The original Marvel Ultimate Alliance games returned to modern-day gaming platforms today, and it got us thinking about the broader franchise and its significant potential. In Where’s My Sequel, we take a look at franchises that deserve to be ongoing, and Marvel’s engaging action and role-playing hybrid is primed for a reappearance.
What It Is
Marvel Ultimate Alliance was itself an evolution from the successful X-Men Legends games, an action/RPG that starred the familiar team of mutant super heroes. Those earlier projects tapped the isometric action vibe of games like Diablo and Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, but looked to comics and superpowers instead of D&D and magic for inspiration. Comic fans, in particular, loved all the nods to the broader fiction, which saw interactions with popular characters and visits to iconic locations.
The 2006 release of Marvel Ultimate Alliance, from developer Raven Software, upped the ante on both presentation and the intensity of the action, with more sophisticated and detailed environments and power effects, and battles that felt fast and intense, thanks to some additional enemy variety.
However, for many fans it was the expansion of the character roster that really led to excitement. Ultimate Alliance used characters drawn from across the Marvel-comics universe, including favorites like Thor, Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Storm, but also had lesser-known characters (especially at the time) like Moon Knight, Deadpool, and Black Panther. You could form your own super-hero squads, but it was especially fun to uncover one of the pre-established teams for a special gameplay bonus, like putting the Fantastic Four together into a single group.
The settings and set-piece encounters also set a new high bar for the genre. Opening on the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier in the midst of a crisis, the adventure continues on through crazy encounters in far-spread Marvel locales like Valhalla, Latveria, and even the Skrull homeworld, where the heroes come face to face with the world-devourer, Galactus. The sense of scale and grandeur helps make the adventure feel all the more epic.
When It Stopped
Marvel’s massive team-up RPG received a sequel in 2009, this time with a guiding narrative inspiration behind its story. Tapping into the successful comic events, Civil War and Secret War, development of the console releases of the new Ultimate Alliance switched developers from Raven to Vicarious Visions. The second game takes cues from its predecessors, but it also explores new fusion powers that allow two heroes to unleash a particularly devastating assault by working together. The game also adds an interesting dynamic to character selection, as the super heroes are split into two factions, only to unite later in the storyline. Minor branching narratives are also featured.
Despite these modest changes, the second Ultimate Alliance met a cooler critical reception than its predecessor. Following its release, talk of a third installment evaporated, and we’ve been left mostly without a true follow-up. While not part of the same franchise, Gazillion recognized a desire in the community for a similar game and took the step to release Marvel Heroes with a similar gameplay style. That PC-only MMO lets multiple players each collect and play any number of Marvel characters, leveling them up and trying out different outfits. However, the free-to-play nature of the game, and the focus on large-scale multiplayer encounters, hasn’t appealed to everyone.
What Comes Next
Rumors have cropped up several times over recent years regarding a potential Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, but nothing has yet coalesced into a real announcement. Most recently, fans who have been hoping for a follow-up have reason for optimism. Today is the release of the first two games on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Whether you’re playing for the first time, or you just loved that first game a decade ago, the relaunch should provide a new avenue for exploring the action/RPGs, and might also signal a desire by publisher Activision to refamiliarize players with the franchise. In addition, some particularly enthusiastic followers have latched on to a comment from the re-release producer, Mike Jones, at the recent Marvel Gaming Panel at SDCC 2016. When asked about a sequel, he declared that “anything is possible.”
It’s a slim thread to rely on, and we’ve yet to hear any formal announcement regarding work on a sequel. That’s too bad. Isometric action/RPGs continue to draw in players, including titles like Diablo III, Path of Exile, Grim Dawn, and Torchlight 2. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more popular time for Marvel super heroes; new Marvel movies dominate the box office, Netflix and ABC series lead to lots of water cooler talk, and the comics themselves dominate sales chart within that medium.
A new Marvel Ultimate Alliance could borrow heavily from the formula established in previous games, allowing for four-player cooperative play both locally and online, and broadening the cast of available characters and team-ups. Provide increased opportunities for branching storylines, so that subsequent replays lead to entirely different levels. Take a cue from progression systems like those found in Diablo III, and add in a prestige leveling system for the end game, letting players continue to develop their favorite superhero into a godlike power, and provide ever-growing enemy threats to keep pace.
A new Marvel Ultimate Alliance also has a broad spectrum of recent comic events to reinterpret. Avengers vs. X-Men allows for the fiction’s two biggest teams to go head-to-head. Age of Ultron sets up both a fun post-apocalyptic backdrop and the potential for some exciting time-travel sequences. Secret Wars provides perhaps the biggest departure and potential for character diversification; the 2015 event introduced a splintered Battle World made up of heroes and villains from any number of realities and timelines.
No matter what features or which comic storylines serve as inspiration, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is long overdue, and we’re crossing our fingers that a new announcement might be on the horizon.