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Read This Before Buying Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 3

Over the past few months, Nintendo Switch enthusiasts have been treated to a host of game announcements, leading many to believe that summer 2019 will be one of the best quarters for the popular portable console. This summer alone, the Switch will enjoy a sequel to Mario Maker, the exclusive new IP Daemon x Machina, as well as a host of indies and ports. But the most unexpected game of the bunch may be Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 3 – The Black Order, which will release on July 19, 2019, just in time for San Diego Comic-Con.

Announced late last year, the third game in the popular cooperative third-person RPG should work well on the Switch. The series, first introduced back in October of 2006, has always been an easy pick-up-and-play experience, one that you can enjoy in short bursts. Those types of games are perfect for the handheld console, and The Black Order should fall into that category. With just a short while until the game's release, there's a lot of information floating around. Here's everything you should know before buying Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 3.

History of the franchise

On Oct. 24, 2006, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance released for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, as well as their previous generation counterparts. Developed by Raven Software — a company you may recognize as the primary team behind 2005's Quake 4 as well as being a long-standing assist team for the Call of Duty franchise — the first entry in this series introduced the integral design that will still be a factor in the newest game. Billed as an action-roleplaying game centered in the Marvel Universe, Ultimate Alliance was a four-player, team-based experience where players could choose from a host of superheroes. The game featured drop-in, drop-out co-op as well as a single-player campaign where you would fight alongside three AI teammates.

The game was well-received critically, receiving a 9.25 out of 10 from Game Informer as well as an 8.2 out of 10 from IGN. Success led to a sequel, which released for the major platforms on Sept. 15, 2009 in North America. Ultimate Alliance 2 featured the same style and mechanics as its predecessor, but focused its storyline on the famous Civil War comic book arc. Years later, both games were re-released for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One but struggled due to technical issues and expensive price tags. After a rough go on Steam and the new consoles, the publisher removed them from digital platforms during Summer 2018, and are still not available to date.

An unexpected reveal

Especially after such a poor reception on current-gen consoles and Steam, gamers certainly didn't expect a third Ultimate Alliance game. However, to the surprise of many, Nintendo announced the new entry via a trailer shown during The Game Awards in December 2018. The short reveal actually provided a great deal of surprising information, even outside of the fact that the world would be treated to another game in the franchise at all. First off, the game would be a Switch exclusive developed by Team Ninja.

While the gameplay would be similar to the Diablo-inspired action of the first two entries, the story would center around Thanos and the Black Order — potentially capitalizing on the hype of the MCU's Infinity Saga. From the cheers heard at The Game Awards, people were clearly excited and surprised by the reveal. It was a smart way to announce a new entry in a series that garnered a lot of ill will after those 2016 ports.

Developed by the Dead or Alive team

Based in Japan, Team Ninja formed back in 1995 and has been a part of some of the biggest video game franchises of the past 25 years. As a division of Koei Tecmo, the acclaimed developer released Dead or Alive in 1996 and has been a staple of the industry since. Team Ninja has a storied history, one that involves a long list of Dead or Alive sequels and spinoffs, Ninja Gaiden, and 2017's surprise hit Nioh. That history also happens to include Metroid: Other M and Fire Emblem Warriors, which marked the last times the developer worked on exclusives for a Nintendo console (note: the team did create Dead or Alive: Dimensions for the 3DS, but that was handheld-only).

As far as developer diaries and specific information about the game's development process, Team Ninja has been extremely quiet since the Game Awards announcement. The team has taken a backseat to Nintendo — publishing its first Marvel game ever — which has carefully dropped short gameplay videos and character reveals over the past few months.

Written by Marc Sumerak

Taking the reins on the story is Marc Sumerak, who has been a big part of the Marvel Comics world for many years. Over the course of his busy writing career, the Eisner Award- and Harvey Award-nominated writer has worked on multiple all-ages runs including Iron Man & Power Pack (2007) and Avengers & Power Pack Assemble! (2006). He's also worked as an editor for Marvel Comics before becoming turning to freelance, and wrote an original graphic novel called All-Ghouls School, published by IDW in 2011.

Fans know Sumerak for his ability to tell fantastic stories in an all-ages format, which makes him an ideal choice for Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 3. While this is his first console game as a writer, he's certainly not new to the Marvel Universe in games — in 2017, he started contributing to the storyline for Marvel: Future Fight, a mobile title created by Netmarble Games.

A Nintendo Switch exclusive

Many remain surprised by the fact that The Black Order is a Nintendo Switch exclusive. The first two games in the series hit every platform. The first game, after success on the PlayStation and Xbox consoles, was ported to the PlayStation Portable and Nintendo Wii via the work of developer Vicarious Visions. The same thing happened with the sequel, which hit the PSP, Wii, and 3DS. Because these games were perfect for couch co-op, they were popular on multiple platforms back in the mid-2000s.

