So PlayStation All-stars Battle Royale bounces onto the rapidly saturating Fighting Game scene from a slightly different angle to anything that has come before. Boasting a healthy sized roster of readymade fan-favourites and a unique points system seemingly designed to keep players on the edge of their seats, it’s hard not to be excited by the idea of Sony’s answer to Nintendo’s Smash Bros franchise. After all, how could a game containing Nathan Drake, Kratos, Bioshock’s Big Daddy and, ahem, Fat Princess be anything other than awesome? Well, let me explain how.
Getting the obvious out of the way, Battle Royale does indeed owe a lot to Smash Bros and is certainly the most obvious influence on style and gameplay. Levels are made up of a series of shifting platforms scattered with various hazards and power-ups, and up to four players can run, roll, jump and double-jump their way around them whilst merrily clobbering their three opponents or the two members of the opposite team. So far, so familiar. But when we look a little closer, differences start to emerge that help Battle Royale stand out as an original game in its own right. For a start, the entire game revolves around your super meter. Getting slapped silly really doesn’t matter as there are no life or health bars, and beating up your opponents is only of any use as a means to an end. This is all because the only way of scoring kills, and therefore points, is to land hits with a super move, which of course is only available once your super bar has been filled. Landing hits and combos builds up meter to a maximum of Level 3, which then enables you to unleash one of 3 different super moves to try and dispose of as many opponents as possible. Level 1s are quick to come by, but will probably only take out 1 or 2 foes if you’re lucky. Level 2s are more powerful but take longer to build, and Level 3s obviously take the longest, but pretty much guarantee wiping out the entire cast at least once. There is something supremely satisfying about hearing your Level 3 announced, pushing your R2, and watching your particular cutscene unfold, with your fellow players helplessly awaiting their fate of dissolving into a cloud of crosses, triangles, circles and squares. Scoring kills gains you 2 points, whilst dying loses you 1. Interestingly though, at no point during the action do you get to see your own or anybody else’s scores. I wasn’t convinced about this at first, but as it is practically impossible to keep track of what everyone is up to, you have no choice but to keep hunting down points until the bitter end. Racking up a cluster of kills and then running away till the clock runs out is a very risky game when you don’t know how everyone else is faring, and this guarantees that all parties stay positive and that you don’t end up hopelessly chasing around faster and more agile characters for the last half of the match.
Battle Royale’s roster is a well varied collection of characters taken from nearly 20 years of PlayStation titles. It’s great to see more recent characters like Sackboy and Drake matching up against older and not quite forgotten ones such as Parappa and Sir Daniel, although there are some glaring omissions that you have to assume will turn up as DLC at some point. There are some possible balance issues, with Kratos and Raiden standing out as particularly strong characters, and Ratchet’s Level 1 super being stupidly good, but nothing seems game breaking and the inevitable future patches will no doubt smooth things out. The different stages on offer here are (nearly) all brilliant. Blending characteristics from 2 separate games is a masterstroke, and stops any of them becoming too dark (Killzone), or too sugary (Parappa). The Hades stage from God of War mixed up with Patapon is a personal favourite, and is a good example of how Battle Royale is happy to twist established ideas to create something new.
It plays beautifully too, online and off. Moves and jumps are mapped to the four face buttons, and can be mashed happily to pull of basic offensive moves, or combined carefully with left and right stick movements to create something far deeper. Moves and combos can all be practised in the various training and tutorial modes. There is very little, if any, lag whilst playing online, and its easy to find games quickly and painlessly, although not always against players of a rank even vaguely resembling your own. Player statistics are reset at after each “season” and this help to keep the playing field level for newcomers and Day 1 buyers alike. Nearly everything about the game is adjustable, from time limits, to kill caps, or even how interactive the stages are. You can play with 2 mates on the PS3 whilst a third joins in on the Vita, or online against anybody on either system. Like all fighting games, the single player story mode will only last you so long, but that really isn’t what this type of game is about, which is why it’s so important that developers Superbot went to so much trouble with the off and online multiplayer.
It’s hard to find anything bad to say about PlayStation All-Stars, so why am I still finding myself going back to 4 year old Street Fighter 4 and 2 year old Marvel vs Capcom 3 after playing for a couple of hours? It’s deep, original and unique, and has been put together in a flexible and adjustable way that really should help it appeal to anybody with even a passing interest in the PlayStation brand. But there is something missing, a certain spark, that prevents it being the awesome flaming free-for-all that it could have been. The menus are functional, but dull and not always as clear as they could be, and this general lack of presentational razzmatazz permeates through the whole game. This genre is so crowded and full of quality competition that there really is no room for a title that plays it safe and refuses to let itself be everything it can be. PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is a good, solid game that gets pretty much nothing wrong, but without getting enough spectacularly right. It’s always fun to play, but you can’t help but feel there was a lot more fun that could have been squeezed out of something as promising as this.
Reviewed on PS3