At first glance it's hard to tell if Warner Bros. MultiVersus, a Smash Bros.-like fighting game featuring various Warner-owned characters like Batman, that yellow dog off of Adventure Time, and Shaggy, is more of a quick hustle piggybacking on misplaced metaverse hype, or an actually-quite-fun video game. Either way we were equal parts intrigued and horrified by that latest trailer, so we've been playing a little of its closed alpha in our spare time and honestly, we're still not sure what to make of it. So we decided to have a chat and figure things out.
Martin Robinson: So, multiverses are quite the thing now I guess? I just went to see Everything Everywhere All at Once at the weekend, which was great! And then I just played Warner Bros' MultiVersus, which is also a thing…
Chris Tapsell: Loony Toons Metaweb 3.0 you mean
Martin: That's the badger! It's a fairly simple concept to grasp, really, though I hope you don't mind me being reductive - it's Warner Bros. does Smash Bros. with its vast amount of IP. They missed a trick by not calling it Warner Smash Bros?
Chris: They did, but the lawyers probably wouldn't have loved that. The first thing I get from this game is 'lawyers', actually. Somehow this game feels more like Intellectual Property than usual, even compared to Smash or Marvel vs. Capcom or anything like that. That is my least favourite thing about it so far - but there are some things I like!
Martin: Yeah for sure - it is a lot more likeable than I first anticipated. But before I start saying nice things, it's worth pointing out how much it really does feel like IP: The Game, with not too much thought put into how coherent it'll be. Which is part of the fun, but it did remind me of those amazingly bizarre cameos in the Space Jam sequel like the Droogs from A Clockwork Orange and a nun from Ken Russell's The Devils. It's a bit crass, I guess, and using IP for the sake of it.
Chris: It is, it feels like it exists at least as much because of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Fortnite (which have also both featured in one another?!), as it does Smash. It's like Smash Bros. is the execution but the idea that came first was: how can we do a crossover of our IP because clearly there is a filthy amount of money to be made from that. Also thank you for justifying my decision to not watch the Space Jam sequel.
Martin: Oh mate. So you don't know what happens at the end? I won't spoil it here but it goes places (don't worry I haven't watched it - I've just read the synopsis on Wikipedia which is how I consume most media these days).
Chris: The Donlan school of film studies! I hope it ends with Tom off of Tom and Jerry spanking Batman off the court with a frying pan because that's how most of my games have gone here.
Martin: Despite my sniffiness - I'm a sniffy sort in general - it is fun seeing Superman fight against Scooby Doo's Velma. What's always set Smash apart is the detail and love for the source material, and while the details in MultiVersus aren't quite as polished you can at least sense that passion beneath it all. It's a daft thing and it knows it, and has fun with it.
Chris: Yeah there is something here. I think what it's missing is all the extra stuff beyond the characters in Smash - the stage hazards and designs and the items, which I know are divisive in that community but these things all add a bit of texture. But the actual characters, I think, are done pretty well? I played Taz the Tazmanian Devil for a bit (fav Loony Toon of mine growing up, don't ask why because I don't know) and he was great! I turned someone into a roast chicken by repeatedly pouring salt and pepper on them, this is the good stuff right here. (And more seriously this is also where there is a bit of actual depth? The characters genuinely play quite differently, there are discernable classes, including Support because this game's actually more about co-op and teaming up instead of free-for-alls. Taz has a whole playstyle built around how Seasoned enemies are…)
Martin: Who doesn't love Taz? For some reason I went back to the Mega Drive Taz-Mania game recently, because that's the sort of thing I like to do with my weekends, so he was one of my first picks too (after Superman, of course). And likewise I was really pleasantly surprised by the depth and variety within the initial roster, and the amount of playstyles supported. I think what impressed me most, though, was how it does feel distinct from Smash Bros. I cynically went into it thinking it'd be a straight knock-off but it does have some great ideas of its own, namely the emphasis on co-op and team play with support roles, buffs and something as simple but profound as being able to tether to your partner to stop them being smashed off-screen.
Chris: I really liked that idea, it completely changes how you think about it because suddenly you have to decide whether to prioritise the support and leave the 'dps' one (usually Arya Stark and her weird pies…) or just clobber the dps. It's also clever because this is probably a game that kids will want to play, and now parents can actually join in without having to accept that at some point you will be beating up your child for first place. I know you can 2-v2 but in terms of proper support classes and building around co-op, it's arguably the one thing missing from Smash? Big fan.
Martin: You're now making me feel bad for the number of times I obliterated my 8-year-old nephew when playing Smash Bros.-
Chris: Don't feel bad for this, he must learn.
Martin: Haha! But yeah it does really feel like MultiVersus' special sauce, and the way it's supported by various systems gives matches a real flavour of their own - I love it when an enemy character's teetering on the brink of a KO and you try to gang up on them, or conversely being that person who's about to get destroyed and playing a game of chase around the level while your partner backs you up.
Chris: Yep! That stuff's great. I wish there was a bit more variety to the environments - they are all basically that core Smash Bros. stage with the ground plus a couple side platforms - but it is just an alpha and all that. It's also quite forgiving in terms of falling off the sides? I wonder if that's another play for the slightly younger audience because it's one of the toughest learning curves when you're totally new to this type of game, learning to not just walk off the edge and die. But it does put a bit more emphasis on building up damage on someone and landing a smash, rather than the platforming side of things that comes into it in Smash Bros. These are slightly smaller things compared to the more egregious stuff though, which as ever with these games is the monetisation.
Martin: Yeah, it's of course worth pointing out that it is a free-to-play game, and I'm not entirely sold on how it's going to work. There are caveats in that the shop isn't open and we don't have full visibility on how it'll all work, while after only a couple of hours play each we've not bothered the higher tiers of the battle pass unlocks, but the very fact perks which are used to power up your characters can be purchased will always make me feel a bit queasy.
Chris: The battle pass does feel a bit miserly - after a couple hours of online play I've not gone up a single level, I don't think - but like you say it is super early to judge that. There's quite a lot of general 'metagame' (blergh) stuff to MultiVersus as well which I'm still waiting to get my head around. It doesn't explain itself brilliantly, in the metagame or the game itself - I didn't even know what was giving me points in the free-for-all mode for a little while - but then that's true to the genre. Ultimately though it is just very fun and quick to get into. I'm hooked on Tom and Jerry, who are like a mix of Ice Climbers and Solid Snake? Flesh out the levels and character roster and hopefully dial back the whole grindy progression thing and I could genuinely play this with friends.
Martin: Yeah, that's the thing - I went into this expecting to just scoff at the ridiculousness of it, but I'm now sort of looking forward to the floodgates opening in the next part of the closed alpha test so I can tinker around with it some more. It does more than enough to distinguish itself from Smash Bros. to make it worthwhile, and it does enough with the characters on offer to have some surprising depth. I can't imagine sticking with it for too long, but the very fact I'm up for playing it again is surely a good sign. I'll still never quite get my head around some of the characters on offer - are the Droogs coming as part of the first wave of new content?