Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale
Back in the 90s, the pitch for Super Smash Bros will have been one of the oddest things to come through Nintendo’s doors in a long while. The thought of the company’s mascots battering seven shades of shit out of one-another in a scrappy cartoon brawler must have made about as much sense as… Well, having characters from the Mario universe racing karts through trippy rainbow worlds. And we all know how well that turned out. The Super Smash Bros series became a runaway success, finding its niche as a delightfully irreverent tribute to all things Nintendo. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and someone at Sony must’ve been paying close attention, because Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale aims to fill the same role, throwing together a load of characters from the company’s rich history to battle it out in a 2D brawler.
It’s safe to say, right off the bat, Playstation All-Stars’s line-up lacks the lustre of Nintendo’s own. Where Smash Bros gave us Mario battering Link and Samus, here we have Fat Princess going toe-to-toe with Sweet Tooth. Cole MacGrath laying into Colonel Radec. You can’t blame Sony for lacking the rich seam of character history that Nintendo are able to tap, but for what’s billed as a celebration of all things Playstation the 22-strong character roster feels a little incomplete. Favourites like Kratos, PaRappa, and Sackboy are squeezed in alongside a handful of third-party offerings, like Heihachi Mishima from Tekken and Raiden from Metal Gear Solid. But names like Lara Croft, Crash Bandicoot, and the like would have helped to flesh out a fairly limp selection. We can only imagine they’re saving the best for paid DLC in the near future.
Thankfully, the characters that are present are a delight to play as. Sony have done well to mesh together a wide variety of fighting styles while managing to keep it all fairly balanced. Three face buttons combined with jumps and directions pull off a bewildering variety of moves, which can be laced together into damaging combos. Each character has their strengths; Nathan Drake employs all kinds of guns and gadgets to attack from distance, where Heihachi is a close quarters battler, hammering away with punches and kicks. You’ll settle on one that suits your style quickly, and as you get further into it the intricacies of the fighting system will become clearer.
And what an odd system it is. Going against the grain of the fighting genre; attacks themselves don’t do any damage. There are no health bars, no percentages, nothing to chip away at. Instead attacks fill up a bar that allows you to unleash special moves, which are the only way to kill other players. These come in three levels. The first might take out someone standing right next to you, while powering up to the third will bring out a cutscene-driven offensive that obliterates everyone on screen. It adds and interesting risk/reward mechanic to the fighting, as you worry about whether to save up your power while other players are doing the same.
The frustration is that without scaling damage or health bars there’s often the feeling that you aren’t making any progress at all. Super attacks are easily missed, meaning fights can go on for a very long time. At one point I was stuck battling the final boss for nearly half an hour, as AI bots battered me with power draining items and dodged attack after attack. When it works, it works well, but at its worst the fighting system is a broken, blood boiling mess.
That nearly fits with the multiplayer focus of the game, but not quite. True, with four players Playstation All-Stars descends into the kind of laughably brilliant chaos you’d expect from a party fighting game. But in that you lose some of the intricate combo play, whereas with two players you can often be stuck simply battling to a stalemate. It doesn’t help that there’s nothing to do but fight. You’d expect it to be packed with extra modes, unlockables, and hidden treats, but there’s little of the sort. For a party game that’s disappointing. And for what’s billed as a celebration of Playstation history, it’s a real missed opportunity.
It’s difficult to shake the feeling that this is an unfinished game. Where the stages are gorgeously detailed the menus are bizarrely static and dull. The lack of extra modes is jarring, while the online battles are riddled with bugs. It is great fun for what it is, but Playstation All-Stars could have been so much more.