Up until now, Nintendo has more or less owned the market on console mascot fighting games with its Super Smash Bros series. PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is Sony’s attempt at throwing its hat into the ring with a fighter of its own that celebrates the history of the PlayStation. Despite its unnecessarily long winded name, I feel it succeeds at being a worthy entry into this particularly limited genre.
Much like Smash Bros., PlayStation All-Stars can have from 2 to 4 opponents fighting in several arenas inspired by games that have appeared on Sony’s consoles. These levels are incredibly dynamic, especially considering that during the course of the fight often the universe of another game will violently invade upon the one you started in.
A good example is a level based on the upcoming Bioshock Infinite, and while you play on this level eventually a giant mech from the recent Twisted metal game appears and starts wreaking havoc on the stage. Often times these invading games will actual present dangers to the fighters as the play and can add a lot of fun excitement to the already chaotic fray.
The fighting mechanics themselves are incredibly easy to get an understanding of. I played the game with a few friends and they were able to pick up the game well enough to be competitive pretty quickly, which is important in what is, at its heart, a party game.
Not that there is not a fair amount of depth in the system. Learning how to master a character can make you incredibly dangerous in the fight. Even the way the game is balanced tends to hint at the fact that some characters are more for picking up and playing while others are better, but more difficult to master.
Every character in the lineup has a unique style, doing a marvelous job at capturing the personality not only of the fighter, but of the game they represent. For instance, Nathan Drake can summon a chest-high wall to hide behind and attack from, the Fat Princess can summon her soldiers to do attacks for her, Sack Boy summons things from his pop-up menu, etc. It’s pretty cool to see all of these elements working during the fights and a treat for anyone who has been a fan of these games.
Another element that is reminiscent of Super Smash Bros. is the random appearance of items/ weapons on the stage that can be picked up by the fighters. All of these items are pulled from games on the PlayStation systems and have a variety of effects. The absolute best, in my opinion, is the Medusa head. It’s only appeared a few times when I’ve played but if you can pull it off, you freeze your opponents in stone and can shatter them with an attack giving you free kills without having to use your super meter. The first time this thing popped up I managed to get all 3 of my opponents with it, I was quite pleased.
In an unusual decision, there isn’t actually a health based system in the game. As you fight you are concentrating on building your super meter. The player builds up to a max of 3 levels on the meter, each one corresponding to a different super move. Hitting opponents with the super moves is how you eliminate them/ gain points depending on the match type your playing.
There’s an incredible amount of strategy linked to deciding when to use your attack depending on a risk/reward system of building it up. Level one super moves usually have a small area of effect and need to be timed perfectly to catch an opponent while level three attacks often can be used to wipe out every player on the screen, multiple times in some cases if you’re skilled enough.
Saving up for the 3rd level sounds like a great strategy but it can take a long time to get to the 3rd level and in the meantime your opponents could be collecting points by effective use of their level 1 attack.
Another thing to consider is that energy can be stolen from opponents super meters either through grapple attacks, stage hazards or certain random items that appear on the stage. There’s a lot to consider as you play the game, but not enough that it’s too confusing.
The single player in the game is honestly more useful as a training tool than being much of a challenge, even on the hardest difficulty you should be able to get through it with just a little bit of frustration.
Amusingly, every character has a story that sort of explains what they are after. The thing that I find funny about this is that there is really no overarching narrative as to why all of these vastly different universes are suddenly clashing. The idea that Kratos from God of War just happened upon characters like Fat Princess and Sack Boy with no explanation is nonsensical (but amusing).
The stories themselves are generally uninteresting and not given too much effort, as illustrated by the fact that they’re told through narrated slide shows. I did, however, enjoy quite a few of the cutscenes before the rivalry bouts. Something about Kratos and Sweet Tooth getting into a fight over a knocked over ice cream cone made me smile.
The final boss fight is highly derivative, though, and the lack of context for his presence paired with the lack of challenge he actually presents makes him a bit of a disappointment.
All of the characters the game comes with are readily available, with no ridiculous requirements to unlock them, which is good for anyone who isn’t really looking to play this unless they have friends around or want to play people online. That being said, there are lesser unlockables which you obtain basically just by playing the game and gaining points for the characters you play as.
There are alternate outfits, little cheering minions, different poses and taunts for characters, avatars and nameplates to use in matches, etc. Cool little extras but nothing necessary if you don’t want to bother with them.
I do wish there were more characters and stages, though at least 2 more fighters and 1 stage have been announced as DLC which will be free for the first couple of weeks. I’ll be interested to see if Sony continues to support this game with more characters and stages after that cause there are definitely more characters from Sony’s history that people want, like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro (assuming they can make deals with the developers who own those properties now). Even more 3rd party characters would certainly be welcome.
Though there were those crying foul when this was announced, claiming it was nothing but a second-rate Smash Bros. clone, there is a very competent fighting game here that is incredibly fun and unique enough to stand on its own. It’s definitely fun to play multiplayer with other people and quick to learn for new players.
Single player feels slightly unnecessary but doesn’t take away from the game as a whole. I fully enjoyed this title and look forward to new content for it. Whether or not this will become an actual franchise will be interesting to see.