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MultiVersus is better than ever on its second bite of the apple, but I can’t believe it didn’t learn its lesson from the first launch

A better single-player suite of content, a more sensible approach to premium currency, a bigger roster… but, damn, those servers…

The hands of various MultiVersus characters all fighting in a cloud, slightly blurred, a Wi-Fi symbol with a line through it superimposed over the top.
Image credit: Warner Bros.

Ah, MultiVersus. A gem of a game. The only place on earth – digital or otherwise – where you can watch Jason Voorhees use a bed to slam Velma from Scooby Doo into a golden blimp full of chicken drumsticks, for some reason. The only game in which you can hear ‘American Boy’s’ Estelle belittle Batman whilst Bugs Bunny takes a reaming from definitely-not-Justin Roiland.

It’s back. And better than ever. If you’ve not been following the peculiar drama surrounding this Smash Bros upstart, let me cut it down to under a paragraph for you: the game was pulled offline a year ago, with publisher Warner Bros. and developer Player First Games citing more time in the oven as a reason for taking it away from players (plenty of whom paid for content in the ‘open beta’). Fans bemoaned infrequent updates, and some characters needed to be pulled from the game entirely because they were so broken.

But time, as they say, heals all wounds. The game sprung back from the void yesterday, and you know what? I forgot how much I missed the cartoon capering of it all. It’s madcap, it’s camp, it’s absurd, and it’s great fun. It might not be as tight or responsive as Smash, and there may not be quite as much depth underwriting the whole experience (yet), but there’s a pulsing core of something very special here, and the 2v2 nature of the game feels as strong as ripe for exploitation as ever.

Likely companions.

In its pre-rebirth state (eat your heart out, Final Fantasy 14), MultiVersus was pretty much a multiplayer-only game. You could play solo, but you’d either be against bots or paired with a random before being sent into battle against another duo. Now, there’s something called Rifts, single-player or co-op gauntlets that are brimming with stupid modifiers and weird mini-games. The mini-games are universally crap, sorry, but the meat of the game is really cool – part tutorial for the PvP suite, and part silly fun that showcases the various cogs in the machine and allows you to disseminate how they all work in unison.

It’s great. And it’s free. And you get access to a ton of content for free, too: I stand by its inclusion in the best free-to-play games of 2024, even in this early state. There’s a lot more to come, too; a playable Agent from the Matrix, Adventure Time’s joke Banana Guard character, more Rifts, more rewards, more cosmetics – it’s a pretty good optic for a free-to-play game, especially for one that garnered some negative reactions from the public after the unpopular decision to be taken offline.

Less likely companions.

So, what’s my problem with it then? This is WB Games and Player First Games’ second bite of the apple. It’s been offline for a year, and all the new content is wonderful, and the newly expanded roster is great. But the netcode. Oh gosh, the netcode. I appreciate that yesterday was always going to be a big day for the game – three waves of console launches and a final push of PC players is going to test any server – but the team has done this dance before. It should have predicted how much of a load the servers will take.

As someone that paid for the game last time (yes, really) I wanted to sign in, get my bonuses for being an early adopter, and enjoy the new stuff that was being rolled out for me. I couldn’t even do that – there were issues on Xbox with redeeming information and syncing accounts. A few hours later, that was sorted, and I had (most of) my stuff back. But then the game was nigh-unplayable for me.

Teaming up with my erstwhile friend and MultiVersus collaborator (Reindog forever!), we could barely load into co-op, versus AI, Rift matches. And when we could, we couldn’t get rewards for playing. Come on, MultiVersus – did you really not think your servers would take this much of a slamming on the first day back? Did you not have stuff ready to go from before? It’s frustrating for me, who’s playing this as part of my job, but I cannot imagine how annoying it would be for people just trying to have a chill time of an evening with their mates.

At least someone's having a good time! | Image credit: Warner Bros. Games

Is this teething problem going to stop me playing? Nah. Is it going to tarnish my view of the overall product? No. But I’m a paid-up, gaming-for-a-living, MultiVersus-apologist fighting game fanatic. I’m the hardcore, cosy little quadrant in the middle of the Venn diagram this game was designed for. I’ve got a fondness for this, and a patience for the instabilities. I don’t know if your average ‘try before you buy’ free-to-play sampler is going to want to come back after being shunted out of single-player content and made to wait in the lobby for 30 minutes.

And that’s such a crying shame, because there is something stupidly special in the middle of this game; a very well-conceived and gorgeously-executed gameplay core, decorated with absurd cartoon fan service and wish fulfilment. I hope the netcode improves and the servers get better, because otherwise this game is doomed – and not even Warner Bros. deep pockets will be able to save it a second time, I suspect.

MultiVersus is out now for Xbox, PlayStation, and PC.

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