PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale (PS3) Review
Written : Friday, November 30, 2012
By: John Robertson
It was only ever going to be a matter of time. Nintendo's Super Smash Bros series is too commercially successful and critically popular for it to have gone un-cloned indefinitely. In truth, it's a surprise that it's taken this long. The mix of accessible beat 'em up action and unabashed fan service is quite clearly a winning concoction and one with the potential to unite otherwise disparate segments of your audience. In other words, money in the bank.
However, to write PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale off as nothing more than a cynically produced parasite of a 'me too' would be unfair. The development duo of SuperBot Entertainment and Sony Santa Monica have taken Nintendo's formula and tweaked it into something that, while undoubtedly similar, is different enough to warrant your time and attention.
Clearly, selecting which characters were going to initially capture our attention was a difficult task. Despite having been in the videogame business for three home consoles and two handhelds, Sony struggles when it comes to finding enough interesting fighters to make up the generous 22 person roster. Beyond obvious choices like Nathan Drake, PaRappa, Kratos and Sackboy, things quickly start to get a little tenuous.
"Everyone pile on Big Daddy!"
Third party inclusions like Bioshock's Big Daddy, the new look Dante from next year's Devil May Cry and Metal Gear's Raiden are more difficult to get behind. While Big Daddy and company might look great and offer a welcome (if comical) juxtaposition when fighting the game's more cartoon-orientated personas, there's nothing that defines them as being particularly PlayStation-centric. Surely, the likes of Lara Croft, Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon, characters at least predominantly associated with Sony's first console, would make more sense?
Oh well, I suppose being 'current' is more important than being accurate.
Whatever the case, there can be no argument with the level of care and attention to detail assigned to each and every one of the roster. Every costume, taunt and victory makes sense in the context of the fighter in question. More impressive, though, is the way in which signature visual notes have been incorporated into attacks and movement. Many of Sackboy's attacks involve him quickly delving into the Pop-It menu, Nathan Drake is able to magically summon a low wall as cover and Fat Princess uses a slice of cake as motivation to keep her interested in the fight.
The result is characters that feel unique, making experimentation with each and every one a worthwhile endeavour. With matches supporting up to four combatants at a time, there's rarely a moment when you feel things are lacking in the aesthetic department... although it must be said that fights wholly made up of the more realistic-looking cast members (think Heavenly Sword's Nariko and inFamous' Cole) do lack a certain flair in comparison to their more colourful, outlandish counterparts.
Stages are similarly packed to the rafters with nods and winks to the games that they're based on. Each one is a mash up of two different games, most (but not all) of which have some link to at least one of the fighters.
Raiden decides to breakdance rather than fight.
One of the best examples is the Dreamscape stage, which is a combination of LittleBigPlanet and the Buzz series of quiz games. The stage begins as a blank canvas, a simple flat expanse of twee green grass. As time goes by though, the space starts to fill up as an invisible level designer builds the stage around. Trees, bridges, platforms and hills are added, all of which are traversable and demand a tactical change. If the fight lasts long enough the Buzz presenter (erm, Buzz) starts to ask you questions, the answers to which are assigned to different parts of the arena; stand in the correct section or get penalised.
Other stages feature similar blending of games, although predominantly in a purely visual manner. The LocoRoco arena is torn to the ground by a rampaging Metal Gear Ray, the backdrop to PaRappa's dojo sees giant versions of Chop Chop Master Onion and Killzone 3's MAWLR do battle and the brilliant Stowaways stage sees Uncharted 3's cargo plane fly past Bioshock Infinite's floating city of Columbia.
So, the fan service, the nostalgic tug at our memories and the visual execution of both is excellent. But this alone is not enough to set Battle Royale apart from Smash Bros, and it's certainly not enough to better it. Where things differ greatly is in the fighting system.
While it would be a stretch to say that Battle Royale is more on par with a 'proper' fighting game, it's certainly true that it's far closer to one than Smash Bros is. There's enough complexity in the combo and juggling systems to prevent newcomers being able to best veterans through simple button mashing alone. It's worth spending some time in the training and practice areas to hone your skills before tackling the harder difficulty levels or strutting your stuff online.
Those combo skills come in handy when trying to build up your special meter, an act that is necessary rather than optional. Hitting your opponents with a special attack is the only way to kill them, thus the only way to score a point. Your meter can be charged up to a maximum of level three, forcing you into a risk/reward decision about when you want to strike.
Violence in LittleBigPlanet's makeshift world.
All three levels of special will kill your opponent, but your chances of landing the hit in the first place increase as you work your way up the ladder. Generally speaking, level one attacks target a small area and are fairly easy to dodge, while level two attacks have a wider spread and give you longer to get it right. At level three you're all but certain to kill everyone in play.
Winning conditions take one of two forms: reach a certain number of kills, or play until the timer hits zero. Therefore, the decision boils down to unleashing level one special attacks early at the risk of missing them all, or waiting until you're at level three at the risk of leaving it so late that someone else has already won.
These decisions become more pressing when playing in multiplayer, especially with four-players crowded around the same screen. Badgering, taunting and verbal violence go hand in hand with a game like this, and one bad decision can be the difference between a night of glory and a night of humiliation. Online multiplayer works perfectly well and is a good option if you're someone with a lack of real-life friends or a sensitive disposition to close physical proximity.
Limited single-player options make the uninspired arcade and versus modes a distant third best option and should only really be used to improve your skills or learn a new character's moveset.
If you’re looking to increase your haul of trophies, then you're in luck with Battle Royale - the majority of tasks requiring more persistence than skill. The bulk are awarded for completing arcade mode on any difficulty with each of the characters, while another stack are reserved for executing each fighter's level three special on their own stage.
Sackboy knocks Dante for six.
There are a small number of trophies reserved for online play, but none that are wildly difficult and most requiring you to either complete or win a match in the various game types. Players new to beat 'em ups might find the trophies assigned to executing combos more difficult, but if you've ever played Street Fighter/Tekken/Mortal Kombat you'll breeze through them no problem.
By and large, then, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is a success. Paper-thin single-player options and some questionable character inclusions aside, there's little to complain about. While there's nothing truly outstanding on offer here, there's plenty to like and the fun to be had in local multiplayer means it will get plenty of use in future months.
Most importantly, this is no mere clone of Super Smash Bros; there are reasons to play and own both games. It will be interesting to see where Sony decides to go from here with what is almost certainly going to become a new franchise. Whatever the case, there's enough potential on show to make us cautiously optimistic about the series' future.
Plenty of recognisable theme tunes and character quotes. There's nothing that will delight you about the soundtrack/dialogue, but what's here is well presented.
Consistently inviting, not a glitch or frame rate dip in sight. Cartoony charm sits alongside grittier, dirtier content creating a visual aesthetic that provides something unlike anything else on the PS3.
Brilliant in multiplayer, passable in single player. Credit to the design team for creating a fighting system that feels fresh and accessible, while not being so different that it alienates existing beat 'em up fans.
While it's worth playing purely for the quality of the multiplayer, more imaginative and varied single player modes would have been very welcome. Stick to local multiplayer and you'll have no complaints.
Uninspired for the most part, simply requiring you to sit down and slog through them. Aside from the trophies for executing combos, there's nothing here that encourages you to improve your skills. On a positive note, they are easy to obtain.
Not only is PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale surprising good, it's also surprisingly individual. It would have been easy to simply copy the blueprint provided by Super Smash Bros wholesale. Instead, while the basic premise is the same, the gameplay is different enough to separate it from Nintendo's offering. Whether or not it will ever be able to move out of Mario and co's shadow is another matter...