Warner Bros. MultiVersus looks like a mix of Super Smash Bros. and intellectual property law

At first glance, it’s hard to tell if Warner Bros. MultiVersus, a Smash Bros-like fighting game featuring various Warner-owned characters such as Batman, that yellow dog from Adventure Time, and Shaggy, is more than a misplaced quick hustle. Metaverse hype, or a really fun video game. Either way, we were equal parts intrigued and awed by that latest trailer, so we’ve been playing a bit of closed alpha in our spare time and honestly, we’re still not sure what to do. So we decided to have a conversation and figure things out.

Martin Robinson: So, the multiverse is the thing I’m guessing right now? I went to see everything everywhere at once on the weekend, and that was great! And then, I just played MultiVersus from Warner Bros, which is also a thing…

Chris Tapsell: Loony Toons Metaweb 3.0 you mean

Martin: This is a badger! It’s a fairly simple concept to understand, really, although I hope you don’t mind being reductive – it’s Warner Bros. Do Smash Bros. With a huge amount of IP. Missed a trick by not naming it Warner Smash Bros.?

Chris: They did, but the lawyers probably wouldn’t have liked it. The first thing I get from this game is “Lawyers”, actually. In a way this game feels more like IP than usual, even compared to Smash or Marvel vs. Capcom or something like that. This is my least favorite so far – but there are a few things I love!

Martin: Yes sure – he’s a lot more lovable than I initially expected. But before I start saying nice things, it’s worth pointing out how much it really feels like IP: The Game, while not thinking too much about how cohesive it really is. And it’s part fun, but it reminded me of those amazingly weird characters in the Space Jam sequel like Droogs from A Clockwork Orange and Ken Russell’s Nun from The Devils. I think this is terrible and using IP for it.

Chris: It is, it seems to exist at least because of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Fortnite (which both appeared in each other?!), as it does with Smash. It’s like Smash Bros. Is the implementation but the idea that came first was: How do we go about crossing our own IP because there’s obviously a dirty amount of money to be made from that. Thank you also for justifying my decision not to watch the Space Jam sequel.

Martin: My friend. So you don’t know what happens in the end? I won’t spoil it here but it goes places (don’t worry I haven’t seen it – I just read the summary on Wikipedia which is how I consume most media these days).

Chris: Donlan School of Film Studies! I’m hoping to end up with Tom and Jerry beating Batman out of the field with a frying pan because that’s what most of my games have gotten into here.

Martin: Although I smell – I’m the kind of sniffer in general – it’s fun to see Superman fight against a Scooby-Doo Velma. What has always set Smash apart is the detail and love of the source material, and while the details at MultiVersus aren’t quite as polished, you can at least feel that passion behind it all. It’s a silly thing and he knows it and enjoys it.

Chris: Yes there is something here. I think what’s missing are all the extra things that go beyond characters in Smash – stage stakes, designs, and items, which I know are very divisive in this community but those things all add a bit of texture. But the actual characters, I think, are done well? I played Taz the Tazmanian Devil a little bit (my favorite Loony Toon has grown up, don’t ask why because I don’t know) and it was awesome! I’ve turned someone into a roast chicken by repeatedly pouring salt and pepper on it, that’s the good stuff here. (And more seriously, is this also where there is some amount of actual depth? The characters play quite differently, there are categories to distinguish, including support because this game is actually all about cooperation and teamwork rather than free-to-play for all. Taz has a style Full gameplay built around how seasoned enemies are…)

Martin: Who does not love Taz? For some reason I’ve been back to Mega Drive Taz-Mania recently, because that’s the thing I love to do on the weekends, so it was one of my first picks too (after Superman, of course). Likewise I was really pleasantly surprised by the depth and variety within the initial menu and the amount of game modes supported. I think what impressed me most, though, is how different I feel about Smash Bros. I went for it with sarcasm thinking it would be a direct knockout, but she has some pretty cool ideas of her own, specifically the focus on engagement – team plays and supporting roles, amateurs, and something as simple but profound as being able to bond with your partner to prevent them being smashed off screen.

Chris: I really liked this idea, it totally changed the way you think about it because all of a sudden you have to decide whether to prioritize support and leave “dps” (usually Arya Stark and her weird pies…) or just hit dps. It’s also smart because it’s probably a game kids will want to play, and now parents can actually join in without having to accept that at some point you’ll hit your child in the first place. I know you can 2-v2 but in terms of proper support classes and build around collaboration, it’s arguably the only thing missing from Smash? big fan.

Martin: Now you make me feel bad for the number of times you’ve screwed up my 8 year old nephew when I’m playing Smash Bros.-

Chris: Don’t feel bad about this, he should learn.

Martin: haha! But yeah, it really does feel like a special sauce for MultiVersus, and the way the different systems support it gives matches their own real flavor – I love it when an enemy character teeters on the edge of KO and trying to join them in, or conversely someone who’s about to crash and play a game Chase around the level while your partner supports you.

Chris: yes! These things are wonderful. I wish there was a little more variety in the environments – they’re all basically Smash Bros. stage with Earth plus dual side platforms – but it’s just the alpha and all of that. It’s also quite forgiving in terms of falling off the sides? I wonder if this is another play for a slightly younger audience because it’s one of the hardest learning curves when you’re completely new to this type of game, and you’re learning not to go off the edge and die. But it focuses a little more on building damage on someone and landing a crush, rather than the platform side of things that come in Smash Bros. This is a little smaller stuff compared to the more outrageous stuff, which as always with these games is monetization.

Martin: Yes, it’s of course worth pointing out that it’s a free game, and I’m not entirely convinced of how it works. There are caveats that the store isn’t open and we don’t have a full view of how everything works, while after just a few hours of playing we haven’t bothered with the higher levels of unlocking battle lanes, but the fact that perks are used to boost your characters and can be purchased will always make me nauseous.

Chris: The battle pass seems a bit stingy – after a few hours of online gaming I haven’t leveled up a single, I don’t think so – but as you say, it’s too early to judge. There are a lot of generic “metagame” (blergh) stuff for MultiVersus as well which I’m still waiting to get my head around. It doesn’t explain itself brilliantly, in the metagame or the game itself – I didn’t even know what was giving me points in the free-for-all mode for a while – but then that goes for the genre. In the end though it was very fun and quick to get in. I’m addicted to Tom and Jerry, who are such a mix of ice climbers and steel pythons? Render the levels and character roster and hopefully I’ll be back in the whole crunchy progression thing and can honestly play this with friends.

Martin: Yeah, here’s the thing – I went into this expecting to make fun of its absurdity, but now I’m looking forward to opening the gates to the next bit of closed alpha testing so I can mess with it a bit more. It does more than enough to distinguish itself from Smash Bros. To make it worthwhile, it does just enough with the characters on display to get some surprising depth. I can’t imagine sticking with it for that long, but the fact that I’m ready to play it again is definitely a good sign. I still never really understand some of the characters on offer – are Droogs coming as part of the first wave of new content?

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