It would be very easy to look at PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale and say “Oh, it’s Super Smash Bros. with Sony characters.” I’ve done it, and so have a lot of others, because the comparison is easy to make on the surface. It’s a four-player arena fighter featuring characters from popular franchises from the publisher with a few special guests thrown in to fill out the roster. And it’s not like Smash Bros. is some sort of scarlet letter given that it’s a very popular series, with the Brawl entry having been a terrific experience on the Wii.
Thing is, once you really get your hands on Battle Royale, you’ll find a game with a whole lot of things that make it stand out on its own. The result is a game that starts as a fun button mashing arcade fighter, but ends up exposing enough depth that it should make more serious fighting game fans take notice.
Battle Royale is quite easy to pick up and play, which makes it almost instantly accessible if you want to just pick up a controller and start beating up your friends and family (older family of course, since beyond the expected fisticuffs there are crazy weapons and explosions all over the place). One face button maps to jumping and the other three are your attack buttons, which can be modified by pressing up, down, or forward, and there are also air-based attacks too. This results in a rather varied moveset for each character, plus these moves apply pretty much across the board, which means no character-specific five button sequences to memorize. So if you have a favourite character you want to start using right away, you’ll know pretty much all the moves.
While commands are the same across characters, what those commands do is a whole different story. The actual moves themselves are at times drastically different depending on the character. So while you can do the same move with two characters, that money medium-range attack you perform with Cole might only be a short-range attack with Sackboy. This makes a huge difference in how you’ll play with the 20 characters, requiring much more practice with each than you’d expect because they’re so different. And yes, I know Cole McGrath is two characters in this game, but if you’ve ever played inFAMOUS, you’ll know why this makes sense. And as an unapologetic inFAMOUS fanboy, I wholly support the move.
SuperBot did an amazing job of somehow nailing the feel of each character with their moves. Kratos brawls like Kratos. Sackboy calls up a Pop-It menu to call up attacks. I never found myself saying “Well, THAT seems out of place with that character.” The attention to detail is quite apparent here, but it’s even moreso in the stages you’ll battle on. The stages draw inspiration from various Sony franchises with tremendous detail and environmental hazards that force you to keep an eye on what’s going on in the background while you’re getting pummeled. They could have just left it there and been great. But to make things more fun, the stages morph halfway through the battle into a mashup of two franchises. And of course it works.
Now, Battle Royale does require you to change your thinking about fighting games somewhat, and for the uninitiated it takes time to figure out. There are no health bars in this game. Players get hit with no apparent consequence. The meter you do get is for All-Star Points (AP). As you land attacks on your opponents this meter will fill up, granting you the ability to perform Super Attacks (one button, by the way). Supers are the only way to knock out opponents and are essential to success in Battle Royale. You can choose to perform the relatively weak, short range, and easily countered Level 1 Supers for a chance at a kill or two, or you can choose to build your meter to the much more powerful Level 2 Supers or the guaranteed killing sprees that are Level 3′s (they’re also super entertaining in some cases). This is a huge strategic aspect of the game and it’s interesting to watch how different players utilize it. Matches can be either to a set number of kills, or a three-minute free-for-all. Overall, it’s an interesting system that I can see being potentially quite polarizing.
Four-player local or online matches are the meat of the game. In fact, there might be nothing better than having four friends in front of the TV going at it and reacting to everything that’s going on. Especially when the announcer gleefully lets everyone know SOMEBODY just hit Level 3 and three people in the room start to panic. Good times. If you don’t have a bunch of co-players handy, the online fighting is solid, with unranked matches and ranked tournaments going on all the time. The infrastructure seems quite sound. In fact, I have yet to hit a significant lag problem playing any games online.
There are single-player pursuits as well, and quite a few of them. They’re nice to play and are good practice to help you really learn a character’s intricacies. The Arcade mode is the closest to a “story” mode that you’ll get, with each character having their own story giving their otherworldly reason for being here in the first place, and then a small handful of matches leading up to a “rivalry” match and a final boss battle. How rivals are explained is some of the best shoehorning I’ve seen in a game in quite some time, and that’s obviously not a good thing. (Maybe the best was that Sackboy’s rival was the Bioshock Big Daddy because Big Daddy is jealous that his Little Sister thinks Sackboy is adorable. Oh-kay.) Honestly, the Story mode could have been better, and is nowhere near the amazing story mode that Super Smash Bros. Brawl had (I know, there’s that comparison again, sorry). Still, single players will at least have options, which is always of concern in fighting games.
One thing that needs to be highlighted is the brilliant Cross-Buy and Cross-Play with the PS3 and PS Vita. If you buy the PS3 version of the game, you get a free version of the game for your PS Vita. True, not everyone’s got a Vita, but those who invested in Sony’s handheld are starting to see some benefits. It’s terrific playing on my PS3, then moving to the Vita and seeing all my characters’ levels intact. And online matches can take place between players on either console. Since almost every move is the same on the two consoles, it’s easy switching back and forth (though using the touch screen to pick up an item is a REAL flow breaker). I really can’t say enough good things about these features.
In the time I’ve been reviewing the game, an update has already come out, adjusting character balance, which is going to be an ongoing process. Specifically, Sackboy got a significant nerfing in terms of AP generation. It’s nice to see that SuperBot are keeping track of how players are playing and are willing to take drastic steps like this if they see something that’s way overpowered. (I can think of a couple Supers I’ve been nailed with that could use a little nerfing.)
The GamerPops Recommendation
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is a strong arcade fighting game that can really play well in a local multiplayer party setting. The controls are accessible enough that anybody can pick it up right away but the amount of overall and character strategy results in a game that’s deeper than it looks. If my boys were teenagers, I could see some really fun sessions playing this game with them. It’s gorgeous, fast, and deep, and Vita owners get added value with Cross Play and Cross Buy. You can make all the Smash Bros. comparisons you want, and while there are similarities, this game does more than enough to stand on its own.
A review copy was provided to GamerPops.
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ESRB Rating Summary
Rating: T for Teen
Content descriptors: Crude Humor, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence
Rating summary: This is a fighting game in which players engage in hand-to-hand combat against characters from various Sony videogame franchises. Players use swords, energy blasters, fireballs, bazookas, and melee attacks to deplete opponents’ health in dynamically shifting environments; the frenetic battles are accompanied by large explosions as fighters are thrown across the screen or slammed to the ground. In some stages, players can temporarily assume a first-person perspective to fire guns at on-screen characters. One bear-like fighter can perform a flatulence attack to strike opponents, resulting in green gas clouds; another male opponent is dressed in a sumo wrestling–type costume that reveals portions of his buttocks. During one still-frame cutscene, a woman’s posterior is partially exposed. The words “hell” and “bastard” can be heard occasionally in the dialogue.