PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is a lot like a box of chocolates that consists purely of almond-based treats. SuperBot Entertainment’s mascot mash-up cherry picks some of the sweetest moments from PlayStation lore and casts them inside a brawler so self-aware that you can’t help but smile while playing it. From the lackadaisical fighting style of Uncharted’s lovable lothario Nathan Drake, to the genre appropriate stances of wannabe marsupial Toro Inoue, this is a confident, creative, and, perhaps most importantly, comical debut that demands your attention in spite of any lingering scepticism you may have.
Indeed, while pre-release discussion has centred on the similarities between Sony’s four-player brawler and Nintendo’s own Super Smash Bros, the comparisons are merely surface deep. PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is a surprisingly original experience that’s defined by its unique scoring system and obsessive attention to detail. The fighter may share some overarching ideas with its nearest peers, but in truth it’s unlike any other competitive game currently available.
At the crux of SuperBot Entertainment’s unique battle loop is AP, which is used to build super meters. Each character in the game has access to three different super attacks, with each tier demanding an increased expenditure of the aforementioned currency. In order to harvest the ambiguous assets, you must successfully land attacks on your opponents. Hitting with a super attack is the only way to kill an adversary, and, subsequently, score points. Are you keeping up?
For as complicated as it sounds on paper, it only takes a round or two to actually understand the system. Once you retune your mindset away from the established rules of virtually every other fighting game released, SuperBot Entertainment’s alternative clicks. And it’s this original mechanic which imbues the brawler with an identity all of its own.
There’s an underlying risk to whichever strategy you adopt, and that makes tight fights incredibly tense affairs. Building up a level one super, for example, only requires a couple of successful combos – but it’s not nearly as foolproof as the overpowering level three supers, which take significantly longer to attain. As such, you’re forced to make constant sub-conscious decisions about your tactics. A huddled group of combatants may be ripe for a swift level one triple-kill, but missing means that you’ll have to rebuild your meter from scratch again. That’s not a necessarily sound approach when your back’s against the wall and there’s just 45 seconds left on the clock. A single bad choice can be the difference between finishing first or fourth.
And yet, this underlying complexity is contrasted by an overwhelming accessibility. Attacks are executed by combining the face buttons with different directions, while supers are initiated with a simple tap of the R2 button. As with any good competitive game, an experienced player will utterly dominate a button-basher – but that doesn’t mean that newcomers can’t have fun. In fact, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale tends to tread the line between accessibility and depth better than any other title in the genre. Sure, it may not ever reach the tactical highs of Street Fighter IV or Marvel vs. Capcom 3, but this is a game that’s designed for both parties and professional play sessions – and it appeals to both astoundingly well.
Each character is armed with a slew of combos that can help them gather AP at an increased rate. Input strings aren’t especially complex, but the title does demand a degree of timing and controller aptitude. Brilliantly, all of the combos are detailed in an incredibly in-depth Tutorial mode, which also spares a moment to introduce you to each of the character’s moves and prepare you for basic gameplay. It’s not the most eye-catching of the game’s initial roster of options, but it’s certainly a godsend for wannabe online high-flyers.
The quality of the roster itself will depend on your lust for the PlayStation brand, but considering the range of fighters on offer, we’re going to assume that anyone who picks up the controller will find at least one appealing superstar. There are a couple of glaring omissions, of course – Crash Bandicoot and Spyro sit at the top of the list – but SuperBot Entertainment has done a sterling job of creating a character list that’s both varied and a fitting celebration of Sony’s gaming history. The mere inclusion of forgotten favourites such as PaRappa the Rapper and Sir Daniel Fortesque is unadulterated fan service, and the game is littered with self-referential jargon that will prompt fans to smile like Fat Princess at a cake convention.
But the nostalgia runs deeper than the inclusion of the characters themselves. Each participant – save for the unavoidable similarities between Good Cole and Evil Cole – is augmented with a unique fighting style that closely mimics their parent intellectual property. The aforementioned Fat Princess, for example, can call upon the assistance of her workers to initiate devastating mid-distance attacks, while Sackboy makes frequent use of his Pop It and gadgets to stave off bigger brutes. Even the dulcet tones of narrator Stephen Fry make a cameo, when the burlap buccaneer lays down a platform of burning embers in traditional creator curator fashion. It’s mad.
The fan-service extends to some of the most inane details too, such as Nathan Drake’s ability to take cover behind a knee-high wall, or Heihachi’s use of bowling pins as projectile attacks. Toro Inoue is arguably the most impressive of them all, as he’s able to utilise his customary changing closet in order to switch between three unique stances, each based on Tekken, Street Fighter, and Mortal Kombat. It’s like a love-letter to the fighting game genre, all wrapped up in the inputs of a niche anthropomorphic cat barely recognised outside of Japan.
