In addition to our main Game of the Year Awards 2022 (opens in new tab), each member of the PC Gamer team is shining a spotlight on a game they loved this year. We'll post new personal picks, alongside our main awards, throughout the rest of the month.
There was a magical time in 2018 where, for a few months after Super Smash Bros. Ultimate came out, my life was like that original Nintendo Switch ad with a bunch of 20-somethings huddling around a single 7-inch screen on a rooftop to play games together. I hauled my Switch just about everywhere (parties, restaurants, jury duty), always with two extra joycons stashed nearby in case passersby wanted to get schooled by my mediocre Incineroar. Even into 2019, Smash Ultimate was the party game we'd never put down.
Then, of course, the parties stopped in 2020. All of my friends migrated to Discord and new jobs and schedules mean we gather online more often than in-person. Our Smash Bros era ended, but for a while in 2022, one of the coolest surprises of the year brought it back: MultiVersus (opens in new tab).
PC gaming finally has a Smash Bros.-like worth celebrating, and I'm still in shock that the corporation to make it happen was Warner Bros.
Unlike Disney or Nintendo, the intellectual property vault that this game has to work with is a disparate mix of comics, cartoons, movies, and live-action TV show characters that don't immediately look like they belong together. The only reason I'd heard of MultiVersus before it came out was the splash its first reveal trailer made on the internet, prompting confused reactions from fans wondering why Superman was beating up Arya Stark from Game of Thrones while Steven Universe watched from afar. It was a dizzying franchise smoothie, and after the resounding disappointment that was Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, the Cartoon Network kid in me was prepared for the worst.
Turns out, I had nothing to be worried about. Not only is MultiVersus a very fun brawler, but its character designs are so meticulous and thoughtful that even Nintendo should be taking notes.
Developer Player First really put in the work when considering how each character's skills, traits, and personality would shine through their moveset. Take my favorite fighter, The Iron Giant: you probably wouldn't realize just by watching him swing a car around like a bat or cannonball into the ground, but darn near every one of his inputs, right down to the way he walks and flies, is a direct reference to the 1999 film (and a shockingly accurate reference (opens in new tab), in many cases).
The creative adaptations don't end at imitation, though. MultiVersus' MOBA-like roles (tanks, supports, brawlers, assassins, mages) are also informed by the character's role or personality outside the game. Despite premature reactions (opens in new tab) that the pacifist Iron Giant's inclusion in a fighting game signaled that MultiVersus was out of touch with its source material, I think his design actually proves the opposite. The Iron Giant is a tank who's all about protection—a literal wall that stands between his ally and enemies, soaking up the majority of attacks. His main special grants temporary HP to allies and his teammate can even stand on his shoulders while he hangs off the stage. Even The Iron Giant's offensive moves are designed not to be malicious. His most powerful combo is a series of punches into the scrap (sorry, the "art") in his hand, not other fighters.
MultiVersus' full 23-fighter roster is packed with similarly great design choices. A few of my other favorites:
- LeBron James' outstretched arms side attack that recreates his most iconic meme (opens in new tab)
- Tom and Jerry's attacks, in which Tom is actually swinging his tennis racket and mallet at Jerry, not the other players
- Wonder Woman's defensive moveset that can deflect attacks and share buffs with allies
- The way Velma can move while crouching because she's looking for her lost glasses
- Jake the Dog's stretchy transformation attacks that turn his hands into a hammer or axe, and give him a uniquely long reach for a brawler
- Bugs Bunny's pie throw, and his appropriately slippery ability to burrow into the ground for a quick escape
There's just something so vibrant and weird about MultiVersus' fighters that you don't get as much from Nintendo, which makes sense considering the 82-character Smash roster is mostly sourced from action games. The movesets write themselves—Link swings a sword, Ryu punches, Inkling squirts. I have a lot of respect for the fact that, outside obvious punching men like Superman and Batman, Player First had to get really creative to turn its franchises into capable fighters. Actual human athlete LeBron James is, amazingly, just as fun to play as Harley Quinn. I've always gravitated towards the unlikely yet surprisingly great fighter designs, of which Nintendo has its fair share (Villager, Mr. Game & Watch, Duck Hunt, and Piranha Plant are favorites) but could benefit from a lot more.
One solid advantage of MultiVersus' silver screen roster? Characters already have personalities, motivations, and histories thoroughly explored in other mediums for the last century. Player First has been able to score a lot of points with fans for the smallest gestures, like bringing in Kevin Conroy (RIP) to voice Batman or reviving the Gremlins for the first time in 30 years. I even like the little voiced exchanges between characters as the round is starting—last night I heard Wonder Woman remark upon finally meeting the famous interdimensional traveler Rick Sanchez, and being unimpressed (burn).
The inherent absurdity of the extended Warner Bros universe has also opened the door (if ever so slightly) to more unique roster picks. One player went as far as to design an entire movelist and cosmetic set for Breaking Bad's Walter White (opens in new tab). That one's unlikely to happen since Breaking Bad is a Sony production, not Warner, but MultiVersus game director Tony Huynh is into the idea. On the more realistic side of requests, there's a lot of enthusiasm around Daffy Duck (opens in new tab), Gandalf, Ben 10, or Harry Potter joining the roster someday.
Personally, I'd like to see MultiVersus flex those HBO properties more. Give me Tony Soprano. Give me The Righteous Gemstones.
It's great to see that MultiVersus is still going strong after months away from it. Player First is in the middle of Season 2, which if my math is right has already seen the addition of six new fighters (Rick, Stripe, Black Adam, Gizmo, and Marvin the Martian). Judging by this old-but-probably-accurate list of leaked characters (opens in new tab), Player First has years worth of ideas in the chamber. I hope it gets to realize them all.