Review: Marvel: Ultimate Alliance Bundle (PS4)

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Title: Marvel: Ultimate Alliance Bundle
Format: PlayStation Network Download (MUA1 6.03 GB) (MUA2 5.73 GB)
Release Date: July 26, 2016
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Zoë Mode
Original MSRP: $59.99 Bundle / $39.99 Separately
ESRB Rating: T
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 1 and 2 are also available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Xbox, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, Game Boy Advance, and PC.
The PlayStation 4 download versions were used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
The Marvel: Ultimate Alliance franchise started in 2006 and like many, I spent hours and hours unlocking characters and grinding to upgrade them to the max. And so I was ecstatic when it was announced that Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 1 and 2 were coming the PlayStation 4. Unfortunately these ports are not the best and it’s a shame.

For those unfamiliar, these games are essentially top down action adventure dungeon crawlers filled with Marvel comic book love. Players make a team of four heroes and go through missions where they battle minions and a boss or two each mission. The games are fun and simple with a ton of characters to unlock and level up with solid gameplay mechanics that utilize each hero’s unique powers.

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 1 is an original story made for the game in which Doctor Doom has assembled a rogues gallery of Marvel bad guys from well known to obscure to take out the heroes and take over the world.

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I played this game primarily in co-op because when I first played ten years ago I only played it in co-op and it just felt like the right thing to do in 2016. I absolutely adore the original and the gameplay holds up today though this port comes with some annoying bugs and technical issues.

The first problem I had was a bug that caused characters to freeze in place when I switched between them. For example, if I switched from Storm to Wolverine, Wolverine would be stuck in place unable to move unless I mashed some action buttons a couple times to unfreeze him.

Another issue is with character’s abilities changing randomly when I was not using them. I would level up specific abilities and bind them to a character only for the game to decide to bind other abilities at random. It was frustrating and meant that at least once in the middle of a mission I had to hit Options to redo characters abilities.

… The story is cheesy and the acting is campy …
These were mildly annoying bugs in what is still a great game which almost makes this situation all the more frustrating as a fan. I still feel like the first game is one of my favorites even though it has aged. While this specific port has its issues the game is still a classic.

The games capture the characters really well with a tone reminiscent of the comic books of the 90s and early 2000s. Black Widow is very much Russian, Nick Fury is not Samuel L. Jackson and Tony Stark does not come across as the lightning rod for the story. This is likely because the game takes place before the Marvel Cinematic Universe so it takes all of its information from the comic books. The story is cheesy and the acting is campy, but it works out tremendously well for the first game.

Now onto Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 which is a good game though viewed to be inferior to the first one. It sticks to the same action adventure genre, adds some nice features, and includes a larger roster. Fusion Attacks are introduced which are stylish power attacks that combine the powers of two characters into one ultimate attack that often look rather nice.

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The levels are larger in scale than the first game and overall it just feels like a bigger version of its predecessor. Where the game stumbles might be in its story which is based on the Civil War storyline from the comics. Personally I always felt that was a good idea that quickly unraveled into a bad story and that’s still how I feel here, but overall gameplay wise it’s a good time and it has less technical issues than the original.

Gameplay is smoother and the larger roster that even includes villains is cool. The storyline features more dynamic dialogue options that can have an effect on the interactions between heroes. The Civil War storyline does however divide the roster which means some characters are locked out pending which side you take, Iron Man or Captain America, but that also means the game is worth checking out twice.

… fine if not just a tad rough …
Visuals:
The word “remaster” was thrown around when the game was announced but it is not mentioned at all in the description and for good reason. That’s because this is more of a re-release than a remaster with what appears to be little work done outside of upping the resolution.

I would equate this more to a PS2 Classic or Xbox 360 to Xbox One backwards compatibility title. The games were made to run on the new consoles and that’s pretty much it. Maybe the framerate was improved overall, but I still found spots in both games where it can drop, though it never drops to any unplayable standards.

Both games look fine, but there does not appear to be much done with the visuals outside of small tweaks. This especially rings true with the first game which, due to its age, is the rougher of the two, the game is playable and exactly as I remembered it almost to a fault.

The cutscenes for the first game look muddy while the cutscenes in the second fare better. Either way, they still have a weird muddy and foggy look which is likely due to engine limitations from the older consoles.

Overall the games were made to be playable on the current generation of consoles even if it meant not improving the game’s visuals presentation much. I am not a graphics snob by any means so I found the both to be fine if not just a tad rough.

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Audio:
Both games are filled with cheesy voice acting and writing and that’s part of the charm so I won’t dwell on that aspect. What I will talk about are the technical issues with the sound that both games suffer from.

I came across issues where sound effects would go mute or lack any sort of impact with stuff like explosions occasionally sounding dampened or muted altogether. Sometimes dialogue would end up overshadowed by background music and the audio mix occasionally feels sloppy and more of a mess than I remembered it being in the original games.

… bugs that are quite annoying …
Online/Multiplayer:
One of the best things about these games is the co-op and that’s still here in these re-releases. The games feature 4 player co-op online and offline and as dungeon crawlers they’re at their best in co-op.

I have played both games multiple times over the years and have a lot of co-op memories attached to them so playing them again has been nostalgic fun. I played the first game for this review in local co-op with a friend and the second game I played solo and dabbled in online co-op.

I will always associate these games with their multiplayer and I can still recommend it today even if these ports have issues.

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Conclusion:
I have to be honest, scoring this bundle is a tough task because I have to weigh my nostalgia against a package with technical issues that also borders on being overpriced. At their core, these are the same fun games they were in 2006 and 2009 and I had a blast playing them again despite their issues.

With that said, the games do have bugs that are quite annoying including some I don’t remember having before which occasionally gut punched my nostalgia.

The issue with the pricing should be mentioned as well since both games cost $40 individually or can be purchased as a bundle for $60 and that seems over-priced for what is essentially a re-release. The first game does not even include the DLC characters which, after some backlash, were promised to be coming eventually.

The no brainer answer is to purchase the bundle for “savings” but a lot of people, including me, prefer the first one over the second. Maybe some people even feel the reverse so the bundle still feels overpriced, especially when compared to other compliations that have been released as full remastered games.

Regardless, the franchise at its core is a fun dungeon crawler starring a huge roster of Marvel characters that despite its issues I enjoyed returning to. So while I cannot give this bundle a full recommendation, I can say for those that loved these games it might be worth checking them out again if only for nostalgia’s sake.

Score:
6.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Michael Cwick

Michael Cwick

Just a nerd from the Windy City. I’m actually really bad at describing myself because I get all self-critical and self-conscious. Follow me on Twitter, @The1stMJC, to see my borderline insane rants on tv shows and other non important subjects. If I’m not tweeting I’m probably just watching Buffy or Firefly for the millionth time.

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