MultiVersus sucks
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MultiVersus is a dismal thing and demonstrates yet again how shallow (mainstream) gaming has become

Play better games. For everyone's sake.

11 mins read

“This is likely a huge turning point for the industry,” a guy on Twitter breathlessly enthuses, after it was revealed that MultiVersus has done quite well for itself at this early stage. Of course, it’s not uncommon for people to have breathlessly excited responses to games they kind of like after playing them for ten minutes. Spend enough time on Twitter and you will see just about every game with a decently big budget (and a lot of content) declared the Citizen Kane of Video Games™.

This one is particularly galling, though, because it’s about MultiVersus. Warner Bros.’ new and blatantly derivative clone of Smash Bros had better not be a turning point for this industry (though in saying all of this I suspect that despite my protests that guy is probably right and of course gaming will zig when it should have zagged). It’s free to play and contains a bunch of popular characters, so it’s hit 10 million downloads in “beta” stage, and apparently, all that a game needs to do now to become the new next Citizen Kane of Video Games™. It’s frustrating because that’s not how these things should work. If gaming was a medium worth respecting, “derivative and cynical,” would not be qualities we celebrate, even if they’re “free.”

MultiVersus is trash. It’s shallow, vapid, and instantly forgettable. If it wasn’t “free”, it would be rightfully torn a new one by just about everyone, as bad Smash Bros. clones have in the past. However, people apparently have so little respect for themselves and their limited time on the planet that they forget to put a value on their time in judging the cost of a “free” game, designed to become habit-forming and exploit endless hours out of people’s lives. Because, to be clear, that is how a game like this draws in a fortune. It turns “free” players into the product and ensures that as many of them as possible keep playing so that those “whales” – the ones paying for the “battle passes” – have an optimal time themselves while playing. What amazes me is that anyone would want to be a whale and pay for something that plays this poorly, but the perception of value is a hell of a drug in late-stage capitalism.

I was curious about MultiVersus, so I did the right thing, downloaded it, and played a couple of games. This is an ugly, messy, cynical and nasty bit of work that doesn’t even try and hide the fact it’s a money-spinning content platform first and foremost, piece of entertainment second. And as for it being a work of art? Hah! No. That never crossed the mind of anyone working on this project.

The default way to play is 2 vs. 2 online, where you pick a character from Warner Bros. stable of characters and team up with someone to take on two opponents across a range of stages that are also based on Warner Bros’ properties. There is one interesting quality about this, in that by making the focus 2 vs. 2 there are some characters that have abilities that help their partner on the field, making for a more interesting and collaborative teamwork dynamic than most games of this genre feature. Aside from that, however, the developers have soullessly aped everything that made Smash Bros. the series that it is… just without any of the interest in producing an interesting game.

The action is much faster and more furious than Smash Bros. I suspect that’s an effort to hide how utterly dull most of the fighters and their movesets are. When you can barely follow the action because it’s so chaotic it hardly matters that, for just one example, the game developers took the incredible character of Shaggy from Scooby Do and made his most distinctive attack a… sandwich toss. He pulls a sandwich out of the ground and throws it at his opponents. Over in Smash Bros you’ve got a dozen of attacks for each character that is pure fan service and that really plays up their character, and here you’ve got one of the best cartoon characters ever playing shotput with a sandwich. Shaggy stopped being fun to play with after one match and that just should not happen with characters like this.

MultiVersus Is Terrible

Of course, the developers never cared one whit about doing the characters justice. They knew that they would hook players in by throwing a couple of currencies, level-up bars, daily missions, “rewards”, and season passes at them. Like with every free-to-play game, the menu screens outside of battle are a UI nightmare, designed to confound players by bamboozling them with so much information that it’s hard to piece through it. This is, of course, the plan, since the more you can overload the senses the less a person is likely to notice how shallow the underlying game is. But I noticed. Oh yes. MultiVersus is a shallow grind, that trades off any meaningful sense of reward for endless progression and carefully dolled out “rewards”, meaning that it is relying on the rush of dopamine to the system every bit as much as the gambling industry. And when was the last time anyone said that a poker machine was a Citizen Kane™?

It’s an ugly game, too. MultiVersus’ character models could be dragged and dropped into Fortnite, Dauntless, or any other mainstream free-to-play game. There seems to be an art school out there somewhere churning out graduates that are very good at producing “best practice” aesthetics for maximum player engagement. Picasso would have wept. There’s none of the vibrancy or apparent effort into the levels, either. The developers seem to have arbitrarily selected a Warner Bros. property, and stuck a generic “competitive and therefore fair” arena over the top. The entire level selection of MultiVersus is the equivalent of the boring 10 per cent of the Smash Bros levels. The reason you play Smash Bros is for the rest, where the developers decided to be interesting and appropriate to the source material, and weren’t overly concerned it the level was particularly viable for esports use.

