MultiVersus Is More Than Just A Smash Bros. Clone
Warner Bros. and Player First Games' take on Smash Bros. packs action and personality into a F2P package.
The premise seems totally absurd when you read it: the all-powerful Superman teaming with cowardly and perpetually hungry teenager Shaggy to throw down against a shape-shifting dog Jake and a face-stealing assassin Arya Stark. This is real, however, and it's MultiVersus, the upcoming Warner Bros. platform fighter and the latest game to challenge Smash Bros. for its platform fighter throne. We got an early look at the upcoming closed alpha test, and so far MultiVersus is not only a viable challenger to Nintendo's all-star smasher, but it could be a glimpse at the future of fighting games in general.
On the surface, MultiVersus looks very similar to other platform fighting games, as the combatants zip around a stage with multiple ledges, throwing out attacks and trying to knock each other off of the screen. The names on the marquee may be different--Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman from DC Comics, Bugs Bunny and Taz from Looney Tunes, Shaggy from Scooby-Doo, etc.--but the action at a glance stays with the tried-and-true Smash Bros. formula.
It's not entirely the same, however, and nowhere is that more apparent than in 2v2 team battles. Teams are split into red and blue teams, and the first team to score four knockouts wins. This is a slightly different approach to the stock battles of Smash Bros., as knockouts act as a scored point rather than one player losing a life. This scoring format allows both players to stay in the match the entire time, rather than one remaining player being at a disadvantage. Even with this change in scoring, the team battle mode sounds similar to other games that offer it, but there's a deeper level of strategy to consider here that sets MultiVersus apart, elevating it from potential Smash Bros. clone to a game that can stand on its own two feet.
Every character has at least one move in their arsenal that not only damages the enemy, but gives a slight benefit to a teammate as well. When Shaggy charges up to full power with his neutral special, for example, his teammate also receives a power boost. Wonder Woman's down special attack gives her a shield, but it also increases a teammate's defense if they get close to one another while it's active. A few characters have a tether ability that can latch onto a teammate, making both fighters more difficult to launch off-screen. The combinations and character synergies to discover are plentiful even here in a closed alpha test with only 15 characters; I am excited to see how deep this system goes once the full version releases.
There are single-player modes to check out, but they're much more by-the-numbers than the team battles. 1v1 is the best way to truly test your skills competitively, as it's a straightforward first-to-two-points battle with no teammates to worry about. Stages do have some obstacles, like the platforms that retract in the Haunted Mansion and some Treefort buildings that can be destroyed, but nothing in the alpha test's stages was as wild as, say, Smash's Poke Floats. The four-player free-for-all, meanwhile, is tailor-made for parties or less competitive environments with frenzied action happening all over the screen. While they offer plenty of fun, neither of these modes offer a new twist on old gameplay like team battles do, so they don't stand out quite as much.
All three of these formats benefit tremendously from the game's rollback netcode, which provided a smooth online experience in nearly every match we've played. There were a few instances where characters would glitch out or randomly teleport from one place to another, but in the 50 matches I played I can count only two instances of those technical issues. Every other match felt like my opponents were sitting in the same room, which is impressive, especially in matches with four players. Granted, this was an early preview of the closed alpha test, so the number of players logged on likely wasn't massive, but it's still as good of a sign as we could hope for at this point.
While the fighting isn't revolutionary, the free-to-play format is what could give MultiVersus an edge . Fighting games fit incredibly well into a F2P model, and MultiVersus is solid proof. The game offers multiple progression systems: a standard battle pass with free and premium options, a profile-based leveling system, and character-specific progression. Each one offers separate rewards: the character-specific rewards include different cosmetics and perks that can enhance their abilities, the career progression provides in-game currency to purchase new characters and skins from the in-game shop, and the battle pass offers general cosmetics like banners and costumes, taunts, and other perks for the entire roster.
Earning rewards is remarkably quick, too, as I never felt like I was grinding for more gold or battle pass points. Seasonal milestones and daily missions make the 50-level battle pass seem to fly by, with one 1,000-point seasonal milestone earning multiple levels at once. The character progression isn't quite as fast, but earning an XP boost through the battle pass can temporarily fix that. Career progression is also slower, but as the rewards earned there aren't as impactful as the battle pass or character perks, I didn't really mind.
The ways MultiVersus lets you customize the experience through earned cosmetics also speak to how well a battle pass fits into a fighting game like this. One of the types of cosmetics you can earn are knockout animations that play every time you score a successful knockout. Examples include Darkseid's Omega Beams, the Space Kook from Scooby-Doo, and banners for Houses Lannister, Stark, and Targayren, but for my money the best one is "That's All Folks," where the iconic Looney Tunes ending screen--Porky Pig included--shows up wherever your opponent was eliminated. It made me laugh every single time, giving the game an extra layer of personality on top of all the action.
That personality is bolstered by the game's voice acting, which is one of the best parts of the game. Each character is fully voiced, most of them by the original voice actors: Maisie Williams voices Arya Stark, Matthew Lillard provides the voice of Shaggy, and Kevin Conroy, Tara Strong, and George Newbern portray Batman, Harley Quinn, and Superman respectively. Each character is given authenticity through their voices, throwing out quick one-liners during battle that will make you chuckle. Knocking out Tom and Jerry is an absolute joy, for example, as Tom belts out his iconic scream whenever defeated. It's not just in battle, either, as eventually you can unlock announcer voice packs for many of the characters through the character-specific progression as well.
More importantly, some of the spoken dialogue is specific to certain situations, providing an extra layer of depth that shows just how much effort Player First Games is putting into this project. For instance, during one battle I played as Arya Stark and teamed with Shaggy versus Adventure Time's Jake the Dog and Superman. As the battle begins, Jake exclaims, "I can't believe I'm paired up with Superman!!" After we'd won the match, Arya quipped, "Go back to your master, dog" at the victory screen, referring to the fallen Jake. Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, another Smash-inspired game, garnered a lot of criticism for its lack of voices, and that omission seems even more egregious in retrospect after seeing how much it adds to the experience in MultiVersus.
While this is a closed alpha test, and a lot can change between now and when the game officially launches, MultiVersus is shaping up to be a special game. The roster of characters is wacky and wonderful, the action is both familiar and fresh, and the free-to-play progression systems let you earn rewards while never feeling like a grind. There are even a few hints of the future in the alpha, like how the tutorials use Meeseeks from Rick and Morty as targets or how Wonder Woman says "get over here!" when she pulls an opponent toward her with the Lasso of Truth. No matter what surprises are coming to MultiVersus next, based on this closed alpha test, that future looks as bright as Shaggy at 100% of his power.
MultiVersus will launch on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC. The closed alpha test runs May 19-27, and an open beta has been announced for July.