Hands-on with the fighting game’s closed alpha
Let’s just get this out of the way: there’s very little that’s original about MultiVersus, an upcoming free-to-play fighting game. It is, very clearly, designed to be like Super Smash. Bros., only with Warner Bros. characters in place of those from Nintendo and other classic video games. This means that instead of Super Mario getting beat up by Sephiroth, you have Shaggy and Wonder Woman teaming up to fight Arya Stark and Bugs Bunny in the Batcave. It’s strange and crass but also feels right at home in a world of Fortnite, Space Jam, Doctor Strange, and Rescue Rangers. As shameless as it may be, though, after spending some time with the MultiVersus, I’m starting to think that it could end up being a big hit.
Functionally, the core of MultiVersus is identical to Smash. It’s a 2D fighter where the goal is to knock your opponents off of the level, which you do by causing lots and lots of damage; the more damaged your enemy is, the further they’ll fly. It’s also a game about chaos. Things move so fast that you really have to pay attention to what’s going on, but there’s still a good amount of strategy beyond button mashing. (Though I did win a few matches early on by being a button masher.) I haven’t played enough to really dig into the nuances of the gameplay, but it has felt like a surprisingly solid fighter with a good amount of variety for the attacks and characters.
MultiVersus mixes things up a little bit by offering three main modes. You can fight one-on-one or in a classic four-player free-for-all, but the most interesting might be the team battles. Here, players square off as duos, with the goal of getting four knockouts to win. It’s interesting particularly because, amongst the standard tank and bruiser character classes, MultiVersus also has support characters who can aid their teammates in battle. I’ve only played with strangers so far, so the matches didn’t have much in the way of coordination. But I’m very curious to see what happens when high-level players start working together. There’s a lot of potential there.
From what I’ve played, MultiVersus has the core gameplay down, at least well enough for an amateur like me. But its real advantage comes from the fact that it’s both multiplatform and free-to-play, making it much more accessible than Smash, which has always been limited to Nintendo hardware. This doesn’t mean that MultiVersus is the better game, of course, but it does have the opportunity to hit a big audience, much in the same way that Fortnite was able to eventually dwarf the battle royale games that came before it.
This success will likely come down to things I couldn’t experience in the alpha. MultiVersus has a battle pass and an in-game shop, but since I couldn’t spend real money on the game yet, it’s unclear how generous it will be with unlocking new content. Similarly, MultiVersus will likely live and die on its character rollouts. In the alpha, there were 15 characters available, which feels small when you’re used to the more than 80 in Smash Bros. Ultimate. The important part won’t just be rolling out new fighters regularly but also making those rollouts feel like an exciting event, which is something Smash Bros. mastermind Masahiro Sakurai has perfected.
As we’ve seen in the past, originality rarely has anything to do with success. And MultiVersus has the potential to open up this kind of fighting game to a whole new audience. It’s far too early to tell if that’ll actually happen, of course, but the pieces are there — and the field is wide open given the uncertain future of Smash. You’ll be able to check it out for yourself soon enough. While MultiVersus doesn’t have a final release date yet, an open beta will be launching in July. The game is coming to the PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X / S.
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