However, when the two games were released for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, they were panned for technical issues, eventually being pulled from digital platforms. Could the negative reception on the current-gen consoles have something to do with the third game being exclusive to Switch? While it makes perfect sense to bring the lighthearted, four-player co-op gameplay to the Nintendo console, it's still odd that players won't have the chance to see this game on the more powerful platforms.

An MCU-inspired roster

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 3 will release a mere three months after Avengers: Endgame opened in theaters, so it's no surprise that the game will take much inspiration from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Nintendo and Team Ninja have given gamers a look at some of the playable characters — 27 thus far — and the roster certainly has an Endgame feel to it. Most of the characters announced come from the major teams like Guardians of the Galaxy, the Avengers, and the Defenders. You'll get to play as Thor, Iron Man, Star-Lord, Captains America and Marvel, as well as both Peter Parker Spider-Man and Miles Morales Spider-Man.

27 playable characters is already quite a roster, but it's highly unlikely that Nintendo has announced every character you can utilize during the game. Even if the squad was complete, there are so many combinations of characters you can put together to get in-game bonuses and boosts. Much like the earlier games, forming a team true to the Universe, like the Defenders or Women of Marvel, will give you attribute bonuses, so there's plenty of incentive to put together different squads.

Thanos and the Black Order

Alongside an MCU-inspired roster comes the main villain of the Cinematic Universe, Thanos, and his team of alien warriors known as the Black Order. If you're a fan of Infinity War, you surely remember the Black Order as the team dispatched by Thanos to take on the Avengers and recover the Infinity Stones so that the supervillain could eliminate half the universe's population. Comprised of Black Dwarf, Ebony Maw, Corvus Glaive, Proxima Midnight, and Supergiant (omitted from the MCU version), the villains' first full appearance was in 2013's Infinity #1 and have since gone on to feature in multiple comic storylines as well as the Marvel: Avengers Alliance and Marvel: Future Fight games.

Serving as Ultimate Alliance 3's main antagonists, the game will feature the Black Order and a host of other villains fighting for the Infinity Stones — or Infinity Gems, as they're known in the comics — and that should make for an exciting adventure, especially for those already missing the Infinity Saga films.

The addition of Infinity Trials

While the main story will send you and your fellow heroes on a quest to find the Infinity Stones and thwart the evil of Thanos and the Black Order, it wouldn't be a Diablo-like RPG without a multitude of side quests to complete and loot to gather. New to Ultimate Alliance 3 are the Infinity Trials, which are a series of optional challenge missions that allow you to fight off waves of enemies and gain loot and experience. They'll take place in levels you've already encountered and you'll be able to play them multiple times using different characters or modifiers. Challenges will vary and could be wave-based like "Defeat 200 enemies on Avengers Tower" or time-based like "You have three minutes to go through all of Chapter 1."

In a video from Game Informer, the website showed off a couple minutes of Infinity Trials gameplay and mentioned that, while these actually don't unlock until about halfway through the story, you'll naturally encounter their equivalent — called Infinity Rifts — as you progress through the early hours of the game.

Drop-in, drop-out co-op

Part of the charm of the Ultimate Alliance series is that it is designed to be played with friends. Sure, the AI partners make it easy to play alone, but who doesn't want to sit down with a few friends and run through a fun adventure as your favorite Marvel superheroes? Like in the first two games, The Black Order will feature drop-in, drop-out cooperative play, meaning that your friends can seamlessly enter and exit your game without disrupting the experience.

Whether you're playing online — which requires a Nintendo Switch Online membership, by the way —  or in the same room, Ultimate Alliance 3 will make it easy for you to play with other people. The game's designed so that up to four players can play on a single Switch or even linked with three other Switch consoles via WLAN. Invite your friends over, those with a Switch and even those without. They'll all be able to help you defeat Thanos and save the universe.

What are the previews saying?

As the release date for Ultimate Alliance 3 inches closer, Nintendo has kept information pretty close to the vest, and just recently handed over an exclusive, hands-on look at the title to Game Informer. The outlet's Matt Miller and Ben Reeves took a long look at the Switch title. Both shared enthusiasm for the series and the Marvel Universe as a whole, and each felt that the third entry was a "return to form." However, they agreed that the game could be too "visually chaotic" at times and hoped that the dev team would tone that down prior to launch.

Miller went on to mention how much he loved trying out all the different characters and thought that, despite the core moves feeling relatively similar, it's the game's "use of powers that really makes each character stand out." But Reeves added to that, expressing disappointment that each character only had four powers and that there didn't seem to be a great deal of customization involved: "It doesn't feel like the series has evolved with the times."

Miller summed up Game Informer's impressions with, "My takeaway is that The Black Order does feel uniquely suited to the strengths of the Switch as a console, and I think it's going to let a lot players live out some superhero fantasies that may be swimming around since the recent movies."