PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale is not Super Smash Bros. It’s important to differentiate the two from the get-go. Given that Smash Bros. all but exists in a genre of one, it’s only natural that comparisons should be made between Smash Bros and Sony’s first venture into the brand brawler genre. Super Smash Bros. and everything Nintendo’s flagship trademark brawler represents, has been hanging like an invisible noose around PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale’s neck ever since it was first revealed. There’s no escaping Smash Bros. comparisons with this one; PSASBR and what it does right and what it habitually does “not so right”, is for many, defined by how it manages to negotiate the Smash Bros comparison conundrum. Yes, PSASBR is unapologetically influenced by Smash Bros. and wears said influences on its sleeve but it is not the unashamed, blatant and barefaced carbon copy that many would have you believe it to be. PSASBR has its own pulse and its own tact, and has enough going for it to distinguish it from the seemingly omnipresent Smash Bros. contrasts. Comparisons to Ninty’s fighter, though advance and just at an entry level, literally don’t matter after a half an hour with Battle Royale. PlayStation All-Stars has more than enough going for it to be evaluated and enjoyed all by itself and away from the perpetuating shadow of Smash Bros’. esteemed brand fighting legacy.
To say that PSASBR is a celebration of all things PlayStation would be something of an understatement. The game thoughtfully and cleverly draws on a seemingly infinite pool of PlayStation characters, universes, popular culture references, iconography and trimmings – and anchors it to an experience that allows you to beat the crap out of each other and implode each other into triangles, circles, crosses and squares in a kind of combustion of PlayStation confetti. The game builds bridges between universes and pits twenty PlayStation “All-Stars” against each other in 4 player free for all brawls. These “All-Stars” range from some of the original PlayStation’s most popular and original trend setters to even a handful of characters whose presence on a PlayStation platform will not fully be realised until next year. It’s an interesting character roster, drawing no-brainer PlayStation icons together with a handful of curious character selections. For example, new Devil May Cry Dante make’s the cut ahead of stalwart seasoned PS2 Dante, while Metal Gear Rising’s Raiden is deemed to be more of an “All-Star” than Solid Snake and lines out in-game without even a fleeting reference to Snake. It’s easy to see why these characters are here, they have new games to promote, but their presence, though welcome, does make you question the character selection process. The twenty “All-Stars” you start the game with define this experience and for the most part, they ensure the experience is a magnificent love letter to PlayStation’s much celebrated gaming testimony. Nathan Drake, Jak and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank, Sweet Tooth, Kratos and Sly Cooper are all present, as too are Ape Escape’s Spike, PaRappa The Rapper and MediEvil’s Sir Daniel Fortesque, all of whom are legendary PlayStation characters in their own right. There’s some third party representation going on too, with the aforementioned Dante, Raiden, BioShock’s Big Daddy and Tekken’s Heihachi Mishima. It would be ridiculous to begrudge a characters inclusion, not least because everyone included has something different and unique to offer and most importantly, speaks well to the parent brand. However, the roster exceptions and absentees are as tangible as they are disappointingly frustrating.
Given just how much effort and dedication to the brand developers SuperBot has put into PSASBR, you cannot conceivably blame them for absent characters. PSASBR has so much fan-service going on that you can bet your bottom dollar that they tried to get the likes of Crash Bandicoot, Spyro The Dragon, Solid Snake and Cloud Strife for launch. Of course they did. These characters alone would be enough to shift a hell of a lot more copies of this game at launch. But they aren’t on the disc and it’s a real shame. You cannot account for this as something SuperBot did wrong. If you want to blame someone, blame the IP holders. It’s not to say that we might not see these characters at some stage by way of DLC, but given just how intrinsically tethered to the extended PlayStation lineage these characters are, you’d think that if SuperBot could easily get them, they would have been on the disc day one. The shame stems from what is actually on the disc, because what is there is already a fantastic fan service, just imagine how incredible it would be if these absent characters were there too? SuperBot would surely have done wonderful things with these characters, but alas it wasn’t meant to be. It’s akin to going to see your favourite band in the whole world live and watching them perform a host of rare songs, b-sides and obscure album tracks that mainstream audiences mightn’t be as familiar with. That’s what PSASBR feels like. But then imagine if your favourite band then came out for their encore and didn’t play the song that made them so famous to begin with, the breakaway single that everyone knows the hook to and continues to be associated with the band to this day. You’d be disappointed and puzzled a little bit. The absence of characters like Crash Bandicoot certainly propel this sensation of puzzlement and innate disappointment.
The twenty characters that do front the roster of All-Stars are impressive natural extensions of their original incarnations and the titles that made them famous. The detail here is exciting and never sacrifices perspective for the sake of making these characters fit a neutral set “one-size has to fit all” mould created for this title. From each character’s attacks, to their movement, their look, their voice over and their all encompassing super attacks, each character retains all of the personality of their own experience in this completely new one. Sometimes the balance can be questionable, but for the most part, each characters basic and advanced attacks level out and follow an uncomplicated and accessible control scheme with attacks mapped to the face buttons, left analogue stick and R2 for the most part. The gameplay is joyously rewarding, fast, frantic and completely organic. Yes, if you are a button basher, you’ll certainly have your fun here. But the clever player will work out combos, integrate throws into attacks and know when is the right time to deliver death by means of a super attack.
