(This review was originally written for GamerCheese weeks ago but was never publiushed)
Apparently this holiday season is all about all-stars taking on Nintendo. We already saw SEGA’s All-Stars successfully take on Mario Kart in the utterly spectacular Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed. Now, it’s Sony’s turn with Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale, a game that tries to compete with Smash Bros. However, this is dangerous territory where many have failed in the past. It’s easy to look at Smash Bros. and think “this is a simple and easy game to copy” when in fact it is deeply caked with nuance, options, and features. As such the best way to even attempt to compete is to do something different with the game. This is one thing PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale got right with its sizeable movelists and combo-filled gameplay. Unfortunately, they needed to do more than just that.
Of course the first thing people comment on is Sony’s lack of characters and this game makes that readily apparent. There are a few neat choices like Parappa, and Spike from Ape Escape. However some choices, like Fat Princess, are just embarassing and much of the roster consists of third party characters. The Big Daddy from BioShock being the most amusing to me as said game was a 360 launch title and the character is more commonly thought of as an XBox 360 character. What bothers me most though is the fact that it’s such a sausage fest. Our only female choices are Fat Princess and Nariko. This could have been alleviated had they used more than one character per game. Why not Keira or Ashlin from Jak and Daxter? What about Carmelita from Sly Cooper? Um Jammer Lammy would even be awesome! Heck, if you’re going third party then why not reach all the way back to one of Sony’s earliest mascots: Sofia from Battle Arena Toshinden! At least some of these characters appear in the background, for what that’s worth.
Upon starting it up you will see a very sparse selection of modes. You can play online, locally, do a few missions, or take on the story mode. Said story is sparse and character specific, with unique intros and endings for everyone that give them each a game-specific reason to wind up in this fight. Jak hears there’s a new source of eco, Raiden hears a “mysterious force” is bringing people together, stuff like that. Disappointingly said intros and endings are just two or three still images with some talking over them, but at least the end game rival battle cutscene is realtime. It is also worth mentioning that the end boss is awesome. I don’t wanna spoil it but I had waited years to punch his ugly mug.
The game looks alright, but ultimately unimpressive. The backgrounds are probably the best part, and are filled with little details and background action. The coolest part of them being how other franchises begin to invade them, like when Chop Chop Master Onion’s dojo gets attacked by Helghast war machines. Disappointingly though, the actual part of the stage you interact with is seldom more than a small collection static platforms with many stages being almost entirely flat. Character-wise, it’s a mixed bag. Many characters look identical to how they do in their home games, but some are just strangely off. Nathan Drake just looks wrong and Spike has both too much and too little detail in different parts of his design. The result is a game that looks strangely cheap in spite of everything going on.
The combat though is easily the highlight of the game. The game actively tries to top Smash Bros. here with 3 different attack buttons and a full set of directional specials for each. This results in more than 20 moves per character and makes up for the lack of tilt and smash attacks that generally plagues other games in the genre. Better still, the game has a legitimate combo engine, allowing attacks to be chained together. So, at first the game actually feels pretty darn good.
However, all of this falls apart once you realize that you don’t have a life bar. You don’t take damage in this game. In fact, the only meter you have is a super meter which your attacks fill. Super moves are the only way to KO your opponents. Each character has three different levels of super, but there is no way to do a level 1 super if you have two or three meters. You can only do the super you have the meter for. So, how much damage you deal to who doesn’t matter because there is no damage. You can wail on a crappy player, then unleash your super on the guy who is good. Combos may cause your super meter to fill faster, but that doesn’t mean much. All that matters is landing your super. This basically wrecks the game.
Lets look at Raiden, who is super fast, has quick moves with good range that combo easily, and some of the best supers in the game. His level 1 super is a spinning kick that comes out near instantaneously, his level 2 freezes everyone around him and makes all his attacks insta-kill for a limited time, and his level 3 does the same thing but puts everyone in cardboard boxes. Nearly every other game I played online was three Raidens and some other poor schmuck who was going to come in last place.
Now lets look at Jak, whose controls are strangely unresponsive as his attacks all have a huge amount of wind-up and delay. He has basically no melee attacks and relies on guns with less range than Raiden’s sword. His level 1 super is an uppercut with massive wind-up and no range, his level 2 is a pounce with massive wind-up that kills the people around where he lands, but his level 3 lets him fly around invincibly and shoot insta-kill projectiles. That might be nice if charging a level 3 super didn’t take nearly the entire round and Raiden could do just as well at level 2. This game is completely unbalanced and I don’t think there are enough patches in the world to fix it.
I know someone is going to ask what makes them different from smash moves and the answer is that you have to be weakened first to get smashed. Yes a less skilled player can kill steal, but that’s why they play stock mode in tournaments. A lesser player may be able to get a KO, but a lesser player would also get KOed more often.
Also, Smash has an HP mode. Perhaps if this game had an HP Mode, it might work a bit better (though Jak would still suck). However, unlike the option coated Smash Bros., this game gives you little to no choices. You can turn off items and stage hazards, but that is about it.
At least I can say the unlock system is alright. The game starts you with all the characters and as you play them, they level up and unlock stuff like costumes, win poses, and online ID decorations. This means you can unlock everything in online play if you want to. The game also has combo trials and some challenge missions you can do, but not much else.
It does, however, have online play with shockingly good netcode. I experienced no lag and the only net hiccup I saw was a player teleport and one weird time when I picked Raiden and it gave me Radec. Playing online was actually pretty darn fun and honestly made me raise this game’s score by an entire point. However you eventually realize that it’s still all about landing super moves and any sense of serious competition goes right out the window.
I can’t complain too much about the sound. Characters all sound the way they should and the music is ripped from the games represented. No remixes and often said music is too ambient or unfitting to really work for a fight, but it’s inoffensive enough.
Presentation – Clever background animations, but characters look either copied and pasted or just plain off and the overall feel is cheap.
Optimization – I think I saw a brief framerate drop but otherwise it runs very smoothly and has crazy good netcode.
Ingenuity – A decent attempt at giving Smash Bros. deeper combat, skewered by its idiotic decision to base the entire game around landing super moves.
Sound – Characters sound the way they should, as do the stages though the music is often either bland or unfitting.
Entertainment – Fun combat and online play until you figure out how it all works, then it all just feels pointless and stupid.
I cannot stress enough how much basing the game on landing super moves utterly ruins the entire experience. If they ever patch in an HP mode, then add two more points to the score as even then it would be unbalanced and sparse. Characters feel uneven as though the devs blatantly hated some and loved others and there is so little to do in this game outside of multiplayer it’s kind of embarassing. How this game is a full priced $60 release while Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a $40 budget game I’ll never know as this honestly feels like a PSN game. If you want Smash, stick with Smash. If you want an alternative to Smash with deeper 1-on-1 combat, try TMNT Smash-Up. If you want a good cross-over game, get Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is the Western equivalent of DreamMix TV World Fighters, a novelty and nothing more.