Right now it's 11 p.m. where I live, and typically I'd be chilling on the sofa or getting ready for bed, but my mind is ablaze with that rare joy of discovering a new video game to fall in love with.
That game, to my utter amazement, is MultiVersus, a Smash Bros.-inspired platform fighter that leverages Warner Brothers' sizeable IP library for its roster of colorful characters. Send Batman into war against Tom and Jerry, pit Wonder Woman against Arya Stark from Game of Thrones. Team up in co-op as Jake and Finn from Adventure Time, and come to blows with Shaggy and Velma from Scooby-Doo.
It's absurd. It's surreal. It's surprisingly awesome. And it's free to play (and not pay to win) on Xbox and PC right now.
Wait, it's actually good?
After Nickelodeon's relatively pedestrian efforts with All-Star Brawl, it seemed increasingly likely that any attempt to cash in on the Super Smash Bros. unique fighter formula was inevitably doomed to failure, or at least obscurity. Smash Bros. has always been a franchise I had passive enjoyment of over the years, playing with friends and family locally on my GameCube back in the day.
Nintendo's ambivalence towards decent network infrastructure has put me off playing many of its most recent multiplayer efforts, given that as an adult, all my friends are spread all over, relying on the internet to play together. As such, Nintendo games are barely fit for purpose when it comes to online multiplayer. Nintendo has started work to improve its cloud, but at least for the single Nintendo game I would have wanted to play online this side of Pokemon, it may be too late for me.
MultiVersus has dedicated servers with rollback netcode, which absolutely wipes the floor with the hamster-powered infrastructure that Nintendo seems to prefer for its competitive games. Crucially, MultiVersus is actually at least comparable in quality to Super Smash Bros. — a feat I find myself completely aghast to commit to paper, given how so many have tried and failed to do justice to Nintendo's legendary fighter.
AHAHA I love Jake. Reppin' @TheJohnDiMaggio. #MultiVersus #Xbox pic.twitter.com/3QzwYpsYWgJuly 28, 2022
To start, I picked Jake as my first character, the stretchy doge from Adventure Time. I had no idea that his moveset was somewhat similar to Kirby from Smash Bros, complete with Kirby's swallowing move and the heavy downward special, which is replaced with random objects Jake can transform into. Winding up a charge attack with Jake produces that familiar and nostalgic shrill refrain that Smash Bros. baseball bat offers. Knocking enemies off the stage also produces colorful explosive plumes Smash Bros.-style as well, wholly unashamedly.
MultiVersus seems to know what Smash Bros. fans want, down to some little details, but it isn't afraid to innovate either. MultiVersus weaves in soft co-op gameplay beats allowing characters' moves to interact in a positive way. Wonder Woman can offer buffs to a co-op teammate for example, while Batman can use his grappling hook to save a fellow player from falling off the map.
The game is also wholly free to play, offering cosmetic boosts via a battle pass as is standard fare these days, alongside premium skins and characters on a free rotation. Refreshingly, are no loot boxes or gambling here. Given Warner Bros. previous behavior with monetization in some of its past games like Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, it's a surprise how fair the monetization in MultiVersus feels, at least for the time being.
My colleague Miles Dompier recently penned an article offering his thoughts on the beta as a more hardcore Smash Bros. player. He said that MultiVersus seemed like a rare Smash Bros. clone with actual long-term promise, and right now, the data seems to agree with him.
MultiVersus is blowing up on Xbox and PC right now
As of writing, MultiVersus' is having a supremely great run on Steam, tracking up to 150,000 players, according to SteamDB. Similarly, MultiVersus has climbed up the "most played free games" list on the Microsoft Store on Xbox, taking the number two spot behind Fall Guys (although I suspect it'll supplant Fall Guys in the coming days).
Warner Bros. is calling the current version of the game an open beta. However, it feels polished enough to be ready for prime time, despite the fact a couple of heroes are labeled experimental. There's a fairly large array of combatants and maps to choose from, with the promise of more characters and seasonal content down the line. There are Founder's Packs you can buy that unlock all of the fighters, alongside unique rewards for participating.
The soft launch somewhat reminds me of Fortnite back in the day, before the game pivoted hard to the battle royale formula we see it in today. Unlike Fortnite, though, MultiVersus seems incredible out of the gate, with tight combat, fun characterizations, and a truly limitless well of IP to tap into.
As one of the oldest media companies, Warner Bros. content library is among the biggest and broadest, and they've already tapped into some unlikely combos for MultiVersus. Where else can you get the family-friendly Taz the Tasmanian Devil sharing the stage with Arya Stark from the heavily R-rated Game of Thrones sex-meets-violence-and-then-more-sex TV show, albeit with some softened anime-style cartoon aesthetics?
This is the well of nostalgia this kind of game needs to ultimately be comparable to Smash Bros., which leans heavily into Nintendo IP and beyond to build its roster. Warner Bros. owns all of the D.C. universe, which includes characters like The Joker and The Sandman; the rights to major movie franchises like The Matrix, the Harry Potter universe, and Dune; and even owns Adult Swim, Cartoon Network. Heck, since WarnerMedia now owns the Food Network thanks to a recent gigantic merger, it could add Paula Deen with a frying pan and an electric whisk if it wanted.
In some ways, there's even more potential here for cameos and crossovers than Smash Bros. itself, and that's pretty exciting.
An end to Smash Bros. jealousy on Xbox and PC?
Smash Bros. is a major game on Nintendo platforms that didn't really have a strong competitor in its multiplayer, platform fighting space. There are some truly great Smash Bros.-likes out there — Rivals of Aether is great and Brawhalla is decent too — but, I can be Batman here, which is hard to argue against.
For the longest time, Smash Bros. has been a selling point of Nintendo systems, but finally, finally, after all these years, Xbox and Windows may have a comparable option in the space to scratch that unique platform fighting itch. And hey, it might evolve into one of the best Xbox games in history... as long as Warner Bros. doesn't drop the ball.
Battle as Batman, Shaggy, or the Iron Giant in this impressive take on the Smash Bros. platform fighting formula. Wholly free to play with optional cosmetics, MultiVersus might be the first game in years to give Smash Bros. some real competition.
Buy from: Xbox
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!