Super Sony Bros.? Not quite.
I had long predicted a party brawler to come to Sony systems, and it has finally arrived in the form of PlayStation All Stars: Battle Royale. When the game was initially announced, a large part of the internet tumbled over it because the party brawler genre has been dominated by the Super Smash Bros. games on Nintendo consoles. Is this game a Super Smash Bros. rip-off? No. It borrows many gameplay elements from the series, but adds enough variation and creativity in the gameplay to play different and require a wide variety of skills. However, I am fairly sure that Smash Bros.’ success triggered the development and caused the inspiration for PlayStation All Stars.
As Buramu pointed out in his open letter to game journalists, it is important that a game is reviewed on its own merits; just because there is one game dominating this genre, we should not take that as a standard and everything else as a rip-off but instead look at the things PlayStation All Stars does right- in comparison to what it could do right.
Sony knows their character line-up does not have widespread appeal and therefore this game would not cater too well to the casual crowd. I believe this is why developer Superbot chose to make this game lean more closely to the fighter genre to appeal to both PlayStation and fighter fans. The influence of fighting game veterans such as Daniel ‘Clockw0rk’ Maniago is quite evident. There is no superfluous gimmickry present in this game, and elements such as items or stage hazards can be turned off to allow for more competitive and balanced play. This never gets on the competitive level of games such as Street Fighter or Tekken, but still requires a large amount of skill and training to become good and win many games. The platinum trophy doesn’t take skill, though, if you are a trophy hunter.
The cast consists of 20 characters, ranging from Drake’s Uncharted to PaRappa the Rapper. However, certain characters such as Spyro and Crash Bandicoot, who would have been a great fit for a cartoonish brawler, have sadly been omitted (note: there may be a chance that they will be included in future DLC). Third party characters such as Raiden and Big Daddy are playable as well. The individual play styles are very varied, and with the exception of Cole’s rather stupid good and evil formes I’ve never felt that I played that I was playing a style similar to any other characters.
I was pleasantly surprised with the fact that characters play exactly as you expect them to; their signature moves and features from their games of origin have been pasted in the PS All Stars very well, such as Raiden’s super attack, which allows you to slice the opponent by using the right thumbstick, a move very akin to his slicing abilities in Metal Gear Rising. For fans of PlayStation games, such references and throwbacks are very enjoyable.
The stages are all combinations of well-known PlayStation franchises (BioShock and Metal Gear are also included) and are usually the strangest combinations possible: God of War mixed with PataPon, PaRappa the Rapper invaded by Killzone or Ratchet and Clank overtaking a Resistance stage near San Francisco. These stage mash-ups are a great nostalgia trip for PlayStation veterans, and the developers have made great use of it; stages aren’t static, but change as you play. The one moment you’re jumping through a happy and colourful LocoRoco landscape, and the next the stage is sliced open by a giant robot from the Metal Gear universe. Each stage has its own unique hazard, such as Hades himself sending purple waves of fury across the battleground, freezing everyone who is unwise enough to stand in its way on the spot for a few seconds (allowing unaffected players to get an easy combo or kill). At some points the stages felt like they were focused too much on aesthetics instead of favouring gameplay and allowing for better flow and accessibility.The combat system in PlayStation All Stars is interesting and the core differentiating factor the game sports. You cannot knock an enemy out by performing regular attacks only, but instead use your regular attacks to build up AllStars Points (AP) which fill your super meter. Once this meter fills, you are able to use a super. There are three levels of supers, where Level 1 supers are easily countered and usually only kill one enemy, and level 3 supers are invincible on startup and can easily kill all enemies on screen. I am not a particular fan of the system, because the skill needed to be good at this game heavily concentrates itself around being able to land a super and if you accidentally miss one then a lot of hard work has been undone. However, there is a very positive point to the system that many gamers will like; passive play is out of the question. You can only ramp up your AP meter by aggressively attacking the enemy, an innovation I welcome very much and keeps the gameplay frantic and fun, allowing you to go all out when everyone’s AP meter is low but favouring a more cautious strategy during periods when AP bars have been filled. Overall, combat is quite good, but because the characters attack in such different ways it sometimes feels a bit uncoordinated and chaotic, especially because some moves seem to have a lot of knockback.
Attacks can be performed by pressing square, triangle or circle in combination with one of four directional options (neutral, down, up, side) and considering that moves turn out differently in the air there is an impressive amount of tricks at the player’s disposal, demonstrating the depth of PS All Stars. You’ll want to spend a lot of time to learn each character and know their ins and outs, just like a true fighting game. Characters can be leveled up extremely high, and there are a slew of icons, icon backgrounds and other collectibles to unlock (I would have liked to be able to unlock characters and stages, though, a feature that has been absent in many recent fighting games but one which always made me crave for more).In contrast to many other console to Vita ports, PS All Stars does not feel compromised. I have not experienced any lag, the frame rate is as smooth as a supple whiskey and the backgrounds look great and move (a feature which was taken out from games such as UMvC3 to maintain a steady frame rate). The game looks almost perfect, apart from the fact that the colours don’t really pop and the character models are a bit fuzzy around the edges. The standard music is a bit forgettable but sound effects are very good and the voice acting sounds exactly like you’d expect the characters to sound.
However, the biggest downside of PS All Stars lies in its presentation, too. On some of the bigger stages, such as Dreamscape (LittleBigPlanet meets Buzz) the characters are so tiny it is impossible to distinguish different moves and it is very hard to coordinate your strategy, definitely something the developers should have put more thought in when porting the game to the Vita. Also, the ‘story’ in the campaign is presented not in cut scenes, but in stills accompanied by voice-overs. A missed opportunity, if you ask me.
Solo play consists of four modes; Arcade, Tutorial, Trials and Practice. In arcade mode, you follow a small facet of each characters story and finally beat the boss. It’s nothing more than a follow-up of battles, a safe but somewhat boring choice and it feels like it drags on too long. Tutorial mode is very handy for beginning players, as it teaches you every attack your character can perform and explains the basics of the game very well. You can also practice some basic combos here. Practice mode allows you to manipulate all the variables (turning AP generation to high, blocking stage hazards), and is handy for practicing combos.
You’ll be spending most time playing the online modus. Loading times aren’t excessively long and the games I have played were virtually lag-free (even while I was playing upstairs, away from the router), besides some minor input lag. You can either choose to play a Ranked match, in which you always play Free For All with items on, or you can play a quick match in which you can set some parameters. Other than that, the gameplay in the online mode is exactly the same as singleplayer.
All in all, PlayStation All Stars: Battle Royale is a trip down nostalgia lane for long-time PlayStation fans, and a very welcome addition to the Vita’s library for lovers of the brawling genre. The combat system is not perfect, but very enjoyable and overall stage and game design are a welcome change. The game can be played both competitively to a certain degree and casually, but mainly shines at being a decent combination of both. It is one of the better ports present on the Vita, and its only major downsides are presentation niggles. While it sometimes is a bit lost in identity, not knowing whether to be silly or serious and competitive, PlayStation All Stars is an excellent title and a near-perfect port to play with anyone.