PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale Review
Is it Smash Bros or is it not Smash Bros? That is the question.
It’s a question Sony faced as soon as PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale was announced, it’s a battle that the marketing team has been fighting for the past few months and it’s an identity crisis the game itself wrestles with. The good news is that this isn’t an uninspired, by-the-numbers Smash Bros clone. The bad news is… well, we’ll come to that.
There are obvious similarities between PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale and Nintendo’s Smash Bros series but they don’t stretch far beyond what you see just by watching the game in action. Each match sees four characters plucked from Sony’s back catalogue (plus notable third-party guests) fighting each other.
The levels are broken up with platforms, the characters are floaty and the action is, for want of a better technical term, button-bashy. There are items to pick up and use, random hazards from the environment to avoid and the special moves are flashy, over-the-top and colourful. So far, so Smash.
Spot The Difference
But the scoring system is different enough that it sets PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale apart. The only way to score points is by eliminating an opponent and the only way to do that is by landing a super.
You build up meter for a super by hitting with special moves, which are assigned to face buttons used together with different directions. Without any light punches or medium kicks to cancel into supers as in ‘traditional’ fighting games, and with jumping a largely evasive manoeuvre, this is really all about the special moves.
There’s a huge variety of them on offer too, all tying in with their respective character’s games and history. Big Daddy has a drill attack and super-armour on most of his moves, allowing him to absorb one hit and reflecting the behemoth’s high health. Sir Dan Fortesque has disembodied hands, a shield and all his weapons from Medieval. Nariko has swinging air attacks and quick combos, Sly Cooper can turn invisible to escape danger, Dante has moves taken straight from DmC including his new Osiris and Arbiter weapons, and so on.
Each move has its own purpose, ranging from dishing out more meter to crumpling opponents to counters. There’s a block button amidst all the chaos but the frantic, haphazard nature of PlayStation All-Stars means blocking is more of a desperation measure than anything else, particularly as jumping is such a good way to get out of danger.
Eventually, you can enough meter for a super but you can keep going and build up to a level 3 super. This is what gives PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale its tactical edge.
When you attempt a super, you commit to spending all your meter at once, so you have to weigh up what your options are. Where are your opponents? Are they grouped together? Should you risk your meter now on a level 1 super or build up for an almost guaranteed level 3 kill? How far behind are you in the match?
Complicating matters is that meter can be stolen via special moves and throws while each super is drastically different too – Heihachi sends Kuma after opponents while Nariko jumps behind a cannon and opens fire.
Online runs smoothly too, which is important given the fast pace of the action. There’s nothing here that demands 1-frame link combos as in Street Fighter IV, as the fighting is extremely easy to grasp and understand, even if the scoring system of needing supers to score points isn’t quite as intuitive.
But regardless of the simplicity, it’s still good to see how smooth netplay is. It’s too early to judge how well balanced the characters are but based on our online play so far, it seems that players will drift towards Kratos, with close-range brawlers who can mash Square far easier to grasp than the long-range fighters like Radec or Sir Dan Fortesque.
Not Enough Content
It’s a shame that having fought and won the difficult battle of finding a new identity, PlayStation All-Stars doesn’t have the content to see it through. There’s nothing all that involving for the single-player side of the package. The ideas are there but nothing feels substantial.
Arcade mode has story but it’s little more than narration and artwork bookending a series of meaningless fights. Combo challenges are present but they’re really easy to blitz. Unlockables are present for every character but they’re aesthetic tweaks rather than anything fundamental that will motivate you.
Yet the bigger problem is highlighted by the online community using Kratos ad nauseam – the character select screen needs fleshing out out. There’s a pleasing variety of characters from the metallic bulk of Big Daddy to the nippy Sly Cooper but there simply isn’t enough of them. A big part of the appeal of games like Super Smash Bros or Marvel vs Capcom 3 is dipping into a huge cast of characters to find your favourites
This feels a few characters too short – Crash and Spyro are the notable absentees from Sony’s glory years and while we’ll never know the full story of what hoops Superbot had to jump through just to get the characters here, DLC notwithstanding, this end result needs more faces on the character select screen.
This doesn’t quite feel like the end game for Sony then but rather, the birth of a new series that should prove to be as long-running and successful as Smash Bros, if this debut is anything to go by. And that’s one comparison we’re sure Sony won’t mind at all.