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Player First Games' MultiVersus has been doing the rounds for quite some time now, having first been rumoured as far back as 2019 and then, after a leak, officially announced in November of last year. The colourful free-to-play platform fighter, which is unmistakably and unapologetically a Super Smash Bros clone, takes famous characters and locations from the Warner Bros Discovery catalogue (we resisted saying universe!) and pits them together in battles that see you attempt to blast your foes off the screen and out of the combat arena. You know the drill.

We've finally managed a hands-on with the game, getting to grips with its raucous action over the past couple of days, as well as sitting in on a presentation from the devs themselves, and have come away pretty impressed with what this one's got to offer at this early alpha stage.

During MultiVersus' official presentation, Player First Games were most keen to focus on the co-op aspects of their fighter, and not just in terms of simply playing with a partner, but moreso in terms of how the game's scraps incorporate team-based tactics and tricks in order to encourage and promote working together to take your opponents down. As a result of this focus on team work it's the 2v2 mode that's seen by the devs as the premier mode to play here. We were initially sceptical about this, these platform fighters can be pretty hectic and hard to read at the best of times without introducing a precise need to work together, (it sounded fiddly, basically) but as it turns out we reckon the teamwork element here is a well executed gameplay mechanic that works to elevate the core combat experience.

In the build we've been able to check out over the past three days, which releases into a closed alpha today for those who've signed up to it, we had access to all fifteen currently available characters - although some of these were only available to use in the game's Lab training area - and we've been having an absolute blast getting to grips with the variety on offer here.

The pugilists in MultiVersus may not seem like a particularly inspiring bunch at first glance - and we were definitely of the mindset that it seemed like a "throw everyone in and let's see what happens" sort of affair - but in practice this is a roster that's very obviously had a lot of time and care put into it. Each and every character here has their strengths, we enjoyed getting to grips with them all on some level, and the teamwork mechanics and OTT movesets on offer make for fights that strike a nice balance between all-out chaos and something a little more tactical. It feels very like its most obvious influence, make no mistake, it's nothing you haven't seen before, but this one's got enough of its own unique flavour and feel that we're excited to see how it evolves in the near future.

Combatants on the game's roster are separated up into five distinct classes as things stand currently; Bruiser/Mage/Assassin/Tank/Support, and are then further categorised as being most efficient either horizontally, vertically or as a hybrid of both. Shaggy is a Bruiser/Hybrid fighter, for example, which means he hits hard with straightforward punch/kick combos and excels both horizontally and vertically, whilst more tricky characters, such as the dynamic duo of Tom & Jerry, are classified as Mage/Hybrid, taking into account the fact their attacks are completely based on ACME tricks and traps that can dominate in any direction.

It may sound a little fussy to begin with, but MultiVersus does a good job in recommending which characters are suitable starting out, and we personally found Shaggy and Wonder Woman (who's a tank that excels in straightforward horizontal pummellings) were good choices for getting to grips with the game's scraps without having to dig into the added complication of using items and traps. Start off with straight-up slaps round your opponent's face before graduating to the ACME rockets and laser beams is what we're saying.

The core controls here are easy to pick up, with your attacks assigned to the "X" button, specials set to "Y" and a dodge performed with "B". You've got four choices on attack, standing still and pressing "X" performs a "neutral attack", and pressing to the right, up or down whilst attacking will see you pull off further moves, some of which can be charged for variations. Same goes for specials here with a neutral move and three directional variations to work with. You'll also find that you've got a bunch of air-specific moves that you can pull off as you double-jump and air-dodge around above the action.

Everything is fairly easy to get to grips with then thanks to these streamlined controls, Smash Bros fans already know what's what here, and there's been plenty of cool signature moves packed in, all of which work well to bring character personalities to the fore. Shaggy, as an example, can combo together punches that end in a headbutt and perform charged flying kicks - ok, so not particularly reminiscent of the coward we know and love - but he also has a move where he pulls out a great big sandwich and uses to it to batter his opponents. That's more like it, Shaggy! In terms of teamwork-specific abilities, he can use his sandwich to heal his teammate and can also enter a rage mode which sees him drop healing Scooby Snacks as well as performing a blast projectile that knocks opponents away from his ally.

Batman, who's sure to be an early favourite choice, let's face it, can throw down smokebombs to conceal his whereabouts, a move which also grants invulnerability to his teammate when they stand in the affected area, and his power slides, Batarang attacks and cape swirls look and feel the bat-business.

