Who Is the New Warner Bros. Game Really For?

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Remember Space Jam: Legacy? You probably don’t. It was an ill-advised sequel to 1996’s commercial trash art classic, Space Jam. In the original film, global icon Michael Jordan is sucked into a cartoon world where he must assemble a team of Looney Tunes to play an intergalactic game of basketball against a squad of goons to save the universe. Legacy saw the same plot revisited, subbing in LeBron James for MJ, except being released in 2021, merely showcasing the Looney Tunes would not suffice.

Instead, the movie functioned as a parade of scenes recreated from various Warner Bros. franchises — many of which today’s children wouldn’t just fail to recognize but are squarely directed at adults. One of the individual montages within the movie sees LeBron and Bugs Bunny doing the assembling-the-team bit, pulling Looney Tunes from disparate universes back together by diving directly into recreations of famous movie scenes (or flat-out scenes with the cartoons rotoscoped over). Elmer Fudd plays Verne Troyer’s Mini-Me in a scene from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Foghorn Leghorn appears on a dragon’s back, donning Daenerys Targaryen’s blond wig as he flies through space with the Game of Thrones logo behind him. Wile E. Coyote brandishes knives amid the chaos of Mad Max: Fury Road, rotoscoped over a War Boy leaping to his death in a kamikaze blaze. It’s fucking ridiculous.

Warner Bros. Games’ newest title, MultiVersus, is this concept in video game form. As a mascot brawler where the company’s most recognizable characters are all pitted against each other to fight, it at least makes a bit more sense than a soulless movie mashup. Who doesn’t want to play Velma beating the pompousness out of Bugs Bunny? What about boy scout Superman uppercutting Steven Universe into the stratosphere? Obviously, we’ve all dreamed of Jason Voorhees slinging Arya Stark’s wriggling body off a cliff in a sleeping bag.

The thing about MultiVersus is that its IP-soup approach to gamifying brand awareness simply doesn’t make any sense. Not logical sense — because who really cares why these characters are fighting — but thematic sense. Unlike Super Smash Bros. or Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, which also turn their biggest characters into mismatched action figures to slam together, MultiVersus’ roster aims to draw in anyone who even remotely recognizes these characters, even though the game is clearly made for kids. Why are the game’s references either drawn from adult-oriented media like Game of Thrones or movies like Gremlins, which are themselves twice the age of the target audience?

A cartoon version of Friday the 13th’s masked serial killer bloodlessly thwacking Rick and Morty isn’t exactly worthy of a moral panic, but it is worthy of criticism. With a stable of IP that includes The Wizarding World, how did the youngest Stark daughter with a penchant for making people into meat pies make the cut before Harry Potter?

There’s an argument to be made that, despite being a full-on cartoon, the game isn’t just for kids. But that’s kind of bullshit. For one, it’s free-to-play. While F2P games aren’t a market exclusively for kids, it’s a well-known tactic for attracting younger players who can access the game, then rack up in-game purchases for new characters and cosmetics. It’s a business model that made games like Fortnite and Roblox into billion-dollar cash cows. And yes, Fortnite also trades in a slow drip of pop culture trends to continually draw players back over time, it, A) leans into modern media that kids actually get and, B) is genuinely made for all ages. Fortnite’s colorful veneer belies a more complex game, with a high skill ceiling that’s allowed it to become a global esport. MultiVersus, on the other hand, is too shallow of a game to appeal to adults long term.

Let’s be honest, it’s not a great game. A janky, clunky knock-off of Super Smash Bros., itself a children’s game that also has the hidden depth to accommodate professional level competition, MultiVersus is very simple to pick-up, and never really gets any deeper. It’s a button-masher that feels discount at every level; the kind of game you put on for your nieces and nephews over the holidays because it costs nothing and even drunk uncles who haven’t gamed since ColecoVision can get in on the fun.

And look, that’s fine. At worst, a game like MultiVersus is innocuous. But by billing itself as a zany cross-dimensional extravaganza, it’s veiling the fact that Warner Bros. Games are merely leaning into the worst impulses of modern entertainment by combining its two worst trends — multiverses and nostalgia farming — into one big trough. It’s the video game equivalent of slapping together dinner from the remnants of the fridge because you’re too tired to go to the store. It won’t hurt you, it’s just kind of sad.

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So, who is MultiVersus for? In an ideal world, no one. But seeing how many players sunk hundreds of dollars into the game during its initial open beta run in 2022 before the game went offline for over a year to be reworked, it’ll likely be a hit for some. But we deserve better than this. Hell, Jason Voorhees deserves better than this.

Read original source here.

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