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MultiVersus lacks that Nintendo polish, but it's still a slick Smash Bros-like in open beta

With zero barrier to entry

Having given the MultiVersus closed beta a whirl around a month ago, I thought it was a free-to-play Smash Bros-like that came out swinging. And now I've returned to the open beta phase of the multiverse where Bugs Bunny and Taz The Tazmanian Devil are joined by... Lebron James?! Honestly, my thoughts remain largely unchanged – which is a good thing! It's a fun free-to-play fighter that iterates on the Smash formula but can't quite emulate its predecessor's polish.

So, what does the MultiVersus open beta actually have to offer? Just enough, I reckon. Currently, there's a roster of 16 characters, 3 modes to choose from (1v1, 2v2, and Free For All), a handful of maps, and the ability to set up some basic custom games. All this alongside earnable coins, an obligatory battle pass, and Gleamium (its take on premium currency), which sounds like the sort of rare mineral they'd bung in the next iteration of Olay Regenerist's anti-ageing night cream.

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I jest, though, as the game isn't completely bogged down by the necessary evils of free-to-play. It isn't filled with countless capsule machines, asking you to gamble away precious currencies of different shapes and sizes. For a free-to-play title, it's an extremely slick operation that seems genuine in its intentions. It wants you to have a blast and it absolutely excels at it.

He might not rank very high in our Multiversus character tier list, but Lebron James is my go-to character, as I'm able to slam dunk Bugs Bunny and send him crashing into the stratosphere, as opposed to through a hoop. I can flick the ball through my legs, bashing opponents in brief bursts. I can tee up a shot and bonk Steven Universe over the head as he clambers back onto the stage. And then! As the ball ricochets off Steven's skull, I can leap into the air and catch the ball and sling it through a hoop, mega-bonking those below me with a powerful piledriver.

Finn, Arya Stark, Iron Giant, and Wonder Woman wait in the MultiVersus pre-game lobby screen.
You can level up each character as you play, unlocking perks that'll aid you and/or your teammates in battle. I'm unsure how to feel about them, as they both feel unimpactful and yet still represent small gameplay advantages that reward long-term players and punish newcomers.

Like Lebron, all the game's roster are thoughtfully designed, each able to string together moves that play off one another as well as their personalities. Each fits – sometimes loosely – into an archetype, like Taz who's a bruiser, or Wonder Woman who's a tank, or Lebron who's in the "experimental" camp. Arya Stark is an assassin, which means she's lightning fast and tricksy, able to backstab enemies for extra damage and dash to knives she's embedded in opponents. Yet she's hampered by squishiness, taking more damage than most which makes it easier for enemies to send her rocketing off the stage.

I've found Arya to be the embodiment of MultiVersus, too. She's nice to control, with satisfying attacks and a responsive feel in the air. I've even taken the time to learn some of her moves in the training area, which I never normally do. This is motivated by both wanting to get better and wanting to better understand what the heck's going on in the heat of battle, as the game is guilty of parceling up critical information into boxes and strips of text that flash up on screen briefly or linger below your character.

Free-to-play licensed brawler MultiVersus goes into open beta on July 26th, 2022.
MultiVersus is home to a few stages, most of which act more like nice backdrops than they do bespoke arenas that dictate play. There's a bit of shape-shifting here and there, but you're not going to be crying out for your favourite stages.

One way the game opts to differentiate itself from the competition is through the abundance of abilities with cooldowns, status effects, and buzzwords unique to each character's moveset. Whether you're playing Arya or the Iron Giant, you're hit with words like "Turn Attack!", or you'll see a box containing the image of a bolt - which contains a circle - which contains a number that gradually fills. These features aren't so different from MOBAs like League Of Legends or other fighting games, I suppose. But in a game that's as chaotic as MultiVersus, critical information gets lost in the noise. Even if you don't care for mastery, opting instead to button mash like the best of us, it then morphs into even more noise.

If you take the time to flick open each character's moveset, you'll make better sense of the mess. But the game forgets that most folks aren't going to bother, which represents this weird tension between seriousness and silly the game can't quite shake. The archetypes folks fall into seem like an attempt to make things esports-ier, with support characters like Reindog and Velma performing well with a partner but falling into mediocrity on their own.

Mario and Link do battle in Super Smash Bros Ultimate.
Sakurai didn't work himself to the bone for nothing. Smash Bros is a top-tier fighting game.

Everything comes back to the unavoidable Smash Bros comparison. Smash Bros does more with less, finding depth in its roster's moveset by tweaking foundations everyone abides by. Yes, you might have Cloud and Shulk with their Limit Breaks and combat stances, but for the most part its characters toy with speed and range and feel. Where MultiVersus would've given Ganondorf – a slow, lumbering Smash character who hits hard – a handful of dark energy cooldowns or an executable reincarnation mechanic, Smash captures his character through impeccable engineering; pick up the controller and it's unmistakably The Lad Who Hits Like A Truck.

Yet, Smash Bros has a barrier to entry. It's a full-priced Nintendo Switch exclusive, where MultiVersus is on basically every platform and costs zilch to boot. This is huge! And despite my misgivings, it still has a level of polish that surpasses any free-to-play Smash-likes. Learn to cut through its barrage of boxes and cooldowns, and you're left with a cracking fighting game that's only going to evolve over the coming months.

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