Let’s kick this preview off by dealing with the elephant in the room. This looks and feels like a Smash Bros game. I know it, you know it and just about everyone out there who’s had a chance to get some playtime with this game knows it. No matter what Sony did there was no chance comparisons weren’t going to be made. That being said Battle Royale is still an enjoyable game and despite some worrying inclusions appears to be a nice alternative for Sony fans wanting their own mascot fighter.
For those that don’t know, PlayStation All-Stars is a 3D brawler on a single plane where the idea is to eliminate your opponents as many times as possible within a time limit much like the Smash Bros series. I managed to get three rounds in and whilst the first saw me getting used to the control scheme, by match number two I was performing leaping kicks, punches and even using firearms effortlessly. The game is easily accessible and doesn’t feature the super long combos you expect from a game of this genre but instead gives you a smaller handful of moves and the entire freedom of the environment and its features to battle against your opponents. Matches are fast paced and very rarely do you have a moment to rest or plan your next attack meaning I had to be quick on my feet if I stood a chance of winning.
While the fighting itself felt solid, there were some ideas that just didn’t settle right with me. Firstly, you cannot fall off or out of the screen despite the stages being so open. Unlike Smash Bros where you had that constant worry of getting launched into orbit with a powerful punch or slammed off the stage itself, here it doesn’t happen. On that point, there is no real damage counter or health bar either. Instead collecting orbs from opponents you successfully damage fills a special meter that when filled, reward you with a special move that defeats anyone unfortunate enough to get caught on the receiving end. There are three levels to these moves, increasing in orbs required and power the higher they go. Sweet Tooth for example stuck me with a grenade at level one that would defeat just myself but when using a level three special, transformed into Sweet-Bot that totally destroyed everyone on the stage.
Now I like the idea of specials that cause more devastation the longer you save as it adds a nice risk/reward element to the game. However the reliance on said abilities just feels unbalanced. Most level three moves for example are instant kills which takes away from both the satisfaction and fun. Also not being able to defeat opponents by hitting them off the screen or depleting a health bar takes away the caution as you can get beat senseless and not worry too much about the consequences. Some of the specials feel more overpowered than others too, in some cases leading me to believe that come launch gamers will shift toward a select few characters forgetting those with a lesser move set. I understand the developers are probably trying to distance themselves from Smash Bros, but why bother? All-Stars features pretty much everything those games had so why not just keep the damage system too. This focus instead makes the game feel unbalanced at times when a simple health bar or percentage counter would have worked much better.
Character-wise I’ve never felt Sony to have a strong cast of memorable leads. Nintendo could afford a twenty plus roster from their rich history, whereas I feel Sony may struggle. It seems the company know this however as characters from third parties look to be included too such as Big Daddy from the Bioshock series. Plus with surveys being conducted online asking which third parties gamers would like to see, the potential of this cast is looking better already. Imagine Rayman, Leon Kennedy or Ryu getting involved. As it stands the few shown offer a nice enough range and give a good idea of the different combat types found in the game. Nathan Drake for example uses plenty of melee attacks with the occasional pistol. Sly Cooper on the other hand lacks the ability to block but instead can turn invisible. While these guys will never replace Mario and Kirby teaming up on the likes of Donkey Kong and Link in Smash Bros, I’m sure Sony fans will appreciate the choices given here.
Stages are also based on famous franchises and in a nice twist actually combine two together in each. One standout in particular saw LittleBigPlanet and Buzz combine to deliver what has to be one of the coolest fighting stages I’ve played since WarioWare on Brawl. Things started off simple with platforms and items being added in as time went on (much like the creator in LittleBigPlanet). When someone picked up a Buzz remote however, the stage quickly took us to the Buzz studio where questions had to be answered via standing on the correct platforms. Get the question wrong and you take damage. It was hectic, it was crazy and it was great fun. Even weapons are taken right out of titles. The fan service here appears to be at full steam.
Visually the game looks great. It’s bright and colourful managing to bring all these characters from very different art and visual styles together really well. Backgrounds have plenty going on and overall it’s just a very visually appealing title.
Overall I walked away cautiously optimistic about PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. A lot of the components are there and I’m eager to see just how far Sony goes when it comes to including different game franchises, but I just can’t get over the score system. Relying on one-hit kills and special moves with no other means of scoring points just doesn’t feel right. I’m a big fan of the Smash Bros series and since a new one looks to be a long way off, All-Stars could fill that gap nicely. I just hope the special moves don’t detract from the fun.