Understandably, it was easy to point fingers and shout “clone!” when Sony announced PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale, a game that at face value seems to be so aggressively similar to Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. series it’s almost comical. Up to the game’s release, it certainly seemed that this would merely be a rote copycat of the bestseller. Luckily, developer Superbot mostly overcomes the stigma of the title as well as the challenge of innovation, making a game that has a handful of great ideas and a couple of areas of improvement.
The gameplay of Battle Royale may be the most unique element, and one that heavily differentiates it from other brawlers. Ordinary attacks don’t actually cause any damage, and none of the characters have health bars. Instead, all attacks feed into a bar that fills with successful hits. The bar has three tiers that translate into levels of Super attacks. These attacks are instantly fatal when they connect. The system has some flexibility in a risk-reward sense, in that you can use a level 1 if you’re close to the end of a match or desperate for points, or you can wait until level 2 or 3, where multiple hits are more likely and the attacks are easier to land.
I’m not sure how I feel about this system; with no way to damage enemies normally, the action feels a bit disconnected from the game. Additionally, it can be frustrating to continually miss with a super, wasting the time it took to build it and necessitating another “grind” towards a full meter again. By the same token, it can also be incredibly tense to be in a close match, with two players that each have their meter filled; it turns into a game of “chicken” with each combatant attempting to muster the courage to exploit the tiniest opening.
It may seem surprising, but across the entire roster of Battle Royale, there are no two characters that are alike. The only exception may be Cole and Evil Cole, but their attacks are unique enough that it feels like playing two distinct entities. Apart from that, every character has a distinct play style that must be mastered.
In fact, that may be the best part of the game: each character is unique and diverse enough that they are their own mountain to scale. In this way, Battle Royale feels somewhat like a fighting game, where each character has definitive strengths and weakness besides “that one’s light, but that one’s heavy.” Raiden has a multitude of speedy dash attacks, while Fat Princess is an entirely different ball game right down to the way she is controlled.
The actual combat of the game carries that same feeling of a traditional fighting game, with the attacks feeling less light and floaty than a Smash Bros. game and more like something like Marvel vs. Capcom, with a bit more heft and weight. Most characters have a dedicated counter move and everyone will require a different means of going up against opponents.
It’s not immediately evident, but the game has a sense of humor. From Sweet Tooth getting pissed at Kratos for ruining his ice cream cone to Heihachi’s level 3 Super, All-Stars does not often take itself seriously. Indeed, it completely embraces the ludicrousness of the concept of the PlayStation universe getting smashed together.
As is the norm with fighting games in their infancy, there are some balancing issues with Battle Royale: while slow-moving, Big Daddy is an absolute steamroller, Raiden is a practically unstoppable force, and most level 3 Super attacks are too-easily obtained and impossible to avoid. Luckily, Superbot will be patching and balancing the game as needed.
Sadly, the connection issues we experienced in the beta have not yet been alleviated. While matchmaking is overall faster, the matches are still plagued with errors the end the game and any associated parties, forcing players to re-send their respective invites and start games fresh. This is the second time this year a multiplayer-focused Sony exclusive has had crippling online issues (the first being Twisted Metal), and it’s inexcusable, especially after such a troublesome beta. Of course, Sony has been good about the other game when it comes to looking into those issues, so I can only hope that it will do the same for solving network errors here.
PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale is far from perfect; balancing and connectivity are things that need to be addressed, the items are boring and the Super system is an acquired taste that took at least a couple of hours for me to get used to. Still though, it’s a good brawler—nay, a good fighting game that makes enough differentiations from its Nintendo-themed sibling to be its own game. It gets better as you add human players in the same room, and it’s satisfying to find “your” character that works best. It’s worth a look.
PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale was developed by SuperBot Entertainment and SCE Santa Monica, and published by Sony Computer Entertainment America. A PlayStation 3 copy was purchased by the editor for the purposes of review.