‘Multiversus’ Isn’t Just a ‘Smash Bros.’ Clone, It’s Good On Its Own Terms

'Multiversus' frequently makes me irrationally mad at Lebron James, which takes a lot from an Ohioan
Shaggy hangs in the air, going Super Saiyan a
Screenshot by Warner Bros. Games

Multiversus made me empathize with the guy who shot Batman’s parents, which is how I know it is a solid fighting game. After being projectile spammed and pinball combo’ed by the caped crusader’s batarang, I too would consider having a quick chat with the Wayne family in a back alley. That I am able to, so completely, despise the experience of playing against a good Batman player means that Multiversus has given its players the exact tools they need to make interesting decisions and exciting fights, which is what fighting games are all about. Whether those players choose to use those tools for interesting or rage inducing ends is up to them.

Advertisement

Multiversus is a “platform fighter,” which refers to the particular genre of fighting games descended from Nintendo’s ultra-popular Super Smash Bros. series, which focus on knocking your opponent out of an arena as opposed to reducing their health to zero. Super Smash Bros. is, for most people, an inherently casual game. One in which Joker, Persona 5’s protagonist, can shoot Mario Mario (from Super Mario) with a loaded gun, and everyone has to just roll with that. However, while the genre’s initial popularity was defined in part by its large rosters of recognizable characters and more casual approach to design and balance, over time it has developed a vibrant competitive landscape—a landscape which more modern takes on the genre look to take ample advantage of. Enter Multiversus.

The game entered open beta just a few short months after the final patch for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which has finally ended active development and freed series creator Masahiro Sakurai from his platform fighter prison. This has created a bit of a power vacuum, one that has been filled by games like Brawlhalla, Rivals of Aether, and Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, none of which have really managed to recapture not only the magic of Smash, but the consistent player-base. Not until Multiversus, that is.

Multiversus has all the makings of a real Smash successor, its 2v2 format is a strong gameplay hook, it has a cast of recognizable characters, and, so far, its character movesets are excellent. The game’s playerbase is evidence of that. While other platform fighters struggle to break more than a few hundred, at best around 10,000, concurrent players on Steam, Multiversus has consistently been pulling around 50,000 players since it entered open beta last week. While this is due in part to its free-to-play structure, pro-players, most notably SonicFox, believe the game has serious potential as a competitive game.

Advertisement

I immediately latched onto Arya Stark, a melee assassin with serious combo potential but who struggles with actually finishing enemies off. Arya’s gameplay is built around three central mechanics, she deals additional damage to enemies when attacking from behind, her throwing knife, which she can teleport to, and her ability to steal an enemy’s face, giving her access to some of their moves and a powerful, but slow, stun. These abilities allow Arya a ton of versatility, but require a lot of focus and attention to use properly. She feels like Arya Stark, known child-assassin, should feel.

Arya’s closest Smash contemporaries are Lucina, an extremely fast, combo heavy sword character, and Joker, Persona 5’s terrifyingly quick protagonist, neither of which I played much during my time with the game. Competitive Super Smash Bros. is, like many fighting games, extremely fast, and requires really strong execution to play properly. Characters like Joker and Lucina only speed things up further, requiring a ton of precision to play well. Multiversus, on the other hand, is slightly slower than Smash, characters are floatier, but that floatiness allows for a lot of precision control without the execution requirements of Smash. Drifting around an opponent’s attack, or delaying your own attack while in the air, are significantly easier in Multiversus than they are in Smash, giving more players the opportunity to make active, interesting decisions with little mechanical investment.

Finn the human swings his sword at a safe, which has been flung at him by Bugs Bunny.

Screenshot by Warner Bros. Games

Arya is the kind of character I always wanted to play in Smash, but often struggled to, instead focusing on slower, weightier characters like Terry Bogard. This is not, however, to suggest that Multiversus is lacking in slower characters. Superman, for example, is an absolute nightmare to play against. He takes less damage and is heavier than most characters, while having higher overall knockback and lower maneuverability. He is, in essence, the worst possible character for Arya to go up against aside from a dedicated projectile character. I despise playing against  Superman. He fills me with rage and I am glad that Krypton was destroyed. His ability to grab you while in the air, carry you, and then punch you off-stage, is infuriating. His ability to grab you, and then throw you into the kill-zone at the top of the stage is also infuriating. He has ice breath, which is easy to deal with but can also fuck off on principle. He is an irritating bastard, which, as any fighting game player knows, means he is pretty competently designed, if a bit overtuned.

Every character feels as distinctly designed as Arya and Superman. Bugs Bunny is a projectile and trap character who will ruin your day. Tom & Jerry are a projectile, puppet character duo who make me want to unhinge my jaw like a snake. Shaggy is, shockingly, a stellar character built almost entirely around “Ultra Instinct Shaggy,” a popular meme where he powers up like Goku and beats the shit out of a bunch of bikers. Multiversus is both cleverly designed and well aware of its goofiness, and that makes me deeply hopeful for its future.

Other successors to Smash have emerged, and then disappeared. They have been developed by massive fans of the game’s competitive scene, and have been ambitious and strange and good, for a time. However, none of them have landed in the way Multiversus seems to be landing. It has recognizable characters to draw in a casual audience, it is frequently funny and always strange, and it has enough meat on its bones to finally give competitive platform fighter fans something to latch onto again. Most importantly, Lebron James is there, as a former Ohioan, it is my civic duty to stan.