Royale with cheese
There’s an elephant in the room, and its name is Super Smash Bros. No matter how hard I try, I can’t talk about PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale without mentioning the fact that it’s a shameless knockoff of Nintendo’s beloved brawler. It’s so blatant, in fact, that I wouldn’t be surprised if there were high level design meetings where the team played Brawl together and had frank discussions about how much they could get away with stealing before the Big N’s lawyers came knocking down their door.
Still, there’s no denying that Battle Royale successfully apes many of the things that made Smash Bros. such great fun. The basic attacks are accessible and easy to pick up, but there’s plenty of depth for more skilled players to dive into, thanks to the smartly designed combo system. Some of the deeper cuts on the roster may lack the star power of Nintendo’s lineups—I don’t know anyone who was aching to see Sir Daniel Fortesque or Toro Inoue make it in—but there are still plenty of characters here that you know and love, and there’s an undeniable appeal to seeing PaRappa throw down with Cole MacGrath.
What’s more, SuperBot’s done an exceptional job building move sets that capture the spirit of the characters. The Big Daddy spews plasmids, Nathan Drake summons up chest high walls for cover, Sackboy opens a Popit Menu to spawn items. It’s all terribly charming in its absurdity. The levels are similarly inspired, each one a clever mashup of two franchises—LittleBigPlanet with Buzz, Uncharted with BioShock, and so on. I mean, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the game is cribbing from someone else’s formula, but at least it’s a well informed, competent facsimile.
In fact, Battle Royale really only starts to falter when it attempts to cut its own path. The most striking difference is the Super system, which proves to be a mixed bag. Rather than chipping away at your opponents’ life bars, standard attacks instead fill up your AP meter. Once you’ve charged it to level 1, 2, or 3, you can then execute your corresponding Super attack for a chance to actually kill your competitors.
Deciding whether to use your lower level Supers or save up for the more powerful level 3 is an interesting gambit, but SuperBot’s strange decision to make that the overwhelming focus of gameplay winds up holding Battle Royale back in a major way. There’s a very real sense that most of what you’re doing in a match is either a grind towards a few seconds of meaningful play or, worse still, altogether worthless. Knocking someone off a level, for instance, offers no direct benefits. You can earn AP indirectly by collecting the orbs they drop when they respawn, but someone else is just as likely to swoop in and swipe them before you get the chance, effectively profiting off your hard work.
This approach also means that matches can be rather predictable. Since you can only kill or be killed once the meter is full, there’s not much sense of drama or danger for the vast majority of a round. Since it takes the better part of a minute to even build up a level 1, the odds of a last-second comeback are diminished, too. The overall experience takes on a strange air of plodding downtime punctuated by brief periods of genuine excitement.
You’ll also find yourself losing track of your character quite frequently. That’s not necessarily a knock on the game’s design—the dynamic camera tracks the action quite well—but rather its selection of characters. In a game like this, I should be able to instantly spot where my character is, even when the onscreen action is at its busiest. A solid quarter of the roster are generic white guys with identical silhouettes, and it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between Nathan Drake, Cole MacGrath, and Dante at a glance. It’s an even larger problem on the Vita, since your characters are frequently reduced to centimeter-tall blobs on the tiny screen.
If there’s one area that Battle Royale redeems itself, though, it’s in the wealth of content on offer. There are the requisite local and online multiplayer, of course, as well as single-player campaigns for each character. Both are fairly well fleshed out, and the netcode is buttery smooth, regardless of whether you’re on the PS3 or the Vita. There’s also a phenomenal suite of training tools, the highlight of which is Combat Trials. These bite-sized challenges provide a entertaining, objective-driven way to learn a character, making for the most engaging practice mode I’ve ever seen in a fighting game.
In the end, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale isn’t a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a competent, fun casual brawler that does a lot of things quite well, held back by a few key ideas that don’t work out quite as well as you’d hope. Is it Smash Bros. good? Not by a longshot. But if you need something to tide you over until Nintendo sends Mario and company into the fray once more, Battle Royale is definitely worth a shot.
SUMMARY: While it certainly won’t win any points for originality, Battle Royale is a solid Smash Bros. clone that brings a few interesting, if flawed, innovations to the casual brawler.
- THE GOOD: Accessible fighting mechanics and moves that really embody the characters.
- THE BAD: Super system makes matches too same-y and predictable.
- THE UGLY: Losing track of your character in the sea of generic white dudes.
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is available on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita. Both versions were played for review.