My expectations were pretty darn low going into Warner Bros. crossover fighter MultiVersus. The Super Smash Bros. series has been the undisputed champion of the platform fighter subgenre of fighting game, and few titles could ever reach its level of polish or its fun factor. Nonetheless, more companies have noticed the crossover potential of games like Smash and have started to make their own for their own brands, to mixed results.
I was quite excited for Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, and while there were moments of fun, I was ultimately let down by the low production values that left the game feeling underdeveloped and unremarkable. I expected MultiVersus to be a repeat of that: A cheaply made fighting game starring classic WB characters like Bugs Bunny, Batman, and Arya Stark just meant to ride the coattails of Smash. You have to admit, the concept of a fighting game starring Batman and Shaggy alone sounds incredibly dumb on paper.
But when I hopped into the game’s Closed Alpha before its wide release to playtesters on May 19, I was thoroughly impressed by this deeply satisfying and polished fighting game. MultiVersus understands that Smash Bros. is just as much about the gameplay as the crossover factor, so it brings new ideas to the genre. This could make it one of the most disruptive fighting games in years, especially as a Super Smash Bros. Ultimate-size void now exists in fighting game spaces.
If you know Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, you should be easily able to pick up MultiVersus. Characters have a variety of standard and special moves based on the media they are from. These can be used on the ground or in the air as they jump and fight around large themed stages. The more a character is hit, the higher their damage gets and the more likely they are to get launched out of the arena and lose a life.
MultiVersus delivers the platform fighter experience we all know and love, but unlike some of its peers, the game isn’t afraid to put its own spin on things. First off, characters are split into classes like Brawler, Assassin, Mage, Tank, and Support. These classes indicate what their move set and uses in battle are like. Characters like Shaggy and Taz are brawlers that are all about attacking with their moves, while a Tank like Wonder Woman can help shield and minimize damage to herself or her teammates.
“Characters might be best in 2v2, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t be a competitive option in 1v1.”
Developer Player First Games puts a lot of care into ensuring characters accurately represent their franchises and even the memes that surround them. Many of Tom & Jerry’s attacks result from the cat trying to capture the mouse, Arya Stark can steal her opponents’ faces, and Shaggy can go on ultra instinct, which memes have joked that he can do for years. Character move sets wildly vary and can get weird, as a developer admitted to Digital Trends that they had quite a bit to pull from.
“It’s a lot of adapting what players love about the characters,” game designer Ian Rapoport tells Digital Trends. “Sometimes that is what happens in specific media, or other times it is about how the character develops outside of their traditional media and when acting with their community. There’s a lot to draw inspiration from, with Shaggy in particular. I think there are some moments in some of the cartoons where he suddenly seems like a much stronger fighter than one would expect. So there’s a bit of truth to those memes, and it’s been really exciting to bring those to the game.”
The fact that actors like Matthew Lillard, Kevin Conroy, and Maisie Williams returned to voice their characters in MulitVersus also adds authenticity and credibility to the package. I found myself drawn to the attack-focused Brawlers and Assassins, with my two favorite characters being Taz and Arya Stark. Of course, there’s room to polish and balance these fighters further, but each character still felt very fleshed out and fun to play in this alpha build. I’d never expected these characters to all work together side by side in a family-friendly Smash Bros.-style fighter, but here I am thoroughly impressed with what Player First Games has pulled off.
As part of its effort to make the game stand out from the likes of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Player First Games has focused on some abilities and modes that players don’t see in competitive Smash. Namely, 2v2 play is the focus of MultiVersus, though 1v1 matches are still an option.
Especially for support characters, some abilities exist to help teammates during a match. Many characters have tether-like moves that can pull players in when they are far away. With these tethers, double jumps, aerial dodges, and aerial moves, there’s lots of wild combo potential on and off the ground, especially in 2v2 play. Currently, 2v2 appears to be the format that Warner Bros. and Player First Games plan on using at official tournaments, including this year’s EVO. Still, Rapoport admits that they recognize that 1v1 matches are an essential part of fighting games and that characters need to be viable in that setting.
“2v2 is our focus, but we want to make sure every character is viable, and every mechanic is used in 1v1,” he explains. “Some mechanics are their strongest in 2v2 … but we know 1v1 is a really important part of competitive games and fighting games. Characters might be best in 2v2, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t be a competitive option in 1v1.”
This unique approach to competitive play may turn MultiVersus into a suitable replacement for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate now that Nintendo is no longer supporting that game and it also demonstrates that this game is willing to chart out its own path and identity as well.
This team-based focus will also put a lot of pressure on ensuring the online experience runs well. Thankfully, online matches went extremely smoothly thanks to the use of rollback netcode, although it remains to be seen how it will function once lots of people are playing at the same time at launch.
With its surprisingly thought-out mechanics and pleasant presentation, MultiVersus makes a great first impression when you finally get the chance to play. And a lot of people will have that chance as MultiVerus will be free-to-play. I got to see the free-to-play setup, which forces players to level up characters and play matches to earn two kinds of currency used to unlock characters or progress through the battle pass.
In this alpha, the currency values needed to unlock characters on the battle pass felt manageable. They’re short enough to not be a grind, but still long enough to feel satisfying. In the final release, this might change for the worse, but even this alpha demonstrates how a free-to-play setup can work for fighting games. Still, a fighting game is much more than its business model, and MultiVersus easily could have felt like a cash grab.
Thankfully, it’s the exact opposite. Lots of love for classic Warner Bros. characters and innovative ideas for the fighting game genre are on full display here. MultiVersus is much better than you might think it would be at first glance, so definitely check it out when it gets an open beta this summer — even if the trailers have made you roll your eyes.