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  1. Marvel has been inescapable at the movie theater for the past several years, so it's a little surprising that it took this long for another entry in the co-op franchise Marvel Ultimate Alliance to grace our game systems. Though with the cinematic universe's story of Thanos and the Infinity Stones recently wrapped up, it may also be the perfect time to revisit the action-packed superhero collaboration of this series and highlight recent fan-favorites like the Guardians of the Galaxy. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order sees heroes teaming up to smash their way through hordes of enemies and iconic supervillains across the universe with an emphasis on co-op gameplay, whether locally or online. There are some undeniable rough edges to the experience, but superhero fans and action game fans will love the breadth of the roster. The story begins with the Guardians of the Galaxy who stumble upon a Kree warship that is hiding the six Infinity Stones from Thanos and his Black Order. After a short scuffle the Guardians are teleported to Earth and the stones are scattered, leading to a team-up with Earth's Mightiest Heroes in order to recover the stones before Thanos—or any other villain—collects them all. The overarching story is fairly basic and straight-forward (get the powerful artifacts before the bad guys can), but there's a lot of personality and charm in seeing all of these superheroes meet and work together, much like the recent Avengers movies. In fact it's really a shame there isn't more contextual dialogue depending on which characters you're using, since it would be hilarious to see how certain characters interact, but given the huge roster size it'd be a Herculean task to plan for every possible pairing. In the end the story is really just a chance to see a quick glimpse of the characters and locations we've come to know and love from the comics, films, and TV shows, and that might be enough for such a combat-focused game. Like the previous games in the series, The Black Order lets you craft a team of four superheroes to punch, kick, and zap your way through crowds of basic enemies and, more importantly, tackle powerful supervillains. You start with just the Guardians but soon enough you'll have your pick of iconic heroes with more added as you progress through the story. The game doesn't get too obscure with its hero selection so if you've generally kept up with the recent films and shows you should recognize almost everyone, plus the game never forces you to use certain characters so you're free to make whatever odd pairings you like. You'll get bonuses depending on what characters you use (e.g. using all X-Men characters grants a bonus, or using all characters that specialize in raw strength like Hulk, Thor, and Luke Cage), but while the bonuses help you don't need to feel beholden to them. Characters can also execute Synergy attacks by combining their special attacks into a more powerful strike, but again, unless you're focused on creating the most ideal team possible for the hardest challenges of the game, there's enough variety to Synergy attacks that you're free to simply use the characters you enjoy the most and not pore over the minutiae. The huge roster does end up feeling like a bit of a double-edged sword, though. You can swap characters at any checkpoint and early on it's tempting to do so, but the characters you use gain experience points and power-up while unused heroes gain nothing. This means that swapping too much might put you at a disadvantage, which becomes pretty severe at times—there are a couple of bosses that are serious and surprising difficulty spikes, and using underleveled characters only makes things harder. The good news of course is that you can always level up other characters by replaying stages or tackling optional challenges, but if your goal is to make progress through the story you're better off maintaining a few particularly powerful heroes. For all of its options in team composition, The Black Order suffers a bit from simple mindless repetition. Even with so many heroes, each with four special attacks, the beat-em-up action is undeniably repetitive—not to an unenjoyable degree, but after an hour or so of playing you'll know what's in store for the remaining 12 hours of the story, and for the countless hours that can be spent on optional challenges. It's fun to see the likes of Spider-Gwen, Black Panther, and Daredevil square off against Thanos, but there really aren't any gameplay surprises to enjoy throughout the game. Still, a bit of mindless action isn't all bad, especially if you can enjoy it with friends. The Black Order supports local co-op (on the same Switch or local communication between multiple systems) as well as online co-op. The online system isn't too bad but as you might expect the lack of convenient communication options is a bit of a downer. The game never calls for anything particularly elaborate as far as team coordination is concerned—Synergy attacks have a clear on-screen prompt—but planning what to do next in the lobby before hopping into the game would be hugely helpful. Local co-op has the benefit of personal communication but seems to suffer from some bizarre camera issues. There's no split-screen so players need to stay near each other which can be difficult when enemies are spread out, but you may also encounter some camera glitches where the view gets stuck in a corner, obscuring the action. In fact even when playing solo the game's camera controls leave something to be desired. Even when you're facing down dozens of Hand ninjas as superpowered energy blasts are going off left and right, the visuals run pretty well on the Switch. The tradeoff is perhaps slightly less detailed character models, but while you're in the thick of things the art style is fine. The only slight problem with the visuals is that it can be hard to keep track of where you are on the screen sometimes, whether it's because you're behind a particularly large boss or because Daredevil seems to wear the exact same shade of red as the aforementioned ninjas. The soundtrack and voice work, meanwhile, are solid, if not particularly notable. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order doesn't shake up any gameplay features we haven't seen in similar multiplayer-focused action games, nor is it telling a wholly original comic book story. Those aren't the reasons anyone is playing this game, though. They're playing it to assemble their favorite heroes to team up and beat down on iconic Marvel villains, and in the end the pure charm and love of these characters is enough to give the camera issues and repetition a pass, especially if you enjoy the challenge of leveling up every single hero. Give it a try with some friends and it's easy to burn an entire afternoon with Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Rating: 4 out of 6 Infinity Stones (or 7 out of 10 Heroes)