Perhaps the most telling issue with the game is that it absolutely sucks in local multiplayer. The ability to do so is buried off to the side of the available play modes, as the developers clearly want you to overlook it. Once you’re in there, you’re incredibly limited in how you can play. There are no bots to fill out numbers and very few gameplay customisation options. I have fond memories of playing 60-minute epics of Smash Bros with a group of friends, and while that is an extreme option, being reduced to playing a 7-minute, four knock-out round with my wife, because that’s all MultiVersus allows, is just woeful. The reason there’s so little invested into this mode is obvious once you realise that all the characters are available immediately there, whereas with the main online mode you have to unlock them (using currency, real or “earned”). That is to say that there’s no way to monetise the local multiplayer. The developers put something in there because it was mandatory for this kind of fighting game, but it’s worthless for more than ten minutes of play, and deliberately so.

MultiVersus is bad value despite being "free"

MultiVersus is, like every other free-to-play game, an opposite-direction ATM masquerading as an entertainment product. It’s going to continue to ask you for money as long as it’s popular, and in return, you’re going to have the pleasure of looking at a cynically assembled load of junk that relies on exploiting licenses rather than celebrating them. For some reason, there are other media outlets giving this game a review score, despite it being in “beta” form. I won’t, because even though the game is already taking money from those that it’s exploiting (which, to me, means it shouldn’t be considered a “beta”), I’m not going to change our editorial policy. I don’t see any way this game can be redeemed, however, and the consumers have already told the developer that they have the appropriately mindless love for the product that capitalism demands, so all that’s ever going to be done to this is to add more content. What a waste of time, money, and a potentially fun set of licenses for a multiplayer brawler. A complete waste.

 

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Matt S. is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of DDNet. He's been writing about games for over 20 years, including a book, but is perhaps best-known for being the high priest of the Church of Hatsune Miku.

  • When you think about what people like about this game, many of those traits are not intrinsic to the gameplay. Things like “everyone’s playing it”, or instant queue times (overwatch, for example, became impractical when queue times reach almost 10 min); the fact people know and have nostalgia for the characters despite not playing games; they can play with their friends despite not everyone having a switch, a copy of Smash, or the same platform.
    Even with an inferior, mediocre game, mediocre is still good enough for most people – because Nintendo spent the last 20 years building upon this genre.

    That’s the thing with capitalism, you don’t choose what goes on the supermarket shelf. Mediocre rises to the top because the quality they are looking for when choosing what to put in the shelf in front of you is efficiency in getting sold. Not a quality from your user experience, but a quality from the salesman experience.

    • Yep, you make a great point. Capitalism is not an inherent meritocracy, and the best quality stuff isn’t necessarily the most popular, respected, or marketable.

      Nonetheless, we gotta do our bit to push back. Even if it’s like trying to sweep away waves at the beach <_<

    • Thank God somebody else can see this game for what it is the only peope they are fooling are kids who don’t know any better

  • Good Lord. This looks more like the Space Jam 2 of video games than Citizen Kane. 😒 As a side-note, how much you wanna bet 90% of these “X is the Citizen Kane of video games” people have never even seen Citizen Kane?

    • Absolutely none. For one thing they think that Citizen Kane means mainstream big production values (absolutely not), and seem to misunderstand why Citizen Kane is so revered. It’s not because it was good (though it was), it was that it set the standard for so much of how film is analysed… decades after it was initially a bomb.

      Seriously, NieR: Replicant is the one that we have that is closest a Citizen Kane. (though most of the people we’re talking about would never lower themselves to play a Japanese game either lol).

  • Can’t say this appeals to me and I’m instantly wary of ‘free to play’, but I’ve heard it’s perhaps the best Smash clone – which isn’t saying much but also isn’t without value when Smash is only available on one platform really. I’ve also heard some proper fighting game fans really praise this, so there’s presumably at least some depth there (though I’m sure plenty of others are critical of it).

    And of course let’s not forget that this isn’t finished (if games like this can ever be considered ‘finished’) so some of your complaints might be addressed eventually.

    I dunno, I guess I can’t say too much because I’ve not played it, but I feel like there’s loads of far more objectionable and probably far worse games around lately.

    • “And of course let’s not forget that this isn’t finished (if games like this can ever be considered ‘finished’) so some of your complaints might be addressed eventually.”

      My concern is that my criticisms are pretty foundational to the game, so it would take more than just tweaking the balance of characters to fix them. From experience that doesn’t really happen (like we’re talking FFXIV being pulled and rebuilt from scratch here).

      You are right that things may well turn around and I will write an article to say as much if they do. I don’t have much of a choice but to keep an eye on a game like this, much like I do Fortnite and LoL and the rest of them.

