely see these days. An invested player could eventually unlock a gallery of comics, skins, concept art, and more. It was consistently impressive how thoroughly the developers mined the corners of comic book esoterica. It is my hope that this continues to be the case with the recently announced Nintendo Switch Exclusive, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order.
My fear is that the game will suffer a similar fate as the one seen by Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite. That games roster was slimmed down from its predecessor, and the heroes featured in the game were primarily pulled from the extraordinarily popular Marvel Cinematic Universe. Early footage of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order primarily depicts the popular heroes from these movies, with a smattering of popular X-Men thrown in. It would be a disservice to fans of the series if this game were to only include the hits. I don’t know the details of the licensing agreements with Disney and who owns all these properties, but I hope this game recaptures the spirit of the first.
The truth is that the game already has a built in audience. The stars from the movies are likely to be on the case and the iconic villain Thanos is set to play a large role in the game’s story. I understand the desire to milk these properties for all they are worth, but Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order could also take those familiar characters and use them as bait to introduce new fans to some of the lesser known characters. At the very least, I would like to see this game somehow reinvigorate an interest in Moon Knight, because that dude deserves a movie franchise of his own. And, heck, I wouldn’t mind a game in the style of Arkham Knight based on him, either.