MultiVersus is a free-to-play Smash Bros-like that's come out swinging
But will it stand the test of time?
If you've always wanted to uppercut Batman as Bugs Bunny, the time is coming. MultiVersus is Warner Bros' spin on a Super Smash Bros-like that's free-to-play and features an all-star mishmash of franchises: Scooby Doo, Game Of Thrones, Adventure Time. Everyone is here! And having given its closed alpha a whirl, the game is great fun, even if its iterations on the Smash Bros formula aren't all that impactful.
To its credit, MultiVersus has the Super Smash Bros likeness down to a tee, with a grid of Warner Bros character icons to choose from such as, errr, Bugs Bunny! Taz, The Tasmanian Devil! Arya Stark! A large dog that's just hanging out! You then take to 2D stages and knock each other into its boundaries until there's one cartoon left standing. If you've played Smash Bros before, it should feel instantly familiar. And if you're new, it doesn't take long to grasp: infuse helium into Tom and/or Jerry with your fists until they can't help but soar out of bounds.
While it may be easy to dismiss Multiversus as a mere Smash Bros knock-off, the game does do a decent job of trying to iterate on Nintendo's iconic formula. Rather than distinguish characters by weight, here characters fit into certain roles or classes, a bit like Overwatch. Arya Stark is a damage-dealing assassin, while Wonder Woman is a tank. You've got bruisers like Shaggy and Taz, or Velma who's simply labelled as an "Experimental" support. Seeing as the game's premiere mode is 2v2, these classes are clearly an attempt to make fights a more co-operative affair. The thinking is that you'd team up with a mate and stroke your chin and talk tactics, "I'll shield you as Wonder Woman, my liege," "In that case, the smart move here is to choose Jake from Adventure Time".
But the game's classes don't really lend themselves to this kind of play, really. Sure, I can shield someone as Wonder Woman and give them a bit of damage reduction. Yes, as the large dog I can tether my teammate and reel them back from the brink. Even Bugs Bunny can chuck a pie to heal his mates. In the grand scheme of things, though, they all feel much of a muchness. You could roll out any combination of Warner's various bros and still have a solid enough scrap. Unless you're taking this game very seriously, or you're chatting with a pal, the classes don't amount to much right now. It's only in closed alpha at the moment, though, so there's still time for Warner Bros to make their mark here.
Another slight rework to the Smash Bros framework is in the UI. MultiVersus pops each character's damage numbers under their person at all times, where Smash Bros stuck them in a static row at the bottom of the screen. I suppose it's to improve clarity, rather than having to dip your eyes to check your damage total. Again, though, I'm not sure it's any more helpful. Especially in a fighting game that quickly descends into a throng of Acme rockets and explosions, many boxes with numbers juddering across your screen only makes things more confusing. Granted, it's less of a problem if you're diving into 1 vs 1 modes, or free-for-all to a lesser extent, as at least then everyone's distinct.
Win or lose with a certain character and you'll net them EXP. Level them up and you'll earn specific perks that you can equip before a match begins, like "10% more damage in mid-air". It's an odd decision, as fighting games like this often tick because everyone's on a level playing field, especially if you're playing online. Any kind of arbitrary stat bumps like this give me cause for concern, although here the so-called perks deal with such minor percentage boosts that I can see them becoming more of a chore than any kind of real bonus. I just want to boot Shaggy off a cliff, not faff around with endless tiny stat changes.
Amidst all these criticisms, though, is a certain level of admiration. The game is free! Where Smash Bros costs a Nintendo premium (and many others cost you at least something resembling a regular blockbuster price these days), MultiVersus doesn't cost a dime. This counts for a lot, especially as its closed beta state features zero frame rate hitches, smooth animations, and a distinct lack of jank. Hey, even matchmaking is snappy and you're able to request rematches or hop into new queues super easily – it's the little things that count.
But most of all, the game's roster is bursting with personality. Even if they're nowhere near as iconic as Nintendo's line-up, Warner Bros have drawn out their quirks with real flair. Each character is a good laugh with silly moves that showcase their zaniness, like Adventure Time's Jake who can morph into a horse and trot into opponents with an almighty headbutt, or Shaggy who can pluck a sandwich from the earth and fling it at folks for measly damage but maximum disrespect. Tom and Jerry are an interesting - but extremely difficult - duo too, as you can work with Jerry depending on where you've flung him on stage. One move sees Jerry chuck a tennis ball at Tom, which Tom can then bat away with a racket for ranged damage. Another lets you stick Jerry on the end of a fishing hook and cast him into battle. These movesets are deep, yet clearly designed to make players of all skill levels look good - including me, a serial button-masher.
Thing is, being a Smash Bros-style game still ends up invoking tough comparison in terms of gameplay feel, and in the long term this could be where MultiVersus falls down. Where Smash Bros characters are weighty yet have a distinct crispness to every little thing, MultiVersus doesn't match this seal of quality. There's a slight floatiness to jumps, and its aerial moves in particular feel like they have a lot of rough edges that would've been rounded off at camp Nintendo for that smoother finish.
Still, the fact it all costs nothing at all does help to smooth things out in a different way, and from what I've played so far, I think MultiVersus is a cracking Super Smash Bros-like with strong personality and presentation. Some of its additions aren't all that exciting or particularly impactful, but fights are undeniably fun. And yes, there is a battle pass with premium tiers and cosmetic rewards, but it presents no pay-to-win threat.
So, it's looking good right? If you missed out on a closed alpha invite, the game's open beta is due to launch in July, and it strikes me as a must-download for anyone looking for a fun brawl 'em up with some mates. Here's hoping Shaggy thrives in his new MMA career.