      And while there probably are more objectionable games out there, you get the feeling that this one is going to end up being a Fortnite-like influential game. Given how badly Fortnight f***ed everything to do with video games, despite itself being not, technically, the most objectionable game out there, I felt it was worth getting this record of statement out there so I can refer back to if five years down the track and be, like “told you so”. 😛

  • You make several very eloquent points dissecting some of the major issues with the game. As someone who has been playing, and enjoying, Multiversus, I especially appreciate calling out the predatory monetization that would make even most free-to-play games blush (as well as the rather bland and uninspired stage design, although at least, unlike Nickelodeon’s attempt at an IP Smash clone, they feature music from the properties they represent…)

    I actually stumbled on this article a few days ago and returned to leave this comment, because one part of the review hasn’t sat right with me — “I suspect that’s an effort to hide how utterly dull most of the fighters and their movesets are. When you can barely follow the action because it’s so chaotic it hardly matters that, for just one example, the game developers took the incredible character of Shaggy from Scooby Doo and made his most distinctive attack a… sandwich toss.”

    While every other critique of the game feels entirely on-point and supported by evidence (even if I have different opinions!), suggesting the game has a bland disinterest in the characters it represents, and using Shaggy as the sole example, struck me as disingenuous. If there is one thing that MultiVersus does right, and in fact one thing it has received unanimous praise for even from its detractors, it is the incredible level of faithfulness and creativity that has gone into each character’s movesets and animations. From Batman’s forward attack briefly striking a pose from the cover of a comic series to Tom and Jerry’s attacks being pulled directly from the cartoons as they try to fight each other, dealing damage collaterally, every character feels like themselves and oozes personality. Virtually every move and animation for every single character is pulled directly, often frame-for-frame, from their appearances in their respective properties. Many of the more “cartoony” characters even have stretch and smear frames, a common technique in 2D animation that is wholly unnecessary, and in fact difficult to execute, in 3D animation.

    Shaggy, your sole example, happens to be the sole exception. His moveset leans very heavily into the “Ultra Instinct Shaggy” meme, and he is evidently designed to have as basic and straightforward of a kit as possible. I think critiquing Shaggy’s depiction specifically as bland and unfaithful to his character is entirely valid (and the meme got old quite fast), although a similar criticism could be held against Smash, as Mario, intentionally the most basic character, doesn’t feel quite like himself as the rest of the roster. I don’t expect you to ever return to the game, nor do I think it would change your mind, but if you did, I would suggest looking at any of the other character’s movesets (and if it’s faithful Scooby-Doo representation you’re after, Velma’s kit is far more creative).

    • I really didn’t get what you got out of the characters. As you can see from the clip above, I also played with Wonder Woman, and a bunch of characters in local multiplayer, where they were all nice and unlocked for me. I just didn’t get the personality that I was looking for out of them, unfortunately.

  • I was actually moderately impressed with MultiVersus from a technical perspective when I tried it, and I have little doubt that it will be a success for all the unfortunate reasons you argue.

    However, after I’d finished writing about it, I immediately uninstalled it, because I realised that nothing about it felt like it *mattered*. I won a couple of games and felt absolutely nothing. I didn’t feel like I’d progressed, that I’d advanced in the game or anything like that. The whole thing just felt utterly meaningless. This is something that is common to most competitive multiplayer games for me, but it felt especially apparent in MultiVersus — especially when Smash exists and provides plenty of things to do for the solo player.

    I do think there’s a place for games like this, and I also think free-to-play makes a certain amount of sense for games based on an extensive and expanding character roster (honestly I’d rather that than pay $60 for a mainstream fighting game then another several hundred dollars over the course of the next few years just to get all of the characters and for the game to be complete) — but “future of the industry”? Nah. This will continue to be a thing, but it’s by no means going to define the whole industry.

    I hope, at least.

    • I do agree that there’s a place for stuff like this. However, I would prefer to see them be less blatant about how “we’re a content platform! Content! Platform!” about it. It really came across as so cynical to me, even though I agree that it was well made.

    • Personally it felt soulless to me. I’m not even a huge fan of smash, but even in the offline and practice modes you can see just as much and love care was put into as the multiplayer aspect.

      The UI is awful and feels lifeless. The characters are so boring to play as. Shaggy has decades worth of characteristics to play off and make a unique character, yet they go with a meme for part of his move set.

  • This entire article sounds like… “Get gud” to me…. It sounds like you don’t understand the nuances of fighting games. Sure, is multiverse lacking a bit if content, I can concede that. But the core gameplay is a solid competitive platform fighter. The best since rivals of aether (smash is always good)

    If you play it to improve and treat it as a fighting game, it’s great. But I can see why casuals think it’s a button mashing mess… But it’s just not. Otherwise top smash players, nakat and void, wouldn’t be consistently winning.

    • Well, given that my criticism of the game is actually the monetisation, the cynical use of licensing, the unappealing aesthetics, what the free-to-play structure does to the progression systems, and the overall vibe of the game, I’m not sure you did much more than look at the stupid video I took and forgot to read the rest of the article.

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