MultiVersus is a Smashing Good Fighter That Really Understands its Characters - Preview
It’s nearly impossible to release a platform fighting game without drawing comparisons to Nintendo’s hugely successful Super Smash Bros. series. And we’re seeing more and more games in the genre releasing these days, from high-quality indie fighters like Rivals of Aether and Brawlout, to licensed games like Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl. MultiVersus is Warner Bros’ attempt to throw its hat into the platform fighter ring, bringing together a range of characters from its diverse library of IP, and based on our time with the closed alpha, it could well be one of the most promising games in the genre.
Developed as a free-to-play, multiplayer-first title, MultiVersus is built around the idea of 2v2 fights, pitting strange combinations of characters against each other in improvised teams, such as Batman and Shaggy from Scooby-Doo taking on Arya Stark and Bugs Bunny. At first glance, it might seem like the same sort of cynical crossover cash-in that Warner Bros has attempted before in films like Ready Player One or Space Jam: A New Legacy, throwing as many franchises on screen as possible in an attempt to squeeze the maximum amount of serotonin out of our nostalgia-addled brains. But Player First Games, the developer of MultiVersus, manages to rise above this cynicism with one simple act - it really understands the characters it’s using.
Take Tom & Jerry, for example. Acting as a single playable character (in a similar way to Smash Bros’ Ice Climbers) the iconic cat and mouse duo could have easily been made into a fun generic fighter, with the two teaming up to deal damage to their foes with a series of punches or kicks. But instead, MultiVersus sees Tom & Jerry constantly fighting each other. They move around the stage with their eyes locked onto one another, a standard attack causing Tom to swing at Jerry with a mallet, only for it to smack an opposing player instead. And then when it comes to their special attacks, Tom will slingshot Jerry across the map, and they’ll bat projectiles back and forth, catching any unlucky foe in the crossfire. It’s a supremely smart way to incorporate the life-long rivals into a single fighter, and this creativity and love of the source material is present across pretty much every character available in the closed alpha test.
Game of Thrones’ Arya Stark is all about knives and swords, gaining extra damage for backstabs, and she can even steal her opponent’s face, stunning them later when she transforms into them. Velma is true to her sleuthing expertise from Scooby-Doo, inflicting damage with torches and cameras, and is even able to call the police to ride a player off the stage if she collects the requisite number of clues during a match. Even the more easy-to-play fighters, such as Wonder Woman, Taz, and Harley Quinn, have a selection of abilities that all remain very true to their character.
Warner Bros. has also made the necessary investment to make this feel like a premium game, which really sets it apart from a title like Nickelodeon All-Stars Brawl. Unlike that title, every character in MultiVersus is voiced, and voiced well. Batman is played by Kevin Conroy from Batman: The Animated Series, while Harley brings back Tara Strong from the Arkham games; Maisie Williams returns as Arya; and Matthew Lillard reprises his Shaggy role. The characters all talk to each other, making amusing references, which helps it feel like a real crossover, and the art style is excellent, managing to feel completely coherent, while staying true to the vibe of each and every character, with really slick animations. Like a shark smelling blood in the water, Warner Bros clearly senses that there’s money to be made from a big-budget crossover fighter, and it’s invested appropriately.
Where MultiVersus really makes itself distinct from Super Smash Bros. and other platform fighters, is the focus on team play. While you can smash other players in 1v1 or free-for-all brawls, 2v2 is the main game mode, with a strong focus on co-op play. Because of this, characters are split into five different classes, with Support characters offering the most unique playstyle. As a character like Steven Universe, you can protect your allies with bubble shields, or when playing as Reindog (an original character made for the game) you can drag your allies back on stage with a mystical tether, potentially saving them from losing a life. Tank characters like Wonder Woman and Superman can take a ton of hits before flying off the stage, while Brawlers like Taz and Batman deal lots of damage and knockback. Harley Quinn, Arya Stark, and Adventure Time’s Finn are Assassins, fast and technical with good KO abilities. Meanwhile, Tom & Jerry and Bugs Bunny are classed as Mages, with loads of strong special attacks and ranged attacks that require recharging.
If this sounds a little too technical, then don’t worry too much. While good team play between you and your ally can lend your team a slight advantage, if you’d rather just barrel in with a damage dealer like Jake the Dog, you can still do that and get some great results. But if MultiVersus has any major esports aspirations, it’ll be the multitude of potential co-op combinations that really make it shine.
So far, so good for MultiVersus, then, and for a closed alpha test, everything runs incredibly well, with crossplay and rollback netcode meaning every match we played was as smooth as butter. Where a game like MultiVersus might really falter, however, is in its free-to-play nature. While each character is treated with a lot of love and reverence to the source material, a lot of that content is hidden behind a battle pass. Playful costumes like Uncle Shagworthy, or Harley Quinn’s Suicide Squad outfit, will seemingly be linked to microsotransactions, or at least a premium battle pass. And even some gameplay boosting-perks are locked behind an XP levelling system, giving lower-level players a legitimate gameplay disadvantage, just for the sake of offering a feeling of progression.
The free-to-play nature, and multiplayer focus, also means that there’s a lack of single-player content. If you’re a Smash Bros player who spends most of their time in the Classic or Adventure modes, you might be disappointed at this online-first approach. And while the closed alpha plays exceptionally well once you’re in a game, the UI right now is all a bit unwieldy and unintuitive, pulling from the design of Fortnite, but without the polish.
While we have some concerns surrounding the monetisation and online nature of MultiVersus, there’s no doubt that it’s one of the most promising Super Smash Bros-like games out there, offering up some fun crossovers, a unique co-op gameplay mechanic, and fantastic fighter design that really understands what makes each of its characters unique. If you’re interested in trying it for yourself, you can sign up to the Closed Alpha, which goes live today, or get involved in the Open Beta when that goes live in July.
Thursday, May 19, 2022 @ 02:40 PM
Sunday, June 05, 2022 @ 06:56 AM