PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is an excellent game. It may lack polish in areas – the menus in particular are some of the worst we’ve ever seen – but the core gameplay is superb. Developer SuperBot Entertainment clearly invested a lot of time into making each character’s fighting style unique, and it results in a brawler that’s as entertaining to watch as it is to play.

However, despite a slew of positive reviews – including a firm thumbs-up from the website you’re reading – the game is struggling to make an impression at retail. Alarm bells were sounded when the PlayStation 3 and Vita exclusive failed to chart higher than 38th on the UK sales charts during its debut week. Concerns were compounded yesterday, when the title skipped the European PlayStation Network charts entirely. For a title that’s been promoted as a PlayStation heavyweight, that’s disappointing.

Sadly, it sounds like the game is not faring much better in North America either. Unsubstantiated (but reliable) sources citing NPD data claim that the game managed to sell just 88,000 units in November. Even though the brawler launched right at the end of the month, that number’s still well below par.

Granted, the title did make an appearance on the North American PSN charts – debuting in fifth on PS3 and sixth on Vita – but the positions are meaningless without hard data to back them up. Sony claims that the title is selling as expected – which is poorly according to the numbers quoted above. So what’s gone wrong?

PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale always looked like it was going to rely on Sony’s most faithful fans to make it a success

The game’s commercial woes are hard to gauge. Blaming marketing would be a cop out, as the fighter has commanded a huge presence on the PlayStation Blog, IGN, and websites just like this one in the months leading up to launch. Furthermore, it enjoyed stage time at E3, was debuted during an episode of Game Trailers TV, and was playable at virtually every trade-show around the globe. While that’s not enough to guarantee sales outside of hardcore circles, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale always looked like it was going to rely on Sony’s most faithful fans to make it a success. Who else would get excited over the return of PaRappa the Rapper, after all?

Naturally, that brings us to the subject of the roster. It’s true that the likes of Kratos and Nathan Drake aren’t household names to the degree of Super Mario and Sonic, but these are not unpopular characters like some critics would have you believe. God of War sales in particular average over 4 million units per mainline entry, while Uncharted is not too far behind. With both franchise’s main characters strongly represented in the game’s marketing materials – alongside the protagonists of other popular brands such as Metal Gear Solid and BioShock – it’s hard to imagine the roster being a deterrent. But with many of the characters typically associated with mature brands, perhaps the genre is the problem. The audience that laps up each entry of God of War is unlikely to be taken by a game that features anthropomorphic animals and a burlap doll. Conversely, the families that purchase Ratchet & Clank are less likely to gobble up a title that stars a murderous ice-cream man.

This is an issue that Nintendo doesn’t have to deal with. While Super Smash Bros has its fair share of adult characters, the majority of the cast prescribe to a uniform style that either taps into childhood memories or feels safe for families. The problem isn’t necessarily the popularity of Sony’s characters, more the jarring manner in which they come together.

Of course, we’d argue that’s one of PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale’s greatest assets – but it’s easy to see how it could affect the title’s performance at retail. Another issue is timing. With blockbusters such as Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Assassin’s Creed III, and Far Cry 3 launching during the same period, it’s not hard to imagine the fighter slipping down most gamers’ wishlists. In truth, there’s only so much disposable income (and time) consumers have to invest – and it’s likely that SuperBot Entertainment’s debut succumbed to the sheer wealth of alternative experiences available.

Leaks and poor preparation clearly didn’t help the title’s cause either. While there was always a fanbase eager for more information on the game, Sony failed to service that at times. When it did announce new characters, it ensured that the word got out quickly – but hastily cut trailers and long periods of silence meant that the game failed to hog the limelight in the manner that it perhaps should have done. Furthermore, the evolving nature of the development itself meant that the title didn’t look its best until a few short weeks before release.

And yet, these comparatively elaborate theories threaten to overlook the most obvious answer of them all: perhaps people just don’t want a fighting game with PlayStation characters. The idea itself feels like it’s been kicking around since Sir Daniel Fortesque’s knighthood, but far too often we long for things that don’t actually exist.

When all’s said and done, we sincerely hope that the title picks up steam. SuperBot Entertainment’s crafted a stellar starting point, and it’s something we’d selfishly like to see revisited in the future. Imagine a sequel augmented with more stages, characters, and items than in the current build. That’s a game that we want to play – but the market may render it a pipe-dream.

Have you purchased PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale yet? If not, what's prompted you to skip the game? Let us know in the comments section below.