The Monumental Mash-up of Marvel Ultimate Alliance
Few games ever get away with mashing up a multitude of universes and intellectual properties into one place. More often than not, either gameplay or story end up as a mess that makes more of an attempt at fan service than anything substantial. However, there are most certainly some success stories. The Marvel Universe in particular has had quite some luck with mash-ups on several occasions. It was today in 2006 that we received one of the most iconic of Marvel interactive experiences, allowing us to put our dream teams of heroes together to brawl against evil villains throughout the universe in Marvel Ultimate Alliance.
In 2006, Marvel had been in full swing on multiple media fronts. Live-action movies based on the likes of X-Men, Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk were in full swing. Even before the films laid the early bricks of the unfolding Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Capcom Vs. series of fighting games brought our favorite heroes into fighting form on the 2D-plane. However, despite focused IP offerings like the Spider-Man video game tie-in to the movie and the X-Men Legends games, there was little to nothing in the way of an iconic Avengers-style crossover that brought all these fantastic heroes together in one action-packed place.
In creating X-Men Legends and its sequel, X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse, Vicarious Visions and Raven Software had laid the groundwork for a fantastic co-op game. Activision, enjoying the general success of the Legends games, had no qualms about pushing the series to continue with a new and more diverse experience. Rather than focusing on the X-Men alone, Activision felt confident in pursuing player intersts spurred by the spotlight sitting so heavily on characters from the other Marvel IPs. In an effort to expand on everything that had been done previous, Marvel Ultimate Alliance came to be an inevitable next step in the development of the series.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance plays out ambitious from the get-go. The SHIELD Helicarrier is under attack from none other than Doctor Doom himself and Captain America, Spider-Man, Wolverine and Thor answer the call of Nick Fury to defend it. Following success in warding off Doom, they find that he and his collection of villainous super beings known as the Masters of Evil have a host of new plans to conquer the Earth. Nick Fury authorizes the gathering of heroes in a new task force to respond to all threats from Doom all the way up to Galactus, Devourer of Worlds.
The game plays out in a brawler-esque fashion. Players are allowed four heroes to use at any given time, either controlled by AI or other players in local or online co-op. Each hero not only features various powers that can be leveled up to give them strength, but numerous unlockable costumes that supply different bonuses to their stats. Moreover, certain heroes could be assembled to create special four-hero teams that offered additional bonuses for all members. Players worked their way through each location battling minions, fighting bosses and completing missions to foil Doom and the Masters of Evil along the way.
The cast of Marvel Ultimate Alliance truly was a grand assembly to work with as well. Nearly every major and quite a few minor corners of the Marvel universe were represented. You could assemble the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, a team of X-Men, or even go to more notably solo heroes like Blade, Ghost Rider, Doctor Strange and Daredevil. Despite not all heroes being available to play, many of them at least made appearances or were made playable later on via re-releases or DLC, not the least of which being the likes of Moon Knight, Namor and Black Widow.
In 2006, Marvel Ultimate Alliance represented something which was truly remarkable for its time. The gameplay hit all the notches of the X-Men Legends style of gameplay in appropriate form, but what was truly impressive about the game was the way it weaved so many facets of the Marvel universe together in one fairly cohesive place. It still stands the test of time as one of the more iconic Marvel video game experiences --- enough to warrant a re-release on Steam, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One a decade after the original release. In the end, for everything it accomplished, it may just be one of the most complete and entertaining superhero mash-ups out there.