PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale Review
Developer: Santa Monica Studios, Super Bot
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 3, Vita
The entire games industry, since its early primordial crawl out of the 80’s, has been a big game of innovate, then imitate until such time when someone innovates again. Uncharted is just a re-tooled, re-cast Tomb Raider, Killzone is a gritty rework of Halo, etc. PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is this for Super Smash Bros. And like most games with heavy inspiration from others, the small changes that differentiate them are usually educated progressions to the formula. This is no different here. Mechanically, Battle Royale is a step forward for the arena style fighting game; something that every game going forward can learn from.
The way you win matches is the big thesis in this game’s argument for supremacy. In most fighting games, the object is to beat your opponent to the point where they can’t take it anymore (usually monitored by some sort of life meter) and/or ring outs. In Battle Royale, the only thing that can kill your opponent is your Super Moves. All other attacks either build your Super Meter up to 3 levels, or damage opponents Super Meters.
When launched, enemies must steer clear, as these moves are unblockable, and will kill them in one hit. At first is seems like a questionable choice; most fights are pretty much just cockfights full of ineffective beatings until someone glows blue, and finally, you can do something of real materiality. But a few games in, you start to see how this makes each match a real strategic puzzle. Positioning is key, in order to remain an effective attacker while avoiding these coup de graces really separates the Battle Royale experience from all others. Every character has three supers, all of which have different effects and threat areas, which turns each match into a power struggle. If Superbot did anything right during the development of this game, it was taking this contrarian approach to the status quo of digital brawlers.
The kinetic combat of Battle Royale is immediately and approachable to anyone brave enough to pick a controller. Attacks are mapped on three of the four face buttons, with Jumping on the X, and blocking and grabbing items mapped to the shoulder buttons. Directional buttons change the attacks being executed, and when the time investment is made, the depth of the combat will truly be revealed. This arena battler has taken many lessons from contemporary fighting titles, with each one-on-one encounter feeling as deep and engaging as a Street Fighter match. This feeling doesn’t mitigate when 4 players are added to the mix; the feel just changes into a more situationally complex arena battler than its peers.
This is partly due to the various stages, who often serve as the fifth combatant during a skirmish. The stages vary in size, sometimes being incredibly Closterphobic and tight, and other times extremely vast and isolating. In many instances, the dynamic levels change from one of these to the other mid match, making you adapt on the fly. After dropping many hours into the title, these levels tend to teeter between novel and annoying. Some really stand the test of time and succeed in creating drama even when the gag is old while some were great the first or second time, and now are just a frustrating obstacle. The overall effect is a very forward thinking view on fight spaces, and forces the players to stay active and unpredictable.
The differences in space, ground and verticality will lend themselves, better or worse, to certain characters. Guys like Dante and Raiden love tall levels, as air combos are their bread and butter. Heihachi and Kratos do very well when space is limited and there is no escape. This extra level of diversity really helps keep every match interesting.
The cast itself is an interesting cascade of fan service. Some legendary Sony first party faces are front and center, like Jak, Ratchet, and Sly Cooper. Third party characters that are classically PlayStation like Heihachi Mishima and Nariko really add a great nostalgia to the game. Some of the non-exclusives are real head scratchers though. As the Big Daddy adds an interesting dynamic to the cast, why he was considered over other missing Sony staples is a real mystery. These sort of decisions really take away from the immersion that this Sony love letter is supposed to provide.
Another real immersion killer is the very bland menus and overall presentation. Static pictures of characters with very minimal animation serves as the main menu backdrop, and silly portraits of the cast litter the game in strange places. The beginning and end sequences for characters are just stills with voices delivering paper thin justification for fighting characters from other franchises. Rivalry videos, small cinematics of characters who are destined to fight one another, are awkwardly animated and presented.
The entire single player experience is a rather boring trial overall. The story is very light (and very stupid) and besides Trophies and practice, there really isn’t a good reason to play it. Game modes are also light, leaving most of the excitement and replayability to come from multiplayer. For the most part, multiplayer is sound and lag free, with only minor occurrences of buggy gameplay (some bugs are quite gamebreaking, but will probably be patched out over time.) Ranked match making is competent, and you’ll generally find that you’re amongst the appropriate spread of peers based on your FFA rank. Ranked play also works in Tournament “seasons.” Every 30 days your rank is wiped, and you start from square one again. This is effective at keeping competitive play accessible to new comers, though I’m sure it will be a polarizing decision as more and more hands reach into this pot.
Which brings up Battle Royale’s real challenge: getting this game into people’s hands. On paper, this game will have many worried. To the untrained, it’s a Super Smash Bros. clone with a hodgepodge cast of characters that lack cache anywhere outside of the hardcore PlayStation universe. The battle objective is strange and almost backwards, and outside of battle, it doesn’t look very good. But the majority of skeptics that try their hand at this title will see its merits, and may even cosign to the idea that this game is one of the most important fighting games in years.
Even with its many setbacks, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale’s unique entry into the genre serves as a great first strike at a franchise with a lot of potential.