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Warner Bros' Brawler Is Delightful, But Needs Impact
by John Carson on May 19, 2022 at 11:00 AM
Platform PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Publisher Warner Bros. Games
Developer Player First Games
Rating Teen

Player First Games is well on its way to releasing its fighting game MultiVersus, a new multiplayer platform brawler that pits the extensive list of characters from the Warner Bros. catalog against one another in chaotic button-mashing battles. It's easy to compare MultiVersus to other fighting games in the genre, like Nintendo's juggernaut Super Smash Bros., but after spending a handful of hours throwing fists, kicks, and lasers with the WB crew, there's plenty that impressed me about MultiVersus that makes it stand out, and should be a game to keep your eye on this year.

MultiVersus differs from games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl in its focus on team battles. 2v2 is the game's primary mode, with characters filling roles in the duo of optimal pairings in battle. Fighters are segmented into classes that represent the fighting style they're best at. Batman is a brawler, Game of Thrones' Arya Stark is an assassin, Bugs Bunny is a mage, Superman is a tank, and Steven Universe is support. These designations gave me a top-level idea of who would work well on a team together and hinted at their playstyle. A tank class like Wonder Woman will, of course, be trying to protect her partner when danger flares up while mages strike at a distance, sometimes with tricky traps or projectiles. Supports work in a couple of different ways, offering their bodies as throwable weapons or moves that act as a safety like Reindog's tether move. Other supports like Steven will throw shields on their teammate or buff their abilities in different ways. It's fun to try different combinations out and see what synergies work well in practice.

Matches play out very similarly to Smash Bros., with the goal of dealing damage to your opponent, increasing the distance they'll fly when a strong attack lands and eventually sending them out of bounds into the abyss surrounding the stage. A winner is named when a team's final stock, or life, is taken. Every character has the same control scheme that's standard for this type of fighting game, consisting of normal and special attack buttons, each with different moves depending on which direction you flick the analog stick, a jump button, a dodge, with the ever-important tilt-inducing taunts mapped to the d-pad. MultiVersus stands out in its recovery mechanics, which don't include grabbing and hanging on ledges but allow for wall jumping to climb to safety.

To make a character your own, each roster member has a suite of perks that can be equipped to modify various aspects of gameplay. For instance, Superman has a perk that gives him and any teammates a triple jump when meeting certain conditions, keeping them in the air longer, while Taz can boost the damage of his team when they deal damage with moves that knock enemies back horizontally. Three standard perks can be used by each player, with a fourth signature perk that's character-specific and modifies a special attack of that fighter. Using Taz as an example again, his tornado move can be tweaked with a signature perk to reflect projectiles at the cost of it moving slower. I've been enjoying what perks bring to the table to support my preferred playstyles, but I'd be lying if I weren't worried this system gets abused in some way and breaks the meta of the game for even the most casual of players scrapping it out online.

The user interface in battle will look strange at first glance, but I grew to like the presentation of vital info MultiVersus provides. A character's damage info displays directly below them, with buffs and debuffs appearing above the character model instead on in a stationary spot outside of the view of the battle. It's distracting for the first match or two, but with how fast characters can whip around the screen, I like being able to keep my eye on how much damage an opponent or I have taken without having to scan for those numbers away from the action at hand.

While I am impressed by a lot of what MultiVersus has to offer, the combat isn't quite as impactful enough as it needs to be. There's much less sense that I'm going to blast an enemy off into the ether when their damage indicator is critical. Instead, attacks feel like they barely budge an opponent at times, making it hard to know if landing just one more solid hit is going to put the final nail in the coffin. I'd also like to see more impact on attacks in general; even Superman's haymakers feel like you're punching a pillow.

MultiVersus is a free-to-play game and will have microtransactions and a battle pass, but I was assured by game director Tony Huynh that only cosmetic options would have a real-money cost and anything gameplay-related is achievable only by playing the game. That means any characters are unlocked by collecting gold in fights and paying for them with that currency, which is how it currently exists in the alpha build. The same goes for perks which are earned by playing with and leveling up a character along with paying earned gold to gain access to them. As for the cosmetics available, characters will have rather detailed alternate costumes such as Samurai Batman or Jake the Dog's reskin to Cake the Cat. There are also different animations that can be played when you knock out an opponent – I'm a big fan of the Porky Pig "That's all folks!" animation to rub that extra bit of salt in the wound – and swappable announcer voice pack and taunts. There's a lot to unlock between the battle pass unlocks and each character's own leveling track by just playing the game. 

I went into the alpha test of MultiVersus with low expectations. Besides Smash Bros., the big brand mash-up fighters feel hollow and feature underwhelming rosters, but I've come away impressed with what I've played so far. The cast is great so far, and each character brings unique gameplay and mechanics to the fray. It's apparent in the star-studded voice cast (Kevin Conroy as Batman, Matthew Lillard as Shaggy, Maizie Williams as Arya) and detailed animations that plenty of care was put into implementing these beloved icons of their franchises into the game and doing them justice. I'm planning on jamming out more matches over the coming days and look forward to checking it out in future tests with hopefully more characters and some slight changes to make battles feel more impactful.

The current closed alpha runs until May 27, and there's potentially still room to join in on the test. You can sign up on the MultiVersus website and cross your fingers that a code is sent your way before the event concludes. Otherwise, the platform fighter goes into open beta in July, with a full release sometime in the future, though Huynh and Warner Bros. Games would not give a hint of a timeframe for that quite yet. 

For more on MultiVersus, we have multiple videos showing off gameplay without commentary, and a New Gameplay Today with myself and Alex Stadnik where we discuss our time with the alpha build of the game and address what we like about it and our concerns after getting our first taste of the WB fighter.

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