Starting today, Warner Bros. Games is taking the formal veil off its worst-kept video game secret in years: Multiversus. When we saw the leaks about this upcoming free-to-play PC and console game, which stars various WB and Time Warner intellectual property in a cartoony, Smash Bros.-style arena fighter, we had our reservations. Was WB seriously trying to compete with Nintendo’s biggest fighting game by pitting Arya Stark against… Shaggy from Scooby-Doo? Whose dream cartoon face-off is that?
A few days ago, WB invited us to go hands-on to see for ourselves what the game is like ahead of today’s launch of a closed alpha test to address those kinds of questions and more. So far, we’ve come away impressed and surprised. In a world that didn’t necessarily need another Smash Bros. clone, the devs at Player First Games have seemingly cracked the code—and made something that could neatly coexist with Nintendo’s massive hit, if not surpass it. (Even better, at first blush, the F2P stuff seems tolerable!)
Less blocking, more cooperating
Most of the “arena fighter” genre basics, as established by Smash Bros., are accounted for in WB’s latest fighting game. Instead of wearing down an energy bar à la Street Fighter, Multiversus players try to “ring out” their foes by racking up damage and setting up knockout blows. Movement is pretty Super Mario-like in terms of dashing and jumping between floating platforms, and players have a range of basic and special attacks that don’t require complex joystick and button combos.
The biggest differences in Multiversus come from the game’s focus on two-on-two fighting, as opposed to the one-on-one and free-for-all combat traditionally seen in Smash clones. Most of Multiversus‘ current cast members have at least one maneuver in their arsenal that will benefit a teammate, though these moves also function as fine solo-combat options if you don’t team up with someone. Wonder Woman can generate a shield for allies; Garnet from Steven Universe can throw a bolt that both harms foes and boosts allies; while a new game-specific creature dubbed Reindog can fake like the Medic from Team Fortress 2 and connect a power-boosting line to a teammate.
The rest of the game’s mechanics have been shifted from the Smash Bros. archetype to nudge players into using their special co-op powers. For one, shields don’t exist; you can’t stand back and hold a shield button down to block incoming projectiles, and you can’t tap a “perfect block” at the right time to counter a melee attack. Any team that has a defensive or shielding ability available will want to lean on that to some extent. A default “grab” button doesn’t exist in this game, either; certain characters have grabs as special abilities instead.