The same goes for Superman, who has a suitably powerful moveset that sees him dish out big damage with huge charged punches, air-based laser beam attacks and an ice blast that slows opponents down - or freezes them entirely - as well as granting his partner ice-imbued attack damage. Wonder Woman, the other big name superhero here, can use her whip to rescue her teammate from danger, enters a shield mode that buffs partners, uses her "Amazon Shout" to boost team armour and so on. All of this stuff just feels super-solid to pull off as well, with a nice sense of heft and weight to your movement and actions as you bound around arenas and controls that feel perfectly precise and responsive - it's the kind of game that's very hard to put down once you get into a groove.

So, as fussy and fiddly as the teamwork aspect of proceedings did sound to us initially, every character's co-op tricks and abilities are actually fairly easy to get to grips with in practice and the crisp, clean art style, which is heavily reminiscent of Fortnite, means that it's always easy to parse what's happening in battle, even when Batman is dropping smoke bombs everywhere, Superman is freezing everything in sight and Velma is using her smarts to confuse and debuff everyone in the arena. The co-operative elements really do shine here, and stuff like using Reindog to lasso your partner so they can fight out over the edges of arenas without falling to their doom feels intuitive and can give you a winning edge in battle if you and your partner are on the same page.

On top of the core moves we've detailed above, you've also got four empty slots per character which you can fill with unlockable perks in order to enhance various aspects of your pugilistic powers. Perks fall into four categories; Offensive, Defensive, Utility and Signature, and these give you access to stuff like extra defence, more damage, extra health for your partner and so forth. Perks are unlocked by levelling up your character, each character differs in the types of perks they can use and, if this all seems like a bit of a hassle, you can choose to auto-assign your available perks before every fight so you don't even need to think about it.

Of course, being a free to play title, there's a Battle Pass system in operation here too, with both a free and premium flavour available, offering up a bunch of cosmetics that range from banners to character skins, emotes, various character-specific announcers and so on. So far it's all cosmetic-only stuff - your perks and abilities unlock separately as your character levels up with in-game XP - so there's nothing much to write home about with regards this aspect of the game as things stand, it's exactly what'd you'd expect to find in a free-to-play game.

From a graphical standpoint, it may not be mind-blowing next-gen carnage, but this is still a very well presented game; it's crisp, clean, colourful and very nicely animated and, although it all looks quite simple - there's not a huge amount of detail in the game's stages, for example - it works well to ensure that the action is always easy to follow. We're also impressed to see that the voice talent for the various superheroes and cartoon legends is of a uniformly high standard, with the likes of Kevin Conroy, Matthew Lillard and Maisie Williams all involved in bringing the roster of fighters to life. You'll even get to enjoy some situation-specific shoutouts during battle, with characters recognizing and calling out their opponents as they brawl, which is pretty cool.

One aspect of MultiVersus that did let us down a little at this point is the stages that we were able to sample in our preview. Yes, we know we're only getting a taster, but there's nothing really dynamic or exciting about the maps we tried out. The Batcave has some destructible elements to its Batmobile platforms, but beyond this they're a forgettable bunch of locations and we're gonna need to wait and see if we get some more exciting stuff further down the line. Whilst being negative, we also noticed that the game's bot opponents do occasionally have a tendency to bug out and just stop fighting, which we guess is to be expected given this is a closed alpha.

In terms of modes, if you're jumping into the closed alpha over the next few days, you've got 1v1, 2v2, a Free For All 4-player party mode and co-op humans vs AI bouts to enjoy. All of these modes can be played online against other humans or against bots too, so there's no issue getting a game if you have trouble finding actual human opponents for now, as was the case for us during our preview period.

Overall then, we definitely went into this one feeling pretty unenthused but have come out the other side excited to get our hands on the full game when it releases. MultiVersus already feels like a slick and polished platform fighter packed full of colourful and addictive action that manages to nail the personalities of its wacky roster of combatants. There's a nice level of depth to the action here, jump into the tutorials or get into the advanced moves whilst training in the lab and you'll find aerials, wall-hopping, fast falls, armor break attacks and attack decay (use a move too often and it weakens) all await you, so those wishing to dig a little deeper have certainly got something to work with.

Of course, we'll need to see how the various paid aspects work out in the long-term, but for now you can consider us well and truly up for a ruckus when we get our hands on the full release of MultiVersus sometime later this year!

MultiVersus' closed alpha preview starts today and runs until the 27th May.

Are you taking part in the MultiVersus closed alpha over the next week? Looking forward to getting your hands on the full game when it releases? As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments.