PS All-Stars Battle Royale: smashing, bro?

Thursday, 22 November 2012 09:44 GMT By Dave Cook

PS All-Stars: Battle Royale reviews are here. Are we looking at a clone of Nintendo’s Smash Bros. or does it offer a different take on the mascot mash-up? Dave Cook enters the fight to find out.

“It’s up to the likes of Ratchet and Clank, Nathan Drake, Parappa the Rapper and Kratos to fill the Bandicoot-sized holed in our hearts and take to the battle arena. It doesn’t take long for you to realise that the similarities to Smash Bros. run rampant throughout the game.”

It’s entirely understandable why someone would take a fleeting glance at SuperBot and Sony Santa Monica’s PS All-Stars Battle Royale and let rip a barrage of Super Smash Bros. comparisons. The concept is exactly the same. There’s no escaping the fact.

However, if Super Mario Kart can come along and prompt a wave of shameless clones back in the 90s then why cant history repeat itself? In fact, Sony is the only platform holder capable of following the template, as it has the stock to bulk out its character roster.

Microsoft certainly isn’t up to the task, unless Master Chief and Marcus Fenix fighting the Ferrari Testarossa from Forza Motorsport 4 is your idea of a fun time. Well now that you see it on paper, maybe that’d be incredible, but still, this format is a natural fit for Sony.

But right away I have to admit – and I’ve seen many gamers share in this sentiment – that this doesn’t really feel like a celebration of all things PlayStation without the whirling antics of Crash Bandicoot. Both he and his fire-breathing cohort Spyro are currently filed away Activision’s vault of broken IP, waiting for an inevitable dust off.

But for now it’s up to the likes of Ratchet and Clank, Nathan Drake, Parappa the Rapper and Kratos to fill the Bandicoot-sized holed in our hearts and take to the battle arena. It doesn’t take long for you to realise that the similarities to Smash Bros. run rampant throughout the game.

When PS All-Stars reviews started hitting the net I read Destructoid’s glowing appraisal, and the review started with a disclaimer of sorts that stated the game should be judged on its own merits, not by a side-by-side comparison to Nintendo’s game.

I agree entirely, but it’s so hard to overlook the fact that the combat mechanic is identical to Smash Bros., save for the conditions of victory. There are three attack buttons that each do different things depending on what direction you press in tandem.

Some attacks can be charged for greater impact, others act as counters, and some drop hazards around the map like Sackboy’s electric flooring, or Drake’s rolling oil drums. It is identical to the Smash Bros. method, as is holding the left trigger to block and dodge roll.

I should be crying foul right now, except the format works so bloody well that it’s hard to see how else the game’s fluid mix of chaotic fisticuffs could have been achieved in a 2D perspective. It just works, even it is familiar, and Smash Bros. fans will be able to pick it up and dive in with little hassle.

“It’s a tad scrappy at the outset, but once you start figuring out attack ranges, the way combo strikes work, and the importance of blocking and air dodging, the whole format broadens considerably.”

But as I mentioned earlier, the big difference here is in the conditions for victory. In Smash Bros. your aim was to raise the percentage of each player by hitting them, making them more susceptible to a ring out. Here, you build up meter by hitting opponents and once full, you can unleash super attacks.

Land one of these signature moves and you will KO your target. The aim is to land as many of these super moves as possible within the time limit, while other rounds may task you with being the first to land three supers and so on.

There is a neat bit of risk reward at play however, as you can forego your level one super and keep chaining hits to earn a level two move, which is capable of knocking out more opponents, or you can chain big until you hit a screen-consuming level three finisher that affects everyone on-screen.

For example, Parappa’s level one super is a simple heavy strike that can KO two fighters if you time it right, while his level two super sees him zipping around on his skateboard, instantly knocking out anyone in his path. Finally, his third super sees him entering a rap battle in his own game’s trademark style before instantly knocking out every player with a triumphant shout of ‘I gotta believe!’

You can even throw enemies using the right stick, which knocks super gems out of them, depleting their gauge and giving you a chance to steal it for yourself. It’s a neat mechanic as it gives you a chance to suppress fighters dangerously close to hitting their level three super.

