Dave: PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is a crossover fighting game that pits important characters from PlayStation’s history against each other. Borrowing heavily from the style of Super Smash Bros., matches are frenetic and require a more strategic style of play than traditional “vs” fighters. Matches are split into three types: skill-based, where you must be the last player alive; time based, where you must kill the most players within a time limit; and target based, where you must reach the required number of kills. Unlike Super Smash Bros., kills are earned by building action points (AP) and executing special moves. AP is earned by attacking players, destroying scenery, or collecting items.
I only started playing the game recently, as I scored a copy with PlayStation Plus and wanted to compare it to Super Smash Bros. – a game I’d also just started for the first time. While very similar, they’re definitely two different beasts, each with their own merits and flaws. Here, I offer the n00b perspective, and Andrew joins me to provide a more experienced view. So Andrew… what did you think?
Andrew: PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale – that title! – was a day-one purchase for me. It’s no secret I’m a Sony fanboy, so having the opportunity to play a Sony-style Smash Bros. game was highly anticipated. I guess you could say it was almost the same as the anticipation I had for a great Karting game from Sony as well.
I remember years ago sitting down to play this (on release), and being met by one of the saddest title screens I’ve seen in modern gaming. It looks like someone forgot it was due and knocked it up five minutes before final submission. Then I got my gameplay hit – I was excited to play through the Story Mode as one of my favourite characters, Sackboy. The Story Mode has you going up against a series of characters on different maps, with a very loose narrative, usually detailing why the character you chose is angry at a different character.
The first problem was that the characters you fight against aren’t even on the appropriate stages you’d expect them to be on. The first stage is a Parappa the Rappa-themed stage and the first character I fought against was Nathan Drake. Strange.
Did you give the story mode a shot at all, Dave? If so, who did you chose and what did you think of the character selection?
Dave: Sackboy is your favourite character?! You’re weird! My first choice was Nariko, followed by Dante, then Raiden, Sly Cooper, and Ratchet. After this, I started playing through Arcade Mode with each character as by then I’d learned that I was mistaken to approach the game like a traditional fighter. Doing this made me realise there’s an extreme imbalance in PS All-Stars (I’m not typing the whole name each time). The versatility and range of moves is great; however, unlike most vs fighters, they don’t seem fairly proportioned. A key part of this relates to the structure of the game. You’re not fighting to deplete enemy health, but instead you fight to fill a special attack bar. The special bar is filled by executing combos and, once full, allows you to execute special moves that defeat enemies and earn points.
Whilst I like the concept, I think it fails with the moves we’re given. Slow and heavy hitters like Big Daddy don’t build up their special bar as fast as quick, agile characters like Dante, meaning they sacrifice speed and agility for… nothing. All the characters seem to have fairly equal length combos as well, so it’s not like the field was level there either. I guess this is why there aren’t any grapplers in the game. And don’t get me started on the specials – considering their importance in earning points and winning rounds, they are extremely imbalanced. Characters like Dante have level 1, 2, and 3 specials that are almost guaranteed to earn kills, whereas others require placement so precise that you’re pretty much relying on luck.
Oh, but you asked me about the story didn’t you? I wasn’t bothered by characters not being on their own levels, as that kind of plays into the story… Oh yeah, did you realise there was a story? I found it on Wikipedia when setting up the game hub! Apparently that 1990s polygon head they call a boss travelled through time grabbing characters and bits of world from PlayStation’s history. You then have to fight each other on hybrid versions of the worlds until you beat the big boss, steal his powers, and return everything to normal. As with much of the rest of the game I didn’t mind the concept, but abhorred the execution. It was like they just took the basic premise of the games they were from and whacked in a few one liners. They were so uncharacteristic and out of place that it felt lazy and… just horrible. Felt more like an insult than a tribute to me. Am I alone in that?
Andrew: Exactly, this whole game feels like an insult. An insult because it takes the basic premise of Super Smash Bros. and tries to make a poor copy of it with Sony characters. It reminds me of the scene in Argo where a bunch of kids have to piece together shredded documents to put some pictures back together. It feels like Sony had some stolen documents that Nintendo had shredded and they’ve tried to piece them back together, which resulted in PS All-Stars. The giant glove boss in Smash Bros. works, but the polygon man here is just terrible. The items that are available to use sometimes don’t make any sense whatsoever and also feel overpowered at times. Where Nintendo has Pokémon or peripherals to throw into Smash Bros., Sony has random items that feel like they are there “just because”.
In fact, the whole game feels like it exists “just because”. Where Nintendo has a fairly family-friendly roster, Sony has to pull from years of family-friendly games and very adult-oriented games. Who exactly is this game marketed for? This is part of a bigger problem that I have with Sony, where they hijack their family-friendly games with their adult characters. Why is there a need to have one of their most hardcore characters – Kratos – appear in a family-friendly fighting game? Why is there a need to have Kratos skins for Littlebigplanet, or even have an R-rated game be promoted with a family-friendly game – I’m looking at you The Last of Us skin packs for Littlebigplanet. But that’s another argument for a different time.
The problem I had, as you mentioned, is that if you try and play this as a traditional fighter, it doesn’t work. If you also try and play it as a Smash Bros. style game, it still doesn’t work. There are fighters in this game that are overpowered to the point of being a joke – Radec from Killzone being the main culprit here. It’s quite possible to never have to move with his character, as he snipes from one side of the map to the other. I played this when the game was first released, so there was still a slightly active online community. Heading into most matches, I would find that they were either populated mostly by Nathan Drake or Radec, which made for some very boring rounds. Have you managed to give the online world a shot at all, or is it deader than developer SuperBot Entertainment’s relationship with Sony?
Dave: I’ve tried on many occasions to give multiplayer a shot. My latest attempt ended with me posting on social media to ask if anyone had the game and would like a match! That’s pretty bad for a game whose longevity resides in its multiplayer. It’s even worse when you take into consideration that it’s so young. It’s interesting you mention Radec and Drake as being overpowered, as I’ve found them to be quite the opposite. They certainly have an arsenal designed to keep people at bay, but all you need is a character like Sly Cooper or Dante and you can easily avoid their range and get in close for some juicy combos…. assuming you find their hitbox of course.
Which brings me to my next big gripe with PS All-Stars. The hitboxes on characters are so small they require a level of precision that almost encourages you to use AoE characters just to ensure a hit. Same goes for the specials. There’s nothing worse than saving up to get a decent special, only to find that – despite putting your fist through your opponents face – it doesn’t hit. At least they’re relatively easy to refill using the scattered weapons. Unlike you, I quite liked the way weapons worked. In Super Smash Bros., they were used to deal big damage and knock opponents back. In PS All-Stars, they’re used to reduce enemy special bars, turning their stolen SP into orbs you can then grab for yourself. It gave me an alternate strategy when I felt I couldn’t go head to head against someone. However, once again, the strength and ease of use of these weapons was far from even.
On the plus side, the game does look really good. I really enjoyed seeing the various game levels merging into each other, and the character moves all looked impressive. It’s a pity many of the levels only appeared in versus mode and, because of their online pass system, I couldn’t even play against my kids on the PlayStation 3. Did you like the presentation? Also what did you play it on? I’ve spent most of my time on Vita, but did try PlayStation 3 recently. I was surprised to see it has its own trophy set. For such an easy platinum, you would have thought the games would have just shared a trophy set.
Andrew: I played this on the Vita, as I was going through a stage of wanting to 100% complete games and didn’t want an incomplete trophy list for the PlayStation 3. As you said, it’s disappointing that there is no local cross-play feature, with one player on one system competing against another player on another system in the same room. It’s possible to do this online, but not using the same PSN login. It’s a small gripe that has been addressed with later games, and I hope that when Sony does decide to reboot this game, this will be something that is addressed.
What I hope the most for PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale – again, that name! – is that Sony revisits this with another developer and gives the game the serious attention it requires. I’ve been of the mind that Nintendo has the monopoly with certain genres – karting games or melee fighters in particular – and I’ve been happy with their games, but I’ve wanted someone to come along and be a great competitor to Nintendo in these areas. Unfortunately, Sony has shown in both cases (with PS All-Stars and Modnation Racers) that they haven’t had the right ingredients to make great games that stand up to IP’s like Mario Kart or Smash Bros.
The idea exists for a great melee fighter, but PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale fails on so many levels that it’s one step forward, ten steps backwards for Sony’s entry into the genre. A disappointing failure for me. 4.5/10
Dave : I’m going to have to agree with you there. The game is an ok concept, but poorly executed, resulting in a game that some may like … for a little while. 4.5 out of ten from me as well.