Out in July 2019, Nintendo Switch, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is the return of a beloved franchise for a new generation of players to enjoy. At least… that’s what the name would certainly make you believe. After all, that’s what you expect out of full, numbered sequels. But is this really any of those things?
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is a product of Koei Tecmo’s Team Ninja studio, known for the Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive games, and published by Nintendo. The original Ultimate Alliance was an Activision project, developed by Raven Software, the team behind the acclaimed X-Men Legends games. The second game was made by Vicarious Visions, and both studios are now in the business of supporting massive first-person shooter franchises. Because, well, that’s how Activision works! But no one from either team is involved with this new game.
That’s okay, though, because it follows the story of the first games! Except it doesn’t do that, either. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 takes place in an entirely different universe as both the original games and the modern film continuity, so essentially it’s just a different Marvel brawler, from a different team on the other side of the world with its own ideas. Which could be a great game! But does the name make a lot of sense, or is it a misleading move that could alienate existing fans?
There’s not a lot of precedent for this, but we’ve seen a few projects come close. DmC: Devil May Cry took the franchise in a totally different direction with a Western studio and an alternate-reality setting with no existing connection. Still, at least that wasn’t a numbered sequel, and at least Capcom was still involved! It certainly alienated a portion of players along the way anyway, even with those factors. 2010’s NBA Jam revival was made by totally different teams, too, but the new team did go out of its way to bring on the original’s announcer, hire the old game’s creator as a consultant and license all the old players it could. As sports games go, that’s about as close as you can get to narrative continuity.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 does at least retain some similarities to its predecessors. Generally speaking, a lot of the same Marvel characters appear in the new game. There are some elements of the interface, like the red and blue meters and the S.H.I.E.L.D icons indicating where you can save and change your party, that return. The second game’s combination attacks are brought back, in a new form. Still, this feels like a very different game. Its more arcade-like combat focus may lose some fans who appreciated granular skill choice in an effort to be more approachable. Those who loved the simplicity of the originals’ battle camera may be disoriented by Team Ninja’s dynamic, more behind-the-back option. There are choices here that would totally make sense… if it weren’t for the expectations of that name.
Traditional games marketing is ultimately about getting players through the door, and once they’ve bought the game, it’s less important that they get exactly what they expected. So it’s easy to understand the appeal of calling a game by a much-loved name and just hoping they like what they get! And in this case, Team Ninja action with Nintendo quality control is far from the worst possibility for the long-dormant franchise. But it does bring with it some inherent risk for the long-term sales of the game, and for the reputations of the companies involved.