Shameless knock-off or perhaps the sincerest form of flattery? These thoughts came to mind when me and a group of battle worn fighting friends sat down to play PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. Borrowing heavily from a certain well-known mascot-based brawler with similar franchise-mixing tendencies, Sony’s entry brings together some of the best of the PlayStation’s first-party gaming icons (along with a sprinkling of guests) and eagerly throws them into the fray. For a franchise clone, this appears to be standard fare at first glance. But there’s actually enough uniqueness to keep things fresh here, at least for the PlayStation crowd who’ve jealousy coveted that ‘other’ fighter for years.
Without a doubt, there will be constant comparisons among the masses between this game and its most obvious inspiration – the one that features plumbers and pocket monsters – so let’s get that out of the way right now. Yes, you’ll have the likes of Kratos, PaRappa the Rapper, and Nathan Drake from Uncharted fame duking it out. Yes, you’ll be settling who is superior in the themed stages. And, of course, there’s a gleeful celebration of all things originally PlayStation.
This extravaganza is admirably chaotic, and upon playing you’ll immediately notice the fundamentals that were borrowed from that other popular brawler, such as featuring simplified controls and some weapons laid about the arena for that necessary amount of lunacy you’d expect from a free-for-all. This is all fine and dandy, but beyond those essentials is where the similarities end and the differences become more significant. There’s no health bar or any damage percentages to keep an eye on, as the only requirements are simply to beat up your opponents to build up your super move bar and take them out. The method is straightforward enough, as you’ll build your power meter (up to 3 levels) and unleash your fury upon the nearest foes that can involve a devastating move or a fully sequenced screen-filling attack that decimates everybody. It’s fairly entertaining and the only way to actually win; a daring approach indeed.
If you found yourself getting picked off with ease in the other fighting game this one borrows from, then you’ll probably have a better chance of survival with Battle Royale’s structure, as you typically won’t die unless you’re hit with super attacks (or fall through a rare bottomless pit). This aspect guarantees that everybody will be playing longer than just a few moments and certainly is a nice change from the frequent accidental deaths and point losses. This is a great idea, if you ignore the fact that matches tend to drag on when two characters are at odds and attempt to finish each off but are too skittish to make a move. You obviously have to take the good and the bad in stride, or go with timed battles instead.
Since this is a celebration of any and all things PlayStation, the guys at SCE Santa Monica and SuperBot Entertainment did their best to make the presentation worthy of the title. The roster is populated with characters that most gamers, at least those reared during the PlayStation era, should know and love, although many of them lack the charm and panache of Nintendo’s timeless icons on the battlefield. Considering the environments these combatants have been placed in you’d think Colonel Radec (i.e. the Killzone guy) trading blows with Sly Cooper and Sackboy would be more gratifying. But even with guest stars like Big Daddy and HeihachiMishima thrown in to help liven things up the spectacle never feels like it goes far enough to bring the craziness such a hodge-podge deserves.
The cast may feel out of their comfort zones, but the stages in which they fightare definitely unique in execution. As with the character roster they’re ripped from the PlayStation’s best and brightest scenarios and franchises, and at first you may be treated to the vibrant and adorable LocoRoco backdrop, complete with singing and life, and soon afterwards a Metal Gear Ray tank radically transforms the scene for a sense of interaction. It’s an incredible visual mish-mash and carries the presentation more than the in-game characters ever could.
If you desire variety, you’ll find plenty here with the arcade, challenge, tutorial/training, and on/offline versus modes. The online mode provides the same general experience as the offline one, though with the questionable requirement of needing Sony’s Online Pass that only works once on one system (we hate it and think of as a nickel-and-dime slap in the face to gamers everywhere). Fortunately, if you happen to be one of the few PS Vita owners out there, cross platform play between it and the PS3 is available here. Even better, those who pick up the PlayStation 3 version can download the full Vita version – fully gratis – to continue their battles on the go. It’s a great option that I hope we see a lot more of in future PS3/Vita releases.
For those debating on whether or not to pick up PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, fear not, as there’s much more to this cross-franchise mascot brawler than at first glance. The gameplay is solid and surprisingly balanced, and should provide a few hours of frenzied action if you have more than one friend to play it with. For Sony’s collaborative efforts, the results are good and well-intended, though something magical is missing here unlike the plumber starring title it mirrors. Regardless, this crossover holds promise is Sony is dedicated enough to let it evolve, even if it does feel like a lesser version of Super Smash Bros. There, I said it.