MultiVersus Review: A Super Smash Hit

MultiVersus frames itself as the ultimate crossover fighter, a sort of “dream come true” scenario where anyone can face off against anyone else. It’s a bold proclamation challenging the reign of Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, a game that features an unmatched all-star cast of video game characters duking it out. Many pretenders to that throne have come and gone but, surprisingly, MultiVersus makes a compelling claim. The game, which is in open public beta, has strong fundamentals, charm, and attention to detail that Smash clones that came before sorely lacked, making it one of the best platform fighting games ever made.

MultiVersus follows the basic Smash Bros format: up to four players meet on a single battlefield and fight it out, with the goal of increasing damage enough to knock their opponents out of bounds. The first team to score four knockouts in a match–or the first fighter to score two knockouts in a 1v1 match–wins. So far, so Smash. However, MultiVersus puts far more emphasis on the 2v2 format, quickly establishing its own identity in the process.

Mechanically, every fighter on the roster has moves that negatively affect opponents, while simultaneously having positive effects on teammates. For example, whenever Shaggy charges to full power–a brilliant use of the Ultra Instinct Shaggy meme–his partner also receives a power bump for their next attack. One of Wonder Woman’s special attacks gives her a layer of special armor for added defense, and if she’s close enough to her partner, she’ll immediately jump to them and give them the buff too. This idea of teamwork and synergy being baked into the fundamentals of MultiVersus is a fresh and welcome change to the format, with no two matches ever feeling the same. The partner dynamic also strengthens the 2v2 mode, making it feel like the core format developers intend people to play.

Part of that synergy also comes through the perk system, with characters earning permanent buffs that can be equipped before a match and stacked between two teammates. The Wildcat Brawler perk, for instance, increases the damage of all grounded melee attacks for a team by five percent when equipped by one player, with that percentage doubled if both players equip it. As you level up characters, you can also borrow perks from teammates before a match begins–guaranteeing stacks if planned correctly–or even train a character to learn new perks using in-game gold. It’s an ingenious system with multitudes of permutations, especially when borrowing and training come into the mix, and it achieves a level of strategic planning unlike anything a platform fighter has ever seen before.

More impressively, the bulk of MultiVersus’s modes also feature online play. In free for all pitting up to four human players against each other, and cross-play capabilities allowing consoles and PC to intermingle. There have been a few stutters here and there, and the occasional “now you see me, now you don’t” moments when a bad connection causes an opponent to spontaneously teleport around a map instead of walking, but the bulk of the matches played have been smooth sailing. Accomplishing this when there’s only two players in a match is an achievement by itself, but making the network function with four people across any number of environments–console or PC–is a herculean task, and for the majority of the time, MultiVersus holds its own.

MultiVersus has strong fundamentals, charm, and attention to detail that Smash clones that came before sorely lacked, making it one of the best platform fighting games ever made

The roster isn’t quite as large as the more established Smash Bros. Ultimate cast, but it’s off to a terrific start. Velma Dinkley joins the aforementioned Shaggy from the Scooby-Doo franchise, while Wonder Woman reps DC Comics with Batman, Superman, and Harley Quinn. Steven Universe’s Steven and Garnet made the cut, as did Bugs Bunny and Taz from Looney Tunes, and Jake the Dog and Finn the Human from Adventure Time. The 17-character roster is rounded out by Arya Stark from Game of Thrones, iconic cat and mouse duo Tom and Jerry, the Iron Giant, Space Jam’s version of Lebron James, and Reindog, an original creation by developer Player First Games; he’s the goodest of good boys.

The majority of the roster will not be available to most players when they first log on. This is a free-to-play game after all, and with that distinction also comes microtransactions complete with multiple currencies. The game does offer a rotating list of four trial characters, but the bulk of the fighters will be locked. Luckily you can earn these fighters with in-game gold along with the premium currency called Gleamium, which is purchased with real money. However, the grind to unlock every character through gold is longer than it should be.

Case in point: When the trial character rotation changed after the early access period ended, I had earned enough gold through playing the game to purchase three of the four characters from the previous rotation, with the fourth coming only one day later. Around 10 hours of gameplay for four characters might sound fine to the most dedicated players, but that means it will take around 40 hours to unlock the entire roster–and by that time, at least 1-2 more fighters will be added.

This also doesn’t include the cosmetics that are only available for purchase with Gleamium, including costume variants for the cast, special announcer packs where the game’s characters serve as the match announcer, and more. Tack on a battle pass with both free and premium tiers and the monetization is strong in MultiVersus. While the free-to-play grind here isn’t a complete turn-off, more generosity with in-game gold–or the option to purchase everything with gold or Gleamium–would lessen the sting. That said, the game does prove that free-to-play can work with fighting games, positioning it as a trendsetter for the entire genre.

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The announcer packs do a great job of highlighting the voice acting in MultiVersus, which ranks among the best we’ve ever heard. Every one of the characters is brimming with personality thanks to an all-star cast of performers returning to characters they helped popularize, including Matthew Lillard as Shaggy, Tara Strong as Harley Quinn, and Kevin Conroy as Batman. These aren’t random one-off lines that repeat ad nauseum either; there is a level of care and detail in some of the dialogue that goes above and beyond what we’d expected. Characters will address the other combatants before, during, and after battles with witty banter that simply can’t be heard anywhere else. Hearing Bugs Bunny call Arya Stark “the belle of Winterfell” will never not earn a smile, just as hearing Superman say “let’s see how iron stacks up against steel” to the Iron Giant will never not sound surreal.

“Surreal” is actually a perfect word to describe MultiVersus, a game that brings together iconic characters and makes them fight. These characters are as authentic as they come, feeling as if they’ve been ripped straight from their source material thanks to excellent voice work. The team-based mechanics are truly beyond anything else offered in a platform fighter, while the classic 1v1 format also impresses. The roster offers plenty of variety, though unlocking all of the characters without having to dip into the real-world wallet will definitely be a chore. We don’t know how much of its power MultiVersus has tapped into yet–the open beta will soon give way to Season 1–but as it stands now the game has smashed any and all expectations. Even if MultiVersus doesn’t unseat the king, it is more than ready to rule its own little corner of the kingdom.

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