By Leo Stevenson
Let's make it clear: PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale (PSASBR) is not Super Smash Bros. While borrowing from the latter game's DNA, PSASBR is something different. Unfortunately, not different in any fashion that may have improved upon the SSB blueprint and instead only different in ways which lessen the experience. PSASBR is by no means a terrible game. It can be quite fun, but it's fleeting. PSASBR may not be SSB but if it had have been a little more like it it would have been a greater success, instead it's a victim of an identity crisis.
PSASBR is a mascot-based brawler featuring a cast of characters from Sony's -- and third parties' -- past, present and future. This is where the problems begin for the game. I've played video games my entire life -- going on 25 years -- and for me, a vast majority of the characters are uninteresting, questionable or just plain unworthy to have been included. Sony simply do not have a stable of iconic characters to draw on to make this game shine.
Positive entries include Nathan Drake, Kratos, Parappa the Rapper, Jak and Daxter and Ratchet and Clank. These are characters that have featured in widely successful -- both commercial and critical -- games for PlayStation systems. Other characters appear to have been included for either nostalgic or promotional reasons or perhaps both. Sly Cooper, Sir Daniel Fortesque, Dante, Big Daddy and Spike (from Ape Escape) fit this mould. Worst though are characters that have been included for no other reason than to fill out the roster. Fat Princess, Nariko, Toro and Colonel Radec are the main offenders and are characters so undeserving of inclusion it beggars belief that they actually were.
When I play I will always select either Drake or Sackboy as they are the only two characters I feel any actual connection with as a gamer. I suspect it will be the same for a lot of players who will inevitably play only a handful of the characters and be either uninterested or indifferent about the rest. Part of the game's identity crisis comes from the characters. There is a distinct lack of identity either as Sony mascots or a cohesive unit that share the game-world.
The levels do nothing to help alleviate the confusion and lack of consistency throughout. Each level is based around one of the 20 playable characters. Partway through each battle elements from various other Sony properties will arrive to create havoc. The Parappa level is infiltrated by Metal Gears, Jax and Daxter's village is pelted with golf balls from Everybody's Golf and the cargo plane from Uncharted 3 comes under attack from Songbird from Bioshock Infinite. While a nice diversion initially, the fact these interruptions actually affect the fighting and can interrupt the flow of battle by stunning characters etc becomes tiresome rather quickly. The effect of the interruptions can be turned off relegating them to decoration but here they feel even more out of place. Seeing Master Onion take on a Metal Gear sounds cool, but in reality is fairly cheesy and just a little bit lame.
It's the most important part of PSASBR that suffers the most from the lack of identity found within, the fighting. One part brawler and one part combo based fighter combined with the ill-conceived "Super Meter" leave PSASBR feeling more like work than fun. Learning the intricacies of each character is difficult and time-consuming so be prepared to lose -- a lot -- if you play online with experienced fighters. While the button scheme is the same for each character the move sets dont feel like they belong or even come fromt he same game. Kratos plays very similarly to the God of War gameplay and suits a brawler other characters don't fare so well. With move sets either based around gimmicks or invented characteristics, it's uneven, unbalanced and off putting.
The Super Meter is the largest of the problems with the fighting. Unlike other fighting games where you gradually remove an opponent's health or in the case of SSB increase their likelihood of being ejected from the arena, in PSASBR not a single attack you perform damages your opponent in anyway. Instead, the more attacking you do the higher your Super Meter is filled. Once completely full you can perform a Super Move, which is the only way to beat the other players. Once you have used your Super Move you start the process all over again. The problem lies in the design of the Super Moves, the unbalanced approach from fighter to fighter and the ease with which they can be dodged or countered. There are three levels to the super bar with the third level being the most powerful.
The moves are unbalanced across the cast and across the three levels of attacks. Some characters will be easily able to defeat all three enemies with their level one or 2 attacks while others will find it very difficult to even defeat one enemy. The level three super for some characters will defeat all three players 100% of the time and that's it, whereas others will easily be able to defeat each enemy twice resulting in six kills instead of three.
This lack of balance makes the game much less fun to play and results in certain characters appearing cheap. The other problem of the super moves and super meter is that when you miss and fail to defeat a single enemy it feels like a total waste of time as you grind the bar back up again in the hopes you have the luck and timing to hit somebody the next time.
One surprising disappointment in PSASBR is the lack of unlockables. Sure, there are customisation items for the characters and the like, but from the beginning of the game every character is available as is every level. One of the great joys of fighting games is discovering how to unlock each and every piece of content, which also goes a long way to ensuring each character is at least tried by the player.
On a positive note the game plays remarkably well on the PS Vita, in fact I would say it works much better as a handheld game. Being able to play on the Vita against those on PS3 doesn't seem to give any great disadvantage and the smaller screen does wonders for hiding the competent - but hardly gorgeous - graphics. I spent a lot more time with this game on my handheld than I did with the console version and recommend it.
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is not an awful game, and while this review may seem overly critical there is fun to be had. Like I said in the beginning, PSASBR is not Super Smash Bros. but maybe it should have been more like it. In trying to be too different from Nintendo's franchise, Superbot went too far and removed what worked for the genre and replaced them with things that don't. On paper the fighting may sound great, but in practice it falls flat. I can only really recommend this game to the hardest of the hard-core Sony fans. For the rest of us it's likely to leave you scratching your head and wondering where a game with such promise went wrong.