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MultiVersus is great — but a few small changes could make it fantastic

Following the Smash Bros. template is no simple thing

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A collage of fighters from MultiVersus, including Finn and Jake, Wonder Woman, Superman, Shaggy, Garnet, and Velma. Image: Player First Games/Warner Bros. Games

After a $100k tournament at Evo, reaching 20 million players, and the release of a Rick-less Morty, it’s impossible to say that MultiVersus has lost any of its momentum since its launch. Smash Bros. makes it look easy, but actually, it’s not. Unlike other platform fighters, particularly those containing so many IPs (looking at you, Nickelodeon), MultiVersus has made strides to ensure it doesn’t fumble the bag now or far into the future. While this game is far from the L that was Street Fighter 5’s launch, that doesn’t mean the shit is all sweet. MultiVersus has a few issues that anyone who has played fighting games for years can see instantly. In fact, the game’s strongest points lie everywhere but the gameplay.

The keys to success

MultiVersus is a free-to-play competitive fighting game. Like other games under this umbrella, this means the title is under a lot of pressure to stick with its audience so it can make money for future support and updates. This may seem like a straightforward task for a game with as many crossover characters as MultiVersus (and more on the way), but it’s not simply inevitable.

What MultiVersus game director Tony Huynh has done with the development team at Player First Games is make lemonade into much tastier pink lemonade. The developers took an idea bound to work, especially in a media age obsessed with multiverses and crossovers, and they built upon it to make it even better. The game is free, with innovative and fair monetary practices for the genre; it sports tons of fan service and familiar faces; it’s constantly updated (with even larger updates to come), and — unlike many fighting game developers — the developer stays on top of communication with its player base. I’d go so far as to say MultiVersus has had one of the strongest fighting game launches and online presences in a very long time, thanks to the advantage of Warner Bros. money and a team that cares.

Batman and Shaggy in a still from the cinematic trailer for MultiVersus Image: Player First Games/Warner Bros. Games

Mechanical pains

While everything around the game is just about perfect, the issues with MultiVersus come from the gameplay within the package. The formula is a simple one — made for all audiences to jump right into and play, just like its Smash forebear. However, playing for an extended period will show that some of MultiVersus’ balance decisions may not be the most mechanically sound for this game or for the platform fighter genre in general.

One problem is the lack of attack moves. Characters in MultiVersus have access to fewer attacks than the fighters in games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and even Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl. While this may not seem like a big problem, it’s stacked on top of an attack decay mechanic. This means that a move weakens after a specific number of consecutive uses. For example, if you’re constantly down-air attacking, that move will become less effective.

Attack decay is also present in titles like Smash Bros. Ultimate, but the relatively small move pool in MultiVersus makes it into an issue. Less choice of effective moves equals more move stagnation. Not only does Smash Bros. have more moves, but its attack decay tray is larger. In the case of MultiVersus, the tray seems to be around a 4 or 5 attack queue, versus Smash’s 9. This is in place to discourage players from ignoring character movesets and focusing on using their most potent attacks, but it falls flat with so few attacks to choose from.

Batman, Harley Quinn, Jake the Dog, and Arya Stark battle in a screenshot from MultiVersus Image: Player First Games/Warner Bros. Games

Another issue that arises in the battle system is the dodge. This mechanic serves as a mobility tool, giving characters a way to escape pressure, as well as access to techniques like wavelanding and airdashing. But unlike a game like Smash Bros., players in MultiVersus can near-instantly act after taking advantage of the dodge and the invincibility frames it grants. These invincibility frames also last long after the dodge, so it’s a hefty task for the player on the other end to read and punish this great escape option, especially on top of how fast-paced and visual-heavy this game already is. The strength and lack of effective cooldown on this mechanic makes itself especially apparent in 1v1 matches where both players are dodging out of literally everything. Because, yes, you can dodge out of literally everything including the standard jab combo strings.

Two Batman characters square off in MultiVersus’ Lab training mode Image: Player First Games/Warner Bros. Games via Polygon

Speaking of cooldown, let’s bring the final big issue to the front. While cooldowns on moves themselves are acceptable in the world of MultiVersus, their visual implementation could use a bit of work. Looking at the prior critiques, you’ll see a list of things to look out for in an average game of MultiVersus: What moves are stagnant? Did my opponent dodge? Is my dodge on cooldown? Is my opponent’s dodge on cooldown? Not to mention that you’ll need to watch your partner, your opponent’s characters, your character, and all the looney items on the screen. It’s not easy to manage watching multiple cooldown meters on top of all that. It doesn’t help that it’s not the easiest to see the small cooldown meters in the UI, either.

Since the release of MultiVersus, other players have noticed similar problems. Common recommendations include getting rid of the cooldowns and bringing in a stamina bar tied to specials and the dodge, giving players just one meter to watch on top of their attack decay. All I’m sure of is that MultiVersus is a few mechanical missteps away from being an unparalleled fighting game experience on all sides of the multiverse.

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