PLAYSTATION ALL STARS BATTLE ROYALE (2012) – SUPERBOT ENTERTAINMENT
Ever since its inception as an idea, PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale (PSABR) has had a troubled life. As soon as it was placed under the public spotlight, it was shrugged off as an inferior Super Smash Bros. clone. As the roster was slowly unveiled, Sony fans (including myself I must admit) criticised the inclusion or exclusion of certain characters – no Snake, Lara, Crash or Spyro, but two versions of Cole from InFAMOUS and a cat mascot from Japan? When it came to release, reviews were no better than average. A lack of advertising or exposure in general meant it limped into the UK charts at 37th place. And then eventually, SuperBot and Sony parted ways and thus nixed the chance of any significant future DLC. A few months on, the world has largely forgotten that the game exists.
And this is a great shame; because despite the many flaws that the game has, for me it is one of the most fun multiplayer experiences of recent times.
The first point that needs to be made at the outset is that PSABR is NOT a mere clone of Brawl or Melee – they may look very similar to the casual eye, but anyone who has played these games will know how differently they operate. PSABR brings together twenty characters from Sony’s gaming history (with four additional characters currently available as DLC), and despite the notable omissions mentioned above the roster that is present does represent a large cross section of the most famous brands to grace Sony’s consoles. Exclusives are championed by the likes of Kratos (God Of War), Jak & Daxter, Ratchet & Clank and Sackboy (Little Big Planet), while third parties also get involved through the likes of Big Daddy (Bioshock), Dante (DmC) and Raiden (Metal Gear Rising), and there are signs that Sony still has faith in its older franchises as the likes of Parappa The Rapper and Sir Daniel from MediEvil also make the cut. Crucially, apart from the obvious example of ‘Evil/Good Cole’, no two characters feel like clones of each other.
Similar to Super Smash Bros., the action takes place on stages themed around games, but the twist in PSABR is that stages get ‘invaded’ by other games which dynamically shifts the way the level works. It leads to some…odd combinations that perhaps you might not have expected, as Hades from God Of War is defeated by an army of Patopon, the peaceful world of LocoRoco is shattered by Metal Gear Ray, and Sandover Village from Jak & Daxter gets renovated as a level from Everybody’s Golf. This gameplay mechanic is perhaps the thing that PSABR does better than anything else, as it not only provides a visual spectacle and allows for more nods to other games, but also keeps players on their toes, and makes some of the more basic stages of Brawl look quite boring an uninspired as a result. My only criticism of this mechanic is that the levels have been programmed to work with timed rounds – on longer stock battles, the second stage of the level often gets stuck doing nothing particularly interesting.
It is on the fighting front that PSABR differentiates itself from Nintendo’s brawler; whereas in the latter you gradually accrue damage on a percentage meter which makes it easier to knock you off the stage, PSABR instead favours a system built around acquiring energy for ‘Super’ attacks, which are the only way to defeat an enemy character. Performing basic moves on opponents (with a combination of the Square, Triangle and Circle buttons and directional inputs) builds up a small meter at the bottom of the screen called the AP Gauge, and can also be filled quicker by interacting with the environment and taking opponents AP which can be dropped after certain attacks or grabs. The AP Gauge can be built to either Level One, Two or Three, which each one corresponding to a different super attack which is activated by pressing the R2 button. Level Ones are typically quick attacks designed to take out one opponent, whereas Level Two is a more powerful attack designed for several kills. Fill the bar to Level Three and your character will be able to perform a signature Super will makes them invincible for a short period of time; essentially the equivalent of a Final Smash in Brawl. Level Three attacks take a while to earn, but the results are generally worth it – for example, Big Daddy will flood the arena and use his better mobility to catch enemies, whereas Sweet Tooth summons an enormous mech and Parappa will literally rap his enemies to death.
It’s different to Super Smash Brothers. then – but is it necessarily better? I for one find that PSABR is a very accessible game to get into. Standard attacks are easy to pull off with none of the fancy combo inputs you would find in say Street Fighter, and evasive rolls and blocks are similarly easy to master. The thorny issue in this game is balancing between characters, which has been a problem since day one. Upon release, Sackboy was a killing machine due to his ability to set up and accrue ludicrous amounts of AP: he has since been nerfed by numerous patches, but it still feels like certain characters have the edge over others. The use of Supers has also split people’s opinions; whereas the requirement to build up supers to win encourages a delicate balance of tactics between using several Level Ones for quick kills or risking it all on a big Level Three attack for example, many of the attacks are unbalanced. For example; Heihachi’s Level Two sees him summon Kuma the Bear from Tekken, who will independently go off and attack characters earning anywhere from one to five kills. His Level Three attack however, which sees him strapping three people to a rocket blasting off to space, is guaranteed to only kill three. Seems a bit off don’t you think?
The biggest problem that PSABR has going for it however is the lack of anything much to do. In a four player human match it’s really quite good fun – keeping an eye out for each others AP totals and where they are on the screen calls for a sneaky tactical approach that is incredibly satisfying if you pull it off and makes a welcome change to the button mashing spamming of attacks that Brawl could sometimes turn out to be. Outside of multiplayer however, PSABR is mostly underwhelming. Each character has a story mode to go through with minimal cut-scenes or presentation which is laughable compared to the ‘Subspace Emissary’ in Brawl, there’s a challenge and practice mode and….well, that’s it really. No mini-games or side distractions, no level editor, and a bare bones customization menu which allows you to pick a few entrances and exits for each character. It appears that much of the thought went into making the fighting and stages engaging, and then there suddenly wasn’t time for anything else.
The game in general is lacking a sheen of presentation that would make it worthy of being a flagship Sony title. Once you get past the terrific introduction movie, it’s a sea of basic menus and still images. Still, in motion SuperBot have done a good job of making sure that the different styles for the characters don’t collide in an almighty mess – Parappa remains in 2D for the whole time for example while Cole zooms about on streaks of electricity and ice. The presentation of the stages is also quite smooth, ensuring the transitions when an invasion occur move without too much of a hitch and aren’t too distracting. It also helps that they managed to get the majority of the original voice actors for characters to come back and reprise their roles which lends an authenticity to proceedings. The soundtrack for PSABR is quite intriguing as well – when stages change as they are invaded, so too does the music in the background. It leads to some very original remixes of classic tracks, and I for one would be most happy if an official OST was produced at some point.
PSABR represents a missed opportunity for Sony. The game is quite clearly not the cheap Super Smash Bros. clone that many thought it would turn out to be; carving it’s own niche with its invading stages, ‘Supers’ based gameplay and solid multiplayer action (as well as its clever cross play capabilities with the Vita version of the game, which comes as standard with the PS3 copy). However, the roster is weaker than it could have been, there are niggling issues with character balancing, and overall the presentation of the game is not up to scratch with the aspirations Sony should have had for the title in the first place. The precedent of a Sony brawler has now been set, and I for one hope for a stronger sequel to come out on the PS4 to go toe-to-toe with Nintendo’s next installment of Super Smash Bros. – preferably with Crash Bandicoot this time around.
P.S If you are only going to play multiplayer, knock the score up a bit.
P.P.S Here’s an image of Sir Dan dancing in victory. No reason for posting apart from its ace