That’s the mechanics, but how does it handle? Well it’s a tad scrappy at the outset, but once you start figuring out attack ranges, the way combo strikes work, and the importance of blocking and air dodging, the whole format broadens considerably.

Like its Nintendo counterpart, anyone can get in on the fun by mashing buttons, but considered players can break away from the pack and really dish out some smart moves. Dante is a good example, as you can use his standard combo to hammer people into the screen’s edge, and use his Osiris whirlwind attack to catch them as they bounce back.

Raiden is also capable of some pretty neat combo strings as he unleashes his high frequency blade up high before attaching it to his foot and sweeping enemies to the ground down low. If you put in the practice you can become capable of some really painful tricks, and this is where Sony’s brawler starts to propose a deeper experience.

“Online play is where Battle Royale trumps Smash Bros. however, as it’s a superb format full of monthly ‘season’ challenges and ranked battles. There are also tons of playercard decals, emblems and mascots to unlock in Arcade Mode, giving you a chance to show off your skills before a bout has even begun.”

Street Fighter maestro Seth Killian’s presence during development is especially noticeable in the extensive practice mode, which offers up a wide range of adjustable parameters and CPU activity geared towards helping you improve your game.

All of this effort is tangible in the experience, but the fan service on offer here simply doesn’t stack up to the mascot might of Nintendo. Sure Sony fans will get a kick out of seeing Jak & Daxter pounding on Sweet Tooth during Uncharted 3′s plane stage, but other stages fail to offer any real thrill, even though SuperBot has opted to mash stages together.

For example, the God of War stage sees a giant Hades in the background. He randomly swipes at players, adding a dynamic edge to the fight. About mid-way through the round clock, the backdrop shatters and blends with PSP title Patapon, as a funky beat kicks segues with the sweeping orchestral track.

Then, every so often, the Patapon in the background will take up arms and hurl their spears into the area, battering any players silly enough to get in the way. These moments are superb, but many arenas just feel weak by comparison.

For example, the brown hues of the San Francisco Resistance arena offer little in the way of character, aside from the odd tray missile that obliterates part of the scenery. The same can be said for Sly Racoon’s Paris backdrop. They simply aren’t as memorable or as fun as Smash Bros. Mushroom Kingdom stage or the hazardous racetrack of F-Zero’s ‘Big Blue’.

There are notable exceptions however, such as Master Onion’s dojo from Parappa the Rapper, or a brilliant mash-up between Loco Roco and Metal Gear Solid 2, that sees a hulking Metal Gear RAY stomping around a colourful garden paradise.

Online play is where Battle Royale trumps Smash Bros. however, as it’s a superb format full of monthly ‘season’ challenges and ranked battles. There are also tons of playercard decals, emblems and mascots to unlock in Arcade Mode, giving you a chance to show off your skills before a bout has even begun.

The net code is – at review stage – rock solid, although that may change once the public get their mitts on the game. Playing against humans is as you’d expect, much more fun that battling AI opponents, as brutal as they may be on top tier difficulty. It’s a scrappy mess that serves to enthuse and excite, even if the source material lacks spark.

If I had to pick one other thing that sums up Battle Royale’s varying levels of fan service, I’d have to pick the items. In Smash Bros. you had identifiable objects from Nintendo history such as mushrooms, Pokeballs and more.

Here you have giant fish, rocket launchers and the occasional God of War melee weapon. They rarely appear, so only offer a mild distraction at times. In a way that’s a good thing as it means people are focusing on combat, rather than hurling shit across the screen in the hope of scoring lucky hits.

Is this game worth playing? Well yes absolutely. It’s a solid fighter that is simple to play, doesn’t ask you much from you, but offers hidden depth if you want to take your experience that little bit further.

The PS Vita build is also a superb showcase of visuals, with chunky character models and lots of madness going on without any frame rate issues or any nonsense like that. It’s just a fun, guilt-free experience that offers a quick dose of carnage.

Now come on Microsoft: Master Chief versus Marcus Fenix versus the Ferrari Testarossa from Forza 4. Make it happen, yeah?

Disclosure:

  • Dave wrote this article using the PS Vita version of the game, provided by Sony via download code. No review event was held. No additional merchandise was given.

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