Move Over Time Loops, 2022 Is The Year Of The Multiverse

2021 was a banner year for time loops. TheGamer's official Game of the Year was a time loop game: The Forgotten City. Yes, we are that cool and chic. This year it'll probably be Elden Ring, just like every other site's will be – how gauche and predictable. Alongside The Forgotten City, we had Returnal (which used bullet hell roguelike mechanics to explore the loop of defeat, victory, and self flagellation), Deathloop (which sets fascinating time traps but never fully explains itself), Lemnis Gate (Halo, but if it was time loop chess), and 12 Minutes (incest). In 2022, the time loop fad is out, baby. All I want in my life right now is multiverse. Multiple multiverses, all versing in multiple ways!

The biggest example of this is MultiVersus, so much of a multiverse game that's basically its name. It's essentially Smash Bros., but Warner Bros. characters. What's interesting is, while Smash just kinda shrugs and goes 'look, Bayonetta is fighting Pikachu!', MultiVersus has made greater attempts to explain why it exists within a multiverse. The Iron Giant, a bastion for peace in his own story (that is literally the entire point of the story), is no longer a pacifist. Because he's from a different multiverse and is therefore canonically different. I have no idea why the answer isn't just 'it's fun'. Velma as we know her from Scooby-Doo would never actually punch Jake the Dog, but in MultiVersus she runs him over with a car.

Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin also played with this idea. It's a reboot of the first Final Fantasy – except it's not – which brings in iconic areas from other Final Fantasy games – except it doesn't – and takes place in the canon of Final Fantasy – except… you get the idea. While not as on the nose as MultiVersus, Stranger of Paradise is a multiverse game in all the ways that count, it's just less reliant on specific cameos in the way we typically associate Multiverse narratives to be. Pokemon Legends: Arceus is similar, moving in vaguely the shape of Diamond & Pearl but in a new era. It presents itself as time travel, but it still feels part of a wider trend.

This is not a phenomenon which has remained in gaming, either. One of the biggest movies of the year, and one of the most impressive (note: these are two different movies) deal in the idea of multiverses. That's multiverses, not MultiVersus. Yes, it's a little confusing. That's the whole point of MultiVersus. Um, multiverses.

When I say one of the biggest movies of the year, I am of course talking about Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. We've known this would be a multiverse movie for a long time, with the title floating around for years. We also knew Scarlet Witch would play a major role, but it wasn't until WandaVision that hints emerged that she might be the movie's villain. Sam Raimi's inimitable style elevates the movie into a hugely enjoyable affair, while Elizabeth Olsen's performance gives it a grounded presence, but still, it feels like it falls into the trap of multiverse = IP. It uses the multiverse phenomenon to bring back the deceased (in our universe) Maria Rambeau, give Captain Carter her live action debut, and tie Inhumans, X-Men, and the Fantastic Four into the MCU. There's some narrative weight to it (Wanda's quest for her children), but it feels a little too engineered.

Everything Everywhere All At Once meanwhile – that's the impressive movie I referred to – uses the idea of a multiverse to go completely wild with what is possible in storytelling. It does this while managing to make perfect use of the multiverse as a narrative device and striking its viewers right in the heart. MultiVersus has only had its open beta so far, but I don't expect it to come close to how effective EEAAO was.

Multiverses are this year's hot new fad, and what's more, none of the multiverse stories have relied on incest yet. There's still time though, so don't count your chickens (naturally bred, by two birds who shared no blood relatives) before they hatch.

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