Saving the world comes with a heavy price
Back when they originally released on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, the Marvel Ultimate Alliance series of beat-’em-up RPGs hit all the right notes. The games delivered a satisfying, superpowered blend of Baldur’s Gate and Diablo-inspired action — albeit boiled down to its most basic components — that gave players dozens of iconic heroes from Marvel’s catalog to command as they battled more villains than you can shake a star-spangled unitard at. Now, nearly a decade after the first Ultimate Alliance made its debut, Activision has repackaged these last-gen classics for modern audiences, with somewhat mixed results.
For those just tuning in, the Marvel Ultimate Alliance and its sequel are top-down brawlers with light RPG elements. One to four players take control of a stable of heroes from the Marvel universe in a Civil War-inspired story arc teeming with scores of menacing super villains to pummel in such exotic locations as S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Helicarrier, the fictional European country of Latveria, the island of Genosha, and even Mephisto’s Realm, just to name a few. Played from a top-down perspective, players control a squad of four heroes they can cycle through with the press of a button, battling baddies, leveling up skills, and unlocking more characters to add to their ranks. While the action itself is pretty straightforward, the variety of skills you can unlock for each character is pretty impressive, and there is an undeniable satisfaction that comes with taking control of Iron Man and turning hordes of Latverian robots to scrap metal with your repulsor beams, or pummeling the towering Fing Fang Foom with turret fire to send him hurtling to the ground below. Sure, it’ll tax your thumbs much more than your cerebral cortex, but Marvel Ultimate Alliance Bundle‘s veritable smorgasbord of fan service and button-mashing mayhem still scratches that primal itch, and it’s even better when experienced with friends.
If you’re a fan of the genre you’ll still likely get quite a bit of enjoyment out of this dynamic duo of titles, but it’s worth nothing that this jump to the current generation of consoles doesn’t quite earn the title of a remaster. Sure, the character models themselves are a bit shinier this time around, and things may run a bit smoothly than they did before (especially in the sequel) but by and large Marvel Ultimate Alliance and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are mostly identical to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions that originally released in 2006 and 2009 respectively. In fact, in some respects the game looks a bit worse for wear. The game’s computer-rendered cinematic sequences, once flashy and entertaining, are now fuzzy and plagued with noticeable visual artifacts, making them look even more dated than they actually are. Both titles also happen to suffer from some unfortunate issues with their audio balancing. Oftentimes the gameplay sounds drown out player dialog. Worse still, sometimes sound effects mysteriously drop altogether. While not a deal breaker, developer Zoë Mode’s ports seem to share much more in common with last year’s Prototype Biohazard Bundle than say, The Last of Us Remastered in terms of quality, making Activision’s $60 asking price seem a bit steep for what you’re getting.
Another issue worth nothing is the glaring absence of DLC for the original Marvel Ultimate Alliance, which is especially strange considering the sequel’s DLC is included in the package. This is a real shame, especially when considering this prevents players from accessing a number of playable characters who were made available as DLC. Thankfully, Activision has acknowledged that they’re working to rectify the issue, and they’ll be making the content available for free in the near future. Even still, it’s pretty hard to believe this content wasn’t just incorporated in the first place.
Despite these nagging issues, there’s still a lot of fun to be had with what you’ll find in the Marvel Ultimate Alliance Bundle. After all, these are two titles that are widely considered to be some of the best super hero games around – and with good reason. Teaming up with friends to play as your favorite heroes while steamrolling across hordes of villains is an absolute blast, both in couch co-op and via the games’ online modes. And the light RPG elements make leveling up your team and expanding their repertoire of super moves hugely entertaining. There’s just an undeniable thrill that comes with taking control of a band of Marvel’s most celebrated heroes and wiping the floor with with some of the universe’s most memorable villains, and if Gauntlet-inspired melees are your thing, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy what this package has to offer.
In closing, given the bare minimum that’s gone into bringing these games to the modern age, the Marvel Ultimate Alliance Bundle does come at a pretty steep price when you consider just how inexpensive the original games are these days. The collection suffers from some technical issues that really should have been squashed ahead of its release. Additionally, the lack of DLC for the original game is certainly a glaring issue that will hopefully be addressed in the near future. The collection’s saving grace is that these games are still, even years after their original release, still some of the most enjoyable brawlers around. Having said that, if you don’t happen to have an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 lying around and are in desperate need of a solid pair of beat-’em-ups to play, you’ll definitely find what you’re looking for here. Anyone else might want to wait for a price drop before taking the plunge.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC ; Publisher: Activision ; Developer: Raven Software/Zoë Mode ; Players: 1-4; Released: July 28, 2016; Genre: Action RPG ; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review was written based on a review code supplied by the game’s publisher, Activision.