PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale review: a small tribute
by Andrew Yoon, shacknews.com, Nov 20, 2012 8:00AM PST
We've said it before, and we'll say it again: PlayStation All-Stars is not Smash Bros. Thanks to the rather unique decision of making KOs achieved exclusively through special attacks, Battle Royale plays quite differently from Nintendo's mascot brawler. Still, comparisons are inevitable because there just aren't too many other first-party developed 2D mash-up fighters out there.
Most importantly, Sony's approach is far more technical than Nintendo's. In fact, the game is more Marvel vs. Capcom than Smash Bros. Each character handles very differently, and requires learning entirely different move sets. A fighting mainstay like Heihachi has 35 different moves at his disposal, discounting combos, but the seemingly accessible Sackboy has 34 moves up his sleeves. Devil May Cry's Dante is one of the most complex characters in the game, with 22 unique combos he can perform.
As a result, PlayStation All-Stars is far less approachable than Smash Bros. In Nintendo's game, the accessible A and B system makes it relatively easy to transition from character to character. It's far more difficult to do character roulette in Sony's game, as there's very little shared in common between the characters. Some of the characters, such as Nathan Drake or Sly Cooper, are so strange that button mashing simply isn't effective.
Thankfully, the game does an excellent job of teaching players how to effectively use all 20 of its characters. When you launch the game, a prompt appears asking if you'd like to play the tutorial. Attempting to skip it will have the game sternly recommend it, and for good reason. Whether you're a Smash Bros vet, or a fighting game connoisseur, you'll need to throw out conventions and learn the oddities of how All-Stars works.
Once you get past the basics of AP generation and supers, the game offers additional combat trials that further detail the mechanics of the game. You'll master dodges, throws, and counter supers through these challenges. Each character also offers a detailed tutorial, outlining the individual moves and combos each character has in its possession. Not only are these trials informative, but they're actually quite fun, as they pose rather unique challenges. For example, you may need to kill multiple enemies with a single super, or successfully counter a super with your own super.
Oddly, in spite of the depth offered by the game's combat, the only way you can score kills is by building up your super meter and performing a super move. The decision to make everything else--environmental hazards and items, for example--only affect a character's AP is certainly bold. You're constantly forced to think about risk and reward. Do you attack or avoid a character that has enough AP for a super? Do you perform a level 1 super or do you save up for a level 2 or 3? Performing a level 1 super that kills three opponents at once becomes incredibly satisfying; killing no one with a level 3 is soul-crushingly devastating.
While the super system makes for a rather unique experience, it also feels like it directly contradicts the need for such a complex fighting engine to begin with. Many of the gameplay systems feel unnecessary when they don't directly contribute to getting a kill. Why should you bother learning all 22 of Dante's combos if landing a string of six different hits doesn't actually kill an enemy? Why bother picking up items if the rocket launcher doesn't dole out HP damage? While every hit contributes to your AP meter, the disconnect can nonetheless be jarring.
Once you come to terms with the gameplay, it is quite fun--especially when matched against three other human opponents. While not as accessible as Smash Bros, it's easy to see All Stars assume a very similar role on PS3 consoles: as the de-facto four-player fighter of choice.
While multiplayer is clearly the focus of the game, it's disappointing to see how little else the game has to offer beyond that. All-Stars could have benefited greatly from taking a few more pages from Nintendo's book. What elevated Smash Bros into such a beloved property wasn't just the characters, or the frantic fighting gameplay. A lot of passion could be found in every aspect of the game, from a story mode filled with surprises, to an encyclopedic trophy system that had Nintendo fans addicted to collect 'em all.
All-Stars offers very little in terms of PlayStation fanfare. The included arcade mode feels thoroughly phoned in. While Sony promised a unique "story" for each character, what they apparently meant was a generic one-minute voice over accompanied by a still image. From there, you get a series of completely random, disconnected fights culminating in a final "boss" that has you simply fighting the regular roster, but in a different color palette. Compare that to the epic story mode of Smash Bros Brawl penned by Final Fantasy 7's Kazushige Nojima, and All-Stars' arcade offering can only be viewed as cheap.
Going into the "Extras" menu and seeing the character bios only further reinforced my perception that much of the game's presentation was half-assed. In Smash Bros, you can rotate hundreds of 3D models from Nintendo's history, and listen to a soundtrack spanning multiple console generations. In PlayStation All-Stars, you get five bio pages with four characters smashed into each.
And while there's an XP and leveling up system for each character, there's little incentive to actually bother unlocking anything. Most of the in-game rewards are for generic backgrounds and tiny icons for you to place in your online gamer card. You can also unlock an additional costume for each character--but do note that I used the singular form of that word. If All-Stars is supposed to be a tribute to the PlayStation legacy, it's definitely more haiku than epic poem.
With no meaningful unlocks and no worthwhile single-player experience to speak of, PlayStation All-Stars' longevity is solely determined by its multiplayer mode. Battle Royale fills a niche in PlayStation's lineup, and it does a good enough job at offering a party-oriented fighting experience. There's a long list of things that should be improved for a sequel, but it's certainly fun enough for a first outing in the franchise.
This PlayStation All-Stars review was based on a retail PlayStation 3 and PS Vita version of the game provided by the publisher. The Vita version of the game is included with the PS3 version as part of Sony's "Cross Buy" promotion.