Multiversus is a curse breaker. Genre-defining titans with 89 playable characters and a rich history aside, platform fighters generally don’t feel as good as Multiversus. Brimming with character and charm, this crossover between some of Warner Bros.’s most popular properties defies the hollow, often lifeless status quo that plagues most other games in the genre. Beyond that, it delivers a deliriously fun, wildly creative take on the genre that’s sure to leave its mark on fighting games for years to come.
I remember when information about Multiversus first leaked a few months ago. Reading the game’s initial details with all the fresh fog of being woken up too early by an early-rising roommate, I thought to myself, “A free-to-play platform fighter with WB characters? There’s just no way,” and went back to sleep, convinced it was some strange dream or a well-crafted prank. I mean, come on—LeBron James and Bugs Bunny beating each other up in a free-to-play display of corporate-synergistic mayhem seemed too bizarre.
Cynically clutching my Super Smash Bros. fanboy pearls, I was worried even before I’d seen a second of in-game action. At the time, I was fresh off a disappointing crossover platform fighter in Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl. That game’s reportedly troubled and rushed development resulted in a final product so lackluster and shaky that its cast of lively characters like SpongeBob Squarepants or the Teenage Ninja Turtles felt dour. The last thing I wanted was another competitive-focused platform fighter to flop thanks to corporate oversight, and what little I knew about the game didn’t help.
I wasn’t just convinced that mismanagement could lead to a game that didn’t match its potential. With an immaturely fanboyish mindset, I believed that a crossover platform fighter couldn’t work without a Sakurai. After all, Smash is miraculously fun, tight and well-balanced. Still, that franchise—especially Ultimate—is an unparalleled celebration of its medium thanks in no small part to the clear love and care exuded from the minds behind it.
Of course, as more and more officially came out about the game I happily ate my words. While I can’t say I exactly have a strong connection to much of WB’s stable of IP like I do with Nintendo’s, Multiversus’s take on the platform fighter seemed so fresh that I couldn’t help but get excited. The key to that freshness is that Multiversus doesn’t try to eat Smash’s lunch. It feels like the first platform fighter that isn’t in some way trying to be Melee. While I don’t think Melee is the ultimate in Smash, let alone the genre, it’s the gold standard for many platform fighter developers when creating a new game because of its mainstream success and competitive longevity.
The basics are still there: damage your opponent as you try to knock them out of a ring inspired by a location from Rick and Morty or Adventure Time. Naturally, that’s easier said than done. If you’re not careful, Lebron James might knock you out of the ring with a well-placed shot or the Iron Giant could fall on you like a meteor. Its frenetic chaos is fun and challenging, though never unfair or unbalanced, even if the game itself is still rough around the edges.
Multiversus isn’t a grandiose, museum-like celebration of the worlds it connects. Instead, it packs love for WB’s stable of IP into its subtleties, especially in its playable characters. Combatants themselves exude the same character and charm that you’d expect from a cartoon, comic or movie starring them. Bugs quips with Arya Stark, the Iron Giant recognizes Superman, and Finn and Jake have their same lovable rapport. Multiversus is full of these interactions, and with each character voiced by beloved voice actors like Matthew Lillard for Shaggy and Kevin Conroy for Batman, there’s a clear intention to do right by each fighter.
That isn’t just evidenced by their voice lines, either. For example, Bugs is infuriatingly slippery; he can burrow underground to evade opponents before dropping a safe on them. If he breaks the safe open, it might contain dynamite that he can throw at an unassuming Tazmanian Devil. Almost all of Tom and Jerry’s moveset consists of the iconic cat and mouse duo trying to hit each other with tennis rackets and fishing rods, only for other fighters to get in the way.
Each and every character has something to make them feel unique and true to their origin. That feeling only expands once you start playing the game’s main 2v2 mode. Wonder Woman isn’t just a hard-hitting tank with lots of armor on her moves; doubles makes her a valuable support character who can rescue opponents with The Lasso of Truth.
Aside from its pervasive sense of personality, Multiversus is just fun. I don’t remember the last time I’ve had as much trouble putting down a new multiplayer game. Losses give the perfect motivating itch that only a win can scratch, but never discourage from playing while wins feel earned. Together, they create a motivating push-and-pull that keeps you invested in the game.
That said, sometimes it feels like Multiversus is actively trying to ward off that investment with its frustrating menus and user interface. Nothing highlights the UI’s core issues like local multiplayer, which might be the most unnecessarily complicated and restrictive setup I’ve experienced in a fighting game. Aggravation may vary by platform, as getting local multiplayer set up on Xbox made me want to pull out my hair whereas it was just mildly annoying on Steam. That said, the real issues come once you get set for a local match.
Multiversus introduces a perk system, which allows you to attach buffs to your character. Each character can use one character-specific perk that might make a move of theirs last longer or give an attack a different effect. You can also attach three other perks to your character that the entire roster has access to. In most instances, this is a spectacular mechanic that adds a unique sense of modularity and freedom to each character that allows for players to develop new playstyles around their perks.
In local multiplayer, though, selecting perks is unnecessarily challenging. Beyond the occasionally hard-to-read text, the cursor doesn’t properly highlight whatever perk you’re selecting, making it challenging to actually equip the right ones. I get that the pandemic is still ongoing, so testing local multiplayer might be a challenge, or perhaps an afterthought, but obscuring a core mechanic like this is an unfortunate example of how Multiversus feels like it’s actively keeping you from playing.
Multiversus is by no means perfect, but Player First Games nails the sense of personality that seems to be missing from so many other crossovers thanks to its clever and meaningful reverence to the franchises it draws from. The game itself is also incredibly fun. It presents a tight gameplay loop that’s enthralling and welcoming for newcomers and refreshing for fans of the genre. Compare it to Smash all you want, but Multiversus seeks to innovate rather than imitate, and it does so with aplomb.
Multiversus was developed by Player First Games and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. Our review is based on the Xbox Series X|S version. It is also available for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Xbox One.
Charlie Wacholz is a freelance writer and college student. When he’s not playing the latest and greatest indie games, competing in Smash tournaments or working on a new cocktail recipe, you can find him on Twitter at @chas_mke.