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MultiVersus is a Smash Bros. clone that feels like a smartphone game, spoiled by its monetisation

Losing purchase.

The Joker in MultiVersus
Image credit: Player First Games

MultiVersus has only been fully launched a week, but already there's an oasis of leaks - and player excitement - mapping out much of what's already set to arrive in the game next. Warner Bros' free-to-play platform fighter is designed as a nexus point for characters and franchises to come together and beat each other up, Super Smash Bros. style, with a rotating roster of unlocked combatants that changes every 24 hours. And it's this growing roster of famous faces that is clearly designed to be its star.

As someone who plays Fortnite on the daily, the concept of a live-service game sustained by a conveyor belt of crossover content is nothing new - and countless games are doing it. From Call of Duty: Warzone to Fall Guys mobile rip-off Stumble Guys, everyone is inviting Snoop Dogg or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to their party. Smash Bros. itself gave up being Nintendo-centric years ago, with Ultimate hosting everyone from Fallout's Vault Boy to Minecraft's Steve.

In MultiVersus, there's the expected representation from Warner Bros.' own stable of game franchises, with a base roster that bares striking resemblence to the publisher's previous multiverse effort Lego Dimensions - its enjoyable toys-to-life project that was sadly wound down before its time. There's plenty of faces from the DC Universe, Scooby-Doo, Adventure Time and Gremlins, then, with more likely to follow, alongside cartoon favourites such as the Looney Tunes gang, Tom & Jerry, plus Rick and Morty.

Stars collide, pies fly. It's the official Multiversus launch trailer.Watch on YouTube

But each of these characters costs premium currency to unlock permanently - or dozens and dozens of hours per character if you want to grind out a different currency for free. To buy all the characters that are currently locked for me would require 18,250 Gleamium, which I could attain by purchasing each of the top two Gleamium bundles (£39.99 and £79.99) - for an overall total of £120. After that, there are additional costumes and customisation options for each character on top of their base price, such as fighter-specific emotes or to have said character wearing a Joker T-shirt.

Perhaps it's to be expected from MultiVersus, as a free-to-play experience. It has a battle pass, of course, though that is largely based around optional cosmetics. But for me, to see this level of monetisation or unrealistic level of grinding up front just to play all of the game's base roster is an instant turn off. Even if its developer has said the option to buy extra lives was a "bug", why would I buy the battle pass when it contains cosmetic styles for characters I can't play as, if they're not currently available in rotation? Why would I want to invest in a mountain of purchases now, knowing the roster is only going to get bigger and more expensive? Why does Harley Quinn already have six individually purchasable styles?

I haven't been able to play all of the characters yet, but over the first week I've logged in most days and have given most available options a go. You can currently get Banana Guard from Adventure Time as a launch bonus, which is nice, and he's scratching my Meta Knight itch. Harley Quinn's baseball bat combat feels satisfying, as is her sideways slide/gun maneouvere. Jason Voorhees - something of a leftfield inclusion - meanwhile feels appropriately meaty, with huge fists and powerful throws that send opponents rocketing out of the arena.

Joker, voiced by Mark Hamill, is clearly an focus for the game in launch event matches and available cosmetic costumes.Watch on YouTube

But it's hard to find a groove with characters when they're only playable for so long, before they inevitably rotate out and get replaced with someone else. There's already a roster of 27 fighters, with those aforementioned leaks suggesting many more are waiting in the wings. And at the same time, while the little interactions between set allies and foes you get in Rifts (MultiVersus' limited-time event take on Smash Bros.' classic PVE offering) are nice, there's no real sense of interaction between characters in matches themselves.

For MultiVersus, its cross-franchise selection of characters is just another idea it has cribbed - and lets be clear, MultiVersus has cribbed a lot from Smash Bros. Anyone who's wailed on Jigglypuff as Wario will recognise the familiar gameplay on offer here, similar stages, identical mini-games... Even the stage announcer sounds like they hired the same guy.

And to get to all of that - all of its purchasable things, even - you have to wade through a mess of menus with rewards of XP dollops and gameplay-adjusting gems waiting to be unlocked on numerous screens, each telling you that you're almost close enough to some other prize - if only you have another go. At least at launch, the game's rewards seem geared towards you coming back over multiple days in quick succession (I fear, after losing my daily streak, that a certain costume for Agent Smith will no longer be free).

The result of all this is that MultiVersus feels like a smartphone game - not because of how it looks or runs (though I've had a few hitches and hold-ups playing on Xbox Series X), but because of how its monetisation is such a primary factor in its design, and an inescapable element of what you're able play each day. Like many live-service games, MultiVersus would really like me to come back every day, grind its matches and be the only game I actually invest time in. It's a shame, as there's a solid concept and cool characters underneath it all - however similar it is to Smash Bros. I just don't have the money, or the time for it.

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