I spent five minutes with MultiVersus over the weekend, which turned into ten minutes and then an hour and then the best part of a morning. MultiVersus is great! If you aren’t aware of it, it’s a Warner Bros-themed Smash Bros-alike. You choose from a bunch of familiar characters, and then fight on 2D stages. Your aim is to get ring-outs by lobbing enemies off the screen, and the more damage you do, the further they fly when you hit them. Best of four wins. Simple.
Not simple, obviously, and here’s where an admission comes in. I love the idea of Smash Bros – and I particularly adore the way that the games have become sort of Nintendo museums, beautiful virtual dioramas in their own right. But I am thick and slow and these games have always looked fast and complicated. All of these Nintendo characters, some of which I am happy to admit I have not really heard of, fighting it out in astonishingly swift battles.
I think there are two reasons MultiVersus clicked. Three actually, the bonus third being that I was playing alongside my daughter, whose enthusiasm for these things always carries me aloft with it. Anyway, the other two reasons: One, MultiVersus is new, so there’s that sense of getting in on the ground floor. Even if people are turning up with Smash Bros experience – and they are, and it’s helping them – the psychological toll is lightened, because this is a game that’s been around for a few weeks at most.
The second reason goes in the opposite direction a little. You can play as Bugs Bunny in MultiVersus. And Batman. And Shaggy from Scooby Doo. This makes a real difference. It makes the game – for a person like me in their 40s – particularly easy to get into. I know Bugs Bunny. I know Batman, and Shaggy, and Wonder Woman. And this means that I have a strong idea of how they’re going to express themselves on the battlefield.
So normally, with a fighting game, I feel like I need to know all the technical stuff, I feel that I need to go through the move lists and try and get the details down before I go out into the field. With MultiVersus I just learned: directional attack button, directional special button, dodge, jump. And then I let my deeper knowledge of the characters do the rest.
And weirdly it’s worked. I know that Wonder Woman is going to be strong and she’s going to use a shield and a lasso. Once I’m out there and she’s working basically the way I expected, I can then dive into the details of the way her lasso works and how she can assist other players with it and whatnot. I know that Batman’s going to be fast and use gadgets. I know that Bugs Bunny is going to be melee and that he’s going to be, frankly, a badass. I was right. Bugs was nerfed recently, but he’s still a badass. Nobody messes with Bugs.
I know that all this is true of Nintendo too, but there are a few differences. For one thing, and I know this is counter-intuitive, knowing about a Nintendo character means that you know their moves as deeply as you know their personalities. So whenever I’m approaching Smash Bros I’m always thinking, how are Mario’s existing abilities going to be transposed here? There’s a sort of superpositioning. There’s the character’s essence, and then their moves, and these things overlap but not always perfectly. It’s easy when it’s Mario, sure. But Captain Falcon? The guy drives a car. Ice Climbers? I guess I’ll be jumping a lot?
With Warner stuff, though, I go straight to the personality. There’s nothing else to confuse me and overlap in my mind and get me in a muddle. I know how Harley Quinn is going to approach things, and in a way that makes it far more immediate to me.
There’s also the truth – and this purely a personal truth – that if anyone is going to trump Nintendo when it comes to – urgh – brand recognition, it’s going to be Warner Bros. They own Batman, which I have known and loved since I was 11. They own Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera stuff, and I was loving this stuff before I could speak. I’ve known Bugs Bunny longer than I’ve known both my younger sisters. Bugs Bunny was my wife’s first crush.
Is this how I became good at MultiVersus? No. Clearly not. And actually I’m still terrible at it. If you play me, it’s going to feel like a vacation for you. But it’s given me a foot in the door. Because of Warners’ stuff – a bunch of characters I encountered in the read-only formats of TV, film, and comic books – I have a very immediate understanding of how the playable characters in this game will probably operate. The rest comes later – but I feel like I’m ready for it.