Super attacks are the difference between winning and losing. There’s no life bar here, instead as you attack the other fighters in the arena you build up super meter on the bottom of the screen. There are three different levels to reach, each one dishing out a more powerful attack. There’s a subtle strategy to supers – even though a level three dishes out the most damage, it’s not always the most lethal option. A perfectly timed level one can do just as much damage and depending on the circumstances and the balance of battle, dishing out level one’s instead of saving up for two’s and three’s might be your best chance at winning. It’s an interesting concept, not least because you can carefully decide when to trigger special moves, dishing out smaller attacks or gambling it all and saving up for a stronger attack. Each special is an annexe and a hat-tip to each character’s day job and the game they represent. Raiden will slice up everyone on screen while they hide in Metal Gear-esque cardboard boxes, Sir Daniel will evaporate enemies with the Anubis Stone, Heihachi will chain his enemies to a rocket ala his Tekken 5 ending and Sackboy will use his pop-it to capture everyone on screen in prize bubbles to burst them to death. This is indulgent fanboy service in every way shape or form and it underscores every element of the Battle Royale experience from the characters, to their moves, to the pick-up items, to the arenas and worlds you fight in.
The attention to detail in each fighting level is worthy of its own paragraph, not least because it’s quite brilliant. The mash-ups, the cross-over’s and the themes, all merit a genuinely affectionate thumbs up to SuperBot. They nailed it. From Jak & Daxter’s Misty Island being bombarded by Hot Shots Golf nine iron missiles, to the ever endearing viral Patapon attacking God of War’s lumbering monstrosity Hades, SuperBot have crafted original interactive levels that not only stay true to the underscoring PlayStation theme, but actually affect the way you play. They’re one of the games strongest components. PaRappa’s Dojo comes under attack from Killzone’s Helghast, Loco Roco’s chirpy infectious kaleidoscopic world comes face to face with a Metal Gear Ray and Twisted Metal’s Iron Maiden clampers up the walls of BioShock Infinite’s skylined Colombia. This is perhaps one of the more complete and total differences by comparison to Smash Bros. Smash Bros’. levels are essentially simply emulated character themes, Battle Royale’s levels are eccentric random interactive mash-ups that make no sense on paper and complete sense when you play with them. The levels, much like the characters and their animations look great and visually the engine carries everything and everyone without sacrificing anything. The presentation is slick, attractive and stylish.
Each character has their own story campaign, played out in solo arcade mode. They are also directly partnered with a rival. Here’s where things falter a little. The majority of stories are weak, loosely tethered together by voiced over still drawings that kind of don’t make any sense. You’ll go from any number of three minute fights not really knowing why your fighting to begin with. Then when you meet your rival, you’re thrust into a purple PSASBR arena to fight them on the way to a confrontation with the final boss, failed PlayStation mascot Polygon-Man. The addition of the presumed dead and remarkably obscure Polygon-man is genius, but why is he here and why are we fighting him? What’s his motivation? The game fails to explain any of this and it’s all a bit too random and thrown together. There was a great chance here to tell a story about Polygon-Man that could have defined all of the characters and how they interact with the solo experience. It’s a real missed opportunity.
Multiplayer is where you’ll get the most out of the experience and thankfully the action is just as enjoyable and addictive online. There’s not much variation in terms of multiplayer modes, but straight up 4 player fighting or 2v2 team combat will more than keep you satisfied. The more you fight with your chosen character, the higher you rank up, allowing you to open up new icons, intros, victory animations, costumes and a bevy of extras. There’s literally hundreds of small extras to open between all the fighters, so if you’re the kind of gamer who wants to do everything and see everything, PSASBR will keep you busy for quite a while. Multiplayer also allows for cross-play between PS3 and PSASBR on Vita. Connecting between both versions worked flawlessly and generally speaking, apart from a couple of small changes (there’s no R1 on the Vita, so you use the touch screen) both version are literally identical, and a real credit to the power of PlayStation Vita. It’s also worth mentioning that if you buy the PS3 version, you are gifted the Vita version for free.
More than just a barefaced Smash Bros. imitator, PSASBR holds its own and is wonderful celebration of all things PlayStation. With rewarding frantic and layered gameplay, varied characters and fighting styles, a thoughtful presentation and an excellent multiplayer mode, PSASBR is a must for fighting fans, especially if you’re a seasoned brand PlayStation fan. It’s not perfect, but these imperfections do not merit missing out on the greater experience. The brand brawler genre isn’t just about Smash Bros. anymore.
TGL SCORE: 9/10
Format: PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita
Developer: SuperBot Entertainment, SCE Santa Monica, Blupoint Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Release Date: Out Now