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PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale

1:5210/01/2013Posted by Chris BraithwaiteOne Comment

It would be quite easy to dismiss Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale as nothing more than a clone of Super Smash Brothers. After all, it’s a cast of characters drawn from a wide range of games on the console, all participating in chaotic four-player battles. This could easily beg the question of whether there’s any need for a Sony version of a three-year old Wii game (or a 1999 N64 game, if that’s your preference). Once you dig into it a bit though you’ll find that All-Stars is a worthwhile, genuinely good game.

The control system is similar to Smash Brothers though, with moves no more complex to pull off than holding a direction and pressing a face button. It’s a very intuitive pick-up-and-play control scheme. It won’t take you long to run through every move with a character and begin to come up with some effective tactics.

Games are decided by either highest score within the time limit (with two points for a kill and minus one point for a death) or the first player to reach a set number of kills. The biggest departure from the Super Smash Brothers template is how kills are performed. There are no health bars, but it’s not a case of trying to knock your opponents off the stage. Instead, each attack you perform fills up your “Super” meter. Once this has been filled (there are up to three levels of the gauge fill), hitting R2 will unleash your Super attack which, if it connects, will make your enemy explode in a cool hail of controller button icons.

The Super gauge adds a surprising amount of tactical depth to fights. As soon as the first level of the gauge is filled, you have to decide whether you want to use your level 1 attack or wait until you’ve got a level 2 or 3 one ready. As you’d expect, Supers get stronger at higher levels. A level 1 attack can generally only get you one kill, a level 2 attack will usually have the potential to kill all enemies if well timed, and a level 3 attack should kill all opponents at least once, if not more. This means that there’s always a decision to be made regarding which level of Super you use, which changes based on character, match type and context.

Effective use of Supers can turn matches around very quickly. It does mean matches are less chaotic than Super Smash Brothers, but that doesn’t feel like either a negative or a positive. It’s just a stylistic choice. That being said, there are a couple of criticisms that can be levelled at it. The minor one is that if you miss your Super, it effectively wipes out all of the effort that you put into gaining the attack, which can be frustrating. The more major one is that the quality of Supers varies pretty wildly between characters, with some delivering guaranteed multi-kills, and some that are tough to use to pull off even a single kill. Given the reliance on Supers for kills, that means that some characters feel hugely overpowered, while some feel woefully underpowered.

Generally, characters from combat-based games are strong, but characters from other games don’t work so well. However, a lot of effort has clearly been put into making the move list authentic to the abilities of each character, so even the ones that feel underpowered are still pretty fun to play. For example, it’s tough to get kills with Sackboy, but he uses his head-mounted cake launcher, which never stops being fun. Nathan Drake’s ability to summon waist high walls at will is my favourite though.

The cast of characters overall is strong. It’s focused on current-gen releases, so Sackboy and Drake are joined among the headliners by the likes of Kratos, Cole MacGrath and Colonel Radec. There are also a few characters from Playstation 1 and 2 titles such as Dante and PaRappa the Rapper. All of them look excellent, although PaRappa looks particularly great (still in glorious 2D). Overall, it’s a good range of characters from the PS3 era, but the absence of many notable classic characters from the PS1 era, like Cloud Strife, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro and Lara Croft, means the line-up could be stronger.

The effort put into the looks and moves of each character is also reflected in the story mode. It’s basically standard fighting game fare of an intro video, a video part way through before a rivalry fight, and a closing video, but a decent amount of thought has gone into the attempts to crowbar all the characters into the same universe and give them a reason to get involved. Cole MacGrath is investigating whether other video game characters are Conduits, Kratos is trying to prove himself to his Titan army, and so on. Adding to the feeling of care and attention is the fact that voiceovers are all provided by the actors from their parent games, so Sackboy’s story is framed through a Stephen Fry voiceover and Drake’s gets Nolan North.

While the characters are good, the stages of All-Stars are flat-out great. First off, they’re lovely to look at, with plenty of detail to textures, depth in the background, and make use of a wide variety of art styles to recreate well-known areas from Playstation games. The stages also change as matches continue. A level recreating the crashing plane section from Uncharted 3 is a particular standout, as the fight gradually moves from the cramped interior down the trail of cargo falling from the back of the plane. This morphing approach to stage design keeps the levels fresh, and does have some tactical implications, as certain Supers aren’t as effective with different stage layouts.

If that wasn’t enough going on with the stages, they also always involve an element from another franchise, which are good fun. Ape Escape’s time portal inadvertently brings in the Satan chimera from Resistance 3. The Negativitron from Little Big Planet 2 comes into a Sly Cooper-styled Paris. A colourful LocoRoco stage is attacked by a Metal Gear. Perhaps best of all, the Underworld from God of War’s is invaded by a tribe of Patapon, who eventually defeat Hades.

The background action isn’t just for show. It also has an effect on the foreground with your fight, as missiles, arrows and such fired from the background strike the foreground and reduce the Super gauge of anyone hit. At times, the action in the background can be distracting, but that’s only because what’s going on back there is interesting (and pretty) enough to make a strong grab for your attention. All in all, the level design is hugely rich, and definitely one of All-Star’s main highlights. There are some minor quibbles, such as it occasionally being tricky on larger stages to keeps tabs on where your character is, and the stage for the final boss fight is underwhelming.

More than anything, Playstation All-Stars is a game with few flaws. The only complaint beyond those those mentioned above is that it does lack a bit of depth by virtue of the pick-up-and-play style, but there’s plenty of variety and charm to keep you coming back for more. There’s also a good degree of challenge offered by any combination of AI, friends and online competition, and a plethora of unlockables. When you add in the free downloadable copy of the PS Vita version of the game (which also offers cross platform play against the PS3 version), there’s more than enough value here that belies the initial impression of shallowness.

Overall, I have to confess that I wasn’t expecting a huge amount from Playstation All-Stars, but it surprised me. The Supers system provides a good twist on the Super Smash Brothers formula, it’s obviously been lovingly put together and it’s simply a great deal of fun. It’s definitely a game that’s worth playing.

PlayStation All-Stars Battle RoyalePlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale was reviewed on the PlayStation 3; game provided by SCEE.

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