This round of MultiVersus has gotten so intense I’ve just phoned the police on Bugs Bunny. To be clear: this is an alien move for me. I was born and raised in Glasgow, a city whose coat of arms, I’m pretty sure, features the phrase snitches get stitches, and I am not one to tell tales under normal circumstances. But, having just been on the receiving end of an exploding ACME rocket while filling the shoes of Scooby Doo’s Velma, normal circumstances these ain’t. I grew up idolising Bugs, but today the wise-cracking cartoon cottontail is going down. What’s up now, doc?
When I first got wind of MultiVersus, a fast-firing, free-to-play beat ’em up from Player First Games, featuring crossover characters from the Warner Bros Discovery catalogue, I thought to myself: why now? In an arena combat world ruled by Super Smash Bros, and deftly mirrored by the likes of Brawlhala, Rivals of Aether, and Gang Beasts, is there really space, or even the need, for another like this one? After showering Game of Thrones’ Arya Stark with salt and pepper, and turning her into a cooked chicken at the hands of the incomprehensible, tail-spinning Tasmanian devil, Taz, however, I can’t help but think: why has a collab like this one taken so long?
“This is a long time coming for me,” says Player First Games co-founder Tony Huynh, an ex-Riot, Sony, and Day 1 Studios combat design specialist. “I owe my career to platform fighters. I’ve met my wife through this. I understand where the pain points are in the genre, and it’s taken a long time to gather up the skills and the talent level. This has been the dream.”
Pass a fist
With a closed alpha roster of seven maps – including the Bat Cave and Scooby’s Haunted Mansion – and 15 characters from an array of WB-owned franchises, including but not limited to Looney Tunes, Game of Thrones, Adventure Time, the DC Universe, Scooby Doo, and Tom and Jerry, familiarity and nostalgia will inevitably play a huge role in drawing players in. Scratch the surface, though, and Player First is not only pulling from years of experience in the field of platform fighters, but is also deconstructing genre conventions.
Scooby Doo’s Velma is a prime example of this because, believe it or not, she doesn’t actually physically attack opponents – instead spending her time zipping around the battle arena, gathering intel on her foes, being sassy, and, as outlined above, locking up the competition in paddy wagons. Tom and Jerry, on the other hand, combine to make what Huynh describes as a “collateral damage character”, owed to the fact they only physically attack each other.
“We asked ourselves: what is the essence of Tom and Jerry? They’re characters who don’t care about anybody else but themselves. Okay, so what if we made a collateral damage character, whereby all they’re doing is fighting each other, but in the process they’re hitting everybody else? Those are just types of inspiration that drive us to pick specific characters that we think will surprise and delight players,” says Huynh.
How Player First maintains this level of sophistication in its research and development processes remains to be seen, but from a licensing perspective, I reckon if the studio can convince the powers that be that including characters who aren’t primarily designed to fight in a fighting game makes sense, then they’re in good shape moving forward. As a free-to-play, cross-platform game (in 1v1, 2v2, or 4-player free-for-all) that incorporates a Battle Pass, Huynh and his team are determined to make MultiVersus as accessible and readily available to as many players as possible. To the former end, the beat ’em up boasts extensive accessibility options, including a fully-adjustable HUD, changeable visual and outline effects, a suite of colour options for colourblind players, and the ability to tweak the number of inputs necessary to actually play the game in the first place.
How to sign up for the MultiVersus closed alpha
Through all of this, Huynh says he and his team are determined to keep an open dialogue with prospective MultiVersus players, as they aim to build the game and an inclusive community around it. Huynh adds: “I’ve worked on both live-service games and what I’d call premium box product games. From God of War 3 at Sony, I moved to Riot and worked on League of Legends. We call ourselves Player First Games for a reason, and we want to remove all barriers for those wanting to play our games. I think players will hold us to a higher standard because of the name, but we want to be upfront and genuine about what we’re trying to do here – which is that we’re trying to make the best live-service game that we can.”
“But what does that actually mean? It means that every interaction with us should be really positive. It means that we’re interacting with the community, we’re addressing their feedback, we are actively, you know, putting stuff in the game that they want, and building the correct service title that they want too. When we first put up the trailer, some players mentioned that our Steven model for Steven Universe wasn’t quite right, and not quite authentic enough everybody. And rightfully so, right? We dropped the ball there. And we just went back, we addressed that, we talked to the players, and got that immediate feedback that this is the right direction to go in. And then we put it out there again.”
“That’s the kind of turnaround time and expectation that I want from players to us. And that’s what I’m holding our own team to. We’re going to be listening to the players and making sure that they’re getting the game that they want out of this. Ultimately, we want our players to have as much fun as they can.”
Having sunk several hours into the MultiVersus closed alpha, I reckon Player First’s idea of fun in this vein has already been realised. Like Super Smash Bros, or Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, or even PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, despite its lack of long-term support, the mere thought of ‘Who Next?’ will inevitably excite players here. When you add that to the thoughtful and considered approach the developer is taking to the vetting process of new additions, combined with its desire for community input and dev-to-player transparency, as well as the game’s free-to-play model, and it’d seem the sky’s the limit for MultiVersus.
In the meantime, you might find Shaggy pulling Scooby Snacks from the ground, and hurling them at Adventure Time’s Finn the Human. You might find Bugs Bunny conjuring ACME safes, and locking foes inside. You might see Taz the Tasmanian Devil stirring up a dust cloud, or Batman tossing batarangs, or Wonder Woman slicing up the competition, or Harley Quinn planting bombs, or Jake the Dogg getting lost in the melee while Tom and Jerry batter lumps out of each other, totally oblivious to the carnage unfolding around them. You might even see me playing as Velma, breaking protocol and calling the cops on whoever crosses my path. “Surprise and delight players,” says Huynh. And I think I’m already there.
MultiVersus will run an invite-only closed alpha from May 19-27, and is targeting a July, 2022 release on PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X and Xbox One.
Can’t wait for MultiVersus? Check out the best fighting games kicking up a fuss right now.