Finally after a delay and some major skepticism from Nintendo and PlayStation fans alike, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is here at last. When SuperBot Entertainment said they were borrowing elements from Nintendo’s fabled fighter, they weren’t kidding. Menus, selection screens, settings and general gameplay feel like something right out of smash. But PlayStation All Stars at its core is very different from Smash, and while there are some fine-print flaws that may absolve individuals from enjoying it, some aspects could be considered superior to Smash Brothers.
With every fighting game comes a lackluster story mode, and PlayStation All Stars is no exception. Each character has their own story mode that attempts to explain why they’re in the game in the first place. While some make sense (e.g Ratchet searching for gold bolts in a remote galaxy), others simply make none. What baffles me even more are some of the pairings in the rivalry system. The rivalry system pits two characters together in the story mode and after some quarrelling and/or trash talking, the two characters decide to resolve their distaste for one another through physical warfare. It is cool sometimes to see characters like Jak and Ratchet, two major rivals on the PS2, arguing and calling each other names. But then you look at a combination like Evil Cole and Fat Princess, and try to understand how that makes sense at all. A lot of people have tried to come up with theories behind each rivalry, but while its fun to hypothesize, SuperBot most likely paired those two characters up because there was no other option. At least we know now that Evil Cole likes the fatties.
The arcade mode itself is boring as all hell. Even on harder difficulties, the CPUs are a laughable joke. On the lowest difficulty I could get 3 kills from my level 1, set my Vita down, and let the CPUs flop all around me for the next two and a half minutes while I do something else. The final boss was also severely disappointing. We knew from late October that Polygon Man would be the final boss, but I was hoping that they would at least explain a little bit as to why he was there. Instead he just sort of shows up and acts like a jack ass until you beat his minions and kick the crap out of his face. If it weren’t for the character specific trophies I would never again enter Arcade Mode because there is really no entertainment to be found in it.
Moving back to something sensible, the core mechanic of the game is to kill other players with your super move. Each character has three different leveled supers that can be obtained by earning AP. With the slight exception of Evil and Good Cole, each character has unique attacks and supers that create a unique layer of strategy for each of them. Radec for instance has great advantage from a distance, while Nathan Drake is proficient at close to mid range attacks.
Characters are assigned three different buttons for attacks. In conjunction with the directional buttons, each character has 20+ unique moves. Execution of moves is very accurate and error free, especially with the Vita’s tight buttons and analog sticks. Your attacks become your bread and butter for strategically gaining AP.
When it comes down to it however, the supers are really what matter. You can chain up as much AP you want with Nariko’s long combos, but if you can’t properly execute your supers you won’t get any kills, and lose to people you would think are worse than you. For that reason, PlayStation All Stars is more of an execution-based game, relying on the strengths of each individual character’s supers, and the player’s ability to execute them. This function serves as both PlayStation All Stars’ biggest strength and weakness. Its strength lies in the one-off nature of the game; no other fighting game really operates like it.
What becomes of this strength is all the problems that come with it. Such great amount of character variation built on this sort of mechanic is almost asking for imbalance amongst the roster. Certain characters are subject to exploitation for easy kills, which skews both the basic point of the game, and the skill behind the gamer. Sackboy for instance has a way to successfully camp out opponents and gain an easy level 3, which is a devastating attack in its own right. Kratos gains AP ridiculously fast and has a level 3 that’s far from merciful. To put it into a different perspective, imagine PlayStation All Stars as a race. Each character has a different pace that can lead them towards victory. Then picture Kratos and Sackboy as two slender, black, male, Olympic athletes. Get the idea yet? That may have been one of the more racist things I’ve ever written, but I’m sure you understand now.
What makes matters worse is when you try your hand at 1v1. You would think that a one versus one face off would be the best way to prove who is better at PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale right? Not even close. Playing 1v1 proves to be a frantic and frustrating game of cat and mouse, with little to no feeling of dominance. The person who wins is usually the one whose character happens to have the better level 1 super, since saving for lvl 2 or 3 is close to pointless for one kill. When I’m playing with multiple friends, the session is usually ended entirely if one or two players leave, simply because 1v1 is so utterly stupid. Thankfully the online has a 2v2 mode that me and the remaining friend can go into and still find some enjoyment.
What comforts me about the core problems in PlayStation All Stars is the fact that SuperBot Entertainment is listening. Anyone who played Super Smash Bros. Brawl knew that Meta Knight was overpowered, but even if Nintendo was paying attention to gamer’s pleas, (they weren’t) they wouldn’t have been able to patch him anyway. SuperBot is attempting to fine-tune any major problems found well after the game has been released. If enough people complain about Kratos, we could see him get nerfed sometime down the road. Same goes for Sackboy’s level 3, Ratchet’s lvl 1, and more.
Connectivity has also served as an annoyance since the beta was released to PlayStation Plus subscribers back in October. Matchmaking is sometimes sluggish and the games are periodically hurt by a plethora of problems. Opponents can plain disappear, not respawn, and sometimes the game will even give you a random character instead of the one you picked at the start of the match. It’s also worth mentioning that the Vita version’s connectivity performance is slightly inferior to the PS3’s. In a game with friends we found a good amount of lag whilst I was playing on my Vita. The lag seemed to disappear when I went to play on the PS3, so the correlation is there.
SuperBot should also do a better job of connecting players to opponents of similar ranking. The matchmaking currently connects players at random, leading to brown belts fighting yellow belts which is simply unfair. It makes it so that any player that is even a little bit better than average can make it to the top with enough patience. While I may be happy sitting close to a black belt, I don’t feel as if I truly deserve such a title, because I got most of my points from lower ranked opponents.
Despite the grand slew of problems PlayStation All Stars seems to rub in your face, the game is actually a lot of fun to play. It shares much of the same amusements that come from its inspiration, and can still be played for hours upon hours like most other fighters. It is indeed meant to be a party game, but I couldn’t see myself ever trying to introduce it at a friendly gathering. It was hard to give this game a score; it really was. While the game is just scattered with problems that SHOULD scare away most fighting game fanatics, it still somehow managed to consume hours of my time, and will continue to do so in the future. People who are on the fence about whether or not they should pick this game up should just remember these words. If you don’t think you’ll like PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale, you’re probably right. It’s as simple as that. But hey, look at it this way. At least now you’ll have a reason to turn on your PlayStation Vita.