A casual gamer reviews: the nostalgic pleasures of MultiVersus

A self-confessed casual gamer tries new free-to-play hit MultiVersus, the latest release from Warner Bros. and First Player Games.

If you missed my recent article detailing my dwindling love for Fall Guys, due to the changes made to the game since it went free-to-play, then let me introduce myself. I’m a casual gamer, a non-gamer almost. I’m not loyal to any particular console, I tend to play the same game for years at a time, and my skillset is mediocre. Video games are something I appreciate but only play to unwind.

So when I approached MultiVersus – the new crossover fighting game featuring various characters owned by Warner Bros. – I was daunted. In the trailers and gameplay previews, all I saw was another Super Smash Bros. Brawl. I suddenly experienced traumatic flashbacks to the summer of 2010, when I’d just finished my GCSEs and spent hours as Jigglypuff, cluelessly hammering buttons while my friends picked their specialist characters and wiped the floor with me.

Here went nothing.

I realised within seconds of loading MultiVersus that the list of available characters was just a line-up of the attendees in the final basketball showdown in Space Jam 2. Warner Bros. owns the rights to DC Comics, HBO, and Cartoon Network; as a Game of Thrones fan, watching the White Walkers cheer on LeBron James in that (awful) movie’s climactic scene was uncomfortable and surreal. So, attacking Arya Stark with Shaggy’s comically large hamburger gave me that funny feeling Bo Burnham sings about.

Once I silenced the creeping concern that every story I’ve ever loved is simply ‘intellectual property’ to be traded between the same exclusive group of mega-corporations, MultiVersus struck a nostalgic chord with me. Its design and format have received criticism for mimicking Super Smash Bros. almost verbatim, but for an outsider like me, I was tempted to call my old friends from 2010 and ask them if they wanted to re-enact their easy victories over me.

Much like Super Smash Bros., the depth of MultiVersus is deceptive. During the matches I entered, I witnessed attack moves that I knew I had no hope of replicating because of the complicated command combinations required to perform them. Colours and characters flashed across the screen at a moment’s notice. There were occasions when I was blasted off (again) by players with advanced skills who had clearly poured weeks and months of their lives into games of this type. The experience was overwhelming and slightly discouraging.

I continued to bash buttons, and I managed to win a small handful of games thanks to teammates much more experienced than myself, but the majority of the time I found myself aimlessly diving about the place while staring in awe at the skill on display. There’s an incredible amount of information to track during each match-up and I commend anyone who’s able to maintain pace with it.

Without my old school buddies there to keep me playing on, it became harder to find it within myself to keep trying to improve. I’m desperate to forget one moment when I, as Superman, attempted a ‘special move’ against Jake from Adventure Time and executed a pratfall right off the edge of the platform, falling to my death and costing my team the game. Apologies to my teammate on that occasion.

But I’m not going to criticise MultiVersus for its sensory overload when it’s my own inexperience that’s to blame. It’s been positively received for good reason, and I know thousands (if not millions) are looking forward to Season 1’s official opening. And, honestly, while I was tapping away, trying to keep up, it gave me a warm shot of how those 2010 summer matches felt. It wasn’t about winning or losing, it was about spending the best years of my life with friends I still keep in touch with. I’m sure they’ll love MultiVersus.

When I see Wonder Woman whip across the screen to thump Taz the Tazmanian Devil, I’m reminded that Warner Bros. know everything about cost but very little about value. But I’m also reminded that, out there right now, a bunch of 16-year-old kids, who have just finished their own GCSEs, are having the greatest summer of their lives. They’re playing MultiVersus and taking advantage of still being young enough to mainline several litres of Sprite and feel nothing.

And one of those 16-year-olds is probably just like I was in 2010 – pressing buttons without knowing what they’re for, smiling along, losing almost every game, but grateful that he has friends to play MultiVersus with. The image of media conglomerates insidiously buying up parts of his childhood probably hasn’t entered his head yet, and I hope it stays that way for as long as possible.

Back in 2008, Super Smash Bros. likely gave that same ‘funny feeling’ of concern to somebody who played The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past on the SNES in the early 1990s, but they were polite enough to let me and my friends enjoy ourselves. So, let the overwhelming chaos commence, and let Bugs Bunny lunge at Harley Quinn. We only get to be 16 once.

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