The rivalries between protagonists merely add to the insanity, as your main reward for progressing through the single-player Arcade mode is watching completely unrelated characters like Sweet Tooth and Kratos argue over ridiculous topics such as ice cream. In one particularly memorable moment, Toro ponders what’s happened to Heihachi’s grey hair. The writing really is fantastic throughout, and it will make you laugh out loud if you’re a keen follower of the PlayStation platform.
Of course, it’s enhanced by the inclusion of each character’s original voice actor. The authenticity would have been ruined if it was missing the likes of Nolan North and Eric Ladin – but not only are they present, they’ve also recorded brand new dialogue to fit the context of the game. In the case of mute characters such as Sackboy, the developer’s incorporated recognisable sound effects such as the chime of the respawn portals and Pop It from LittleBigPlanet.
The soundtrack incorporates a slew of recognisable themes too, from the sweeping orchestral motifs of Killzone, to the upbeat rhythms of Patapon. Each stage blends two disparate PlayStation franchises to create some fairly unique arenas. Jak & Daxter’s colourful Sandover Village is used as a driving range for the stars of Hot Shots Golf, while LittleBigPlanet’s self-constructing Dreamscape eventually transforms into an episode of Buzz complete with video game trivia. Other stages invoke memories of landmark PlayStation moments, such as the San Francisco scene from the start of Resistance 2, and the seemingly never-ending Alden’s Tower from inFamous, which you actually have to traverse while fending off attacks from your foes.
Each stage is packed with background activity, be it Carmelita from Sly Cooper gliding around in a helicopter, or Ratchet & Clank’s Dr. Nefarious sarcastically commentating on the action that’s taking place on screen. Despite the sheer amount of commotion occurring at any one moment, the game maintains an unwavering 60 frames-per-second at all times. Even more impressive is that the PlayStation Vita version achieves the same without any apparent visual compromises.
Indeed, it’s worth mentioning that for the standard price of PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale on PS3, you get the portable release for free. The wizards over at Bluepoint Games have done an absolutely incredible job of translating the experience to the small-screen, with cross-play and cross-save ensuring that you’re able to take your progress on the go. Transferring your data between devices is still a magical experience, and it’s seamlessly implemented here. The fact that you don’t have to pay any extra for the privilege is massively appreciated.
For all of its strengths, though, keeping track of the action on the Vita’s five-inch screen can be problematic, especially on larger stages where the camera is zoomed out. Still, at least the user interface looks slicker on the handheld, as it appears quite clunky on the PS3. The poor menus aren’t necessarily a major problem, but they give the game a disappointingly cheap appearance.
The story cut-scenes that bookend each character’s single-player campaign are similarly low-budget, with basic dialogue overlapping a slideshow of artwork. They feel like an afterthought, and even though they are true to each fighter’s personality, they don’t really provide a particularly pleasing pay-off for progressing through the eight stages that make up the Arcade mode.
Outside of the standard solo option, there are a slew of combat trials to complete. These are divided into generic and character specific objectives, with three difficulty tiers to beat. Each stage sees you attempting to master a very precise challenge, such as using all three of a character’s super attacks, or earning a certain amount of AP with a specific attack. Completing these tests rewards you with RP, which increases your currently selected fighter’s level. As you raise each of the roster’s rank, you’ll unlock new costumes, taunts, and profile icons which can be used to customise your appearance online. The title also boasts a laundry list of goals, which essentially acknowledge your progress through each of the game’s modes. There are even daily specific targets, which are reset every 24 hours.
For as competent as the single-player experience is, online multiplayer is certain to be the main draw for most people. Thankfully, the matchmaking is smooth, with ranked, quick match, and leaderboards on offer. You can alter a number of parameters in the quick match option, such as game type, items, and more. You can also participate in team matches, allowing you to join forces with a friend, or take on three people at once. And if you’re not a big fan of the default scoring system, you can choose to switch between stock or kill target playlists. Of course, all of these preferences and more extend to the local four-player versus mode too.
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is a fitting celebration of Sony’s video game legacy, and a love-letter to fans of the brand. SuperBot Entertainment has meticulously merged three generations of platform lore into a four-player brawler that’s both approachable and cunningly complex. The game may have some interface issues, and the roster may not appeal to your grandparents – but it’s the only title currently available that lets you pit a burlap doll against an antagonistic ice cream man whose hair is on fire. That, as far as we’re concerned, is absolutely awesome.