Developer: SuperBot Entertainment / Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment / Played On: PlayStation 3, PS Vita / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Teen [Crude Humor, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence]
It’s clear what Sony was going for with PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale. A game that infuses the best of the best of their PlayStation roster into one frenetic fighting game, a form of crossover that might have long-time PlayStation loyalists squealing with joy at the idea of gaming icons like Kratos going toe-to-toe with Parappa the Rappa. Or seeing Sly Cooper, Nathan Drake, Fat Princess, and Ratchet slap each other silly on that action-packed cargo plane sequence from Uncharted 3.
The product of this crossover is Sony’s clear take on Nintendo’s hit fighting franchise, Super Smash Bros. And while some are for it and others label it a blatant rip-off and cash-in on a known formula, PlayStation All-Stars should not be undermined as just Smash Bros. with Sony characters shoveled in, as it does make some strides to stand on its own. Of course, it very clearly has elements that have been directly lifted from the fast-paced and frantic Super Smash Bros. formula, but can you blame Sony for making a game similar to another that’s been so well received, not to mention clamored for by its consumers?
PlayStation All-Stars and Super Smash Bros. are very, very comparable, and the reason for that is because there aren’t very many games like them.
That said, let me attempt to address the elephant in the room. PlayStation All-Stars is not a Super Smash Bros. clone… not entirely, at least. All right, maybe it’s a little bit of a clone. I couldn’t help but feel it was a bit too similar as I played, but nonetheless All-Stars has some standout differences that you wouldn’t notice if you simply glanced at the two games side-by-side. The differences really only reveal themselves when you start playing.
You can play as a pretty sizeable roster that’s comprised of nostalgic oldies like Jak and Sweet Tooth, and newer faces like Cole Mcgrath and Sackboy. There’s even a few oddities like Sir Daniel Fortesque from the MediEvil games and a Big Daddy from Bioshock, among several others. There are 20 characters in all, and they’re all unlocked from the start.
Like Smash Bros., your goal in All-Stars is to kill other players more than they can kill you, and you do that by unleashing power moves called supers, of which each character has three. These are gained through attacking, successful blocking and evading, and picking up action point orbs around each level. Playing the game, basically. You can’t send people flying off stages as you can in a Smash Bros. game, and there are no health bars, per se, so you’ll have to smack other characters around enough to gain AP and unleash your supers tactically.
And yes, many of the supers feel like final smash attacks from Smash Bros.
Your supers get stronger the higher they level up, with level one being the weakest (usually), and level three being the strongest (also usually). There are a few exceptions, where one character’s super might require you to earn your kills, like Kratos transforming into mega-Kratos at super level three, whereas Parappa’s level three super is a complete stage-clear with no chance of escape. It seems that the outwardly stronger characters have the more precise, skill-based supers (due to the fact that AP can, by this notion, be acquired quicker), whereas some of the smaller, not as damaging characters have more effective supers that require a bit less effort to net kills with (given that attaining AP is, also by this notion, slower to acquire).
All-Stars is fast-paced, but not nearly as much as Smash Bros – and that mainly has to do with the speed of the characters and the distinct ways in which they’re taken down. Where Smash Bros. has characters that can sprint with a double tap of the analog stick, the characters in All-Stars move at a predetermined pace. It’s not the worst problem to have, sure, but it does slow down combat significantly when you and another character have to take a few seconds to travel to each other, especially on some of the larger levels.
Additionally, in Smash Bros. you have to worry about being killed by being knocked off the stage, whereas in All-Stars you have to focus on dodging other supers and executing your own.
This is where the game shines: multiplayer battles. While there’s not as much match customization as I’d like to see, the game runs incredibly well over WiFi. Even on a connection like mine that’s less-than-stellar, I noticed no lag or frame drops when playing online. What’s even better, though, is that the game is far more fun against real players and friends than it is against AI. That was to be expected, but the fact that everything runs smoothly – especially taking into consideration that the game is cross-playable between PS3 and Vita — is a stunning achievement. The online component also keeps track of your progress and level with each character across both Vita and PS3, so long as you’re on the same PSN account.
In terms of balance, the larger, blade-wielding characters felt a tiny bit overpowered. Kratos, I found, was easily the most accessible character I played, and has pretty ridiculous range with some considerably powerful weapons at his disposal (a combination that nets you AP points pretty dang quickly). Hopefully this and other unbalances will get sorted out in a patch. All-Stars is like any other multiplayer game, it might require some tweaking and refining post-launch, but it’s overall balanced.
And don’t be mistaken on this – I love Smash Bros. as much as the next guy, but it does not have functional online multiplayer… in nearly any capacity. Blame that on the Wii or blame that on the game, but All-Stars’ multiplayer works, and it works across two different platforms at that.
PlayStation All-Stars looks good – and by that I mean it’s pretty, it’s got very fluid animation and it sports some snazzy particle effects. The levels are colorful and have their own distinct palettes and design, and the characters (while some are less detailed than others) play and perform differently from each other on-screen.
The levels you’ll play on are themed after the games from which each playable character originates. What’s intuitive is that the developers didn’t settle for just one theme per level – they blend them together. For example, you’ll get a Hades-themed level from God of War that later gets invaded by Patapon, and a LittleBigPlanet level that changes on-the-fly and later turns into a round of a game show from the quiz franchise Buzz.
Each level has environmental hazards you’ll want to avoid. None of them, from my experience, have the ability to kill you (like they can in a Smash game), but they will mess up your plan of attack (or your enemies’) if you don’t dodge and pay close attention. It’s a good dynamic for keeping players on their toes.
If I have a presentational complaint about All-Stars, it’s that there is something awkwardly self-indulgent about how the game incorporates PlayStation as a brand into… well, just about everything. From the final boss battle to the animation that plays when you die, nearly everything emits Xs, squares, circles and triangles – trademarks of Sony’s gaming brand. It’s just a little weird how the game is constantly reminding you of just how “PlayStation” it is.
In terms of modes for All-Stars, you have single player, online multiplayer, tournaments that circulate every few weeks, and a challenge mode. While this will suit plenty of folks I’m sure, I couldn’t help but feel that the game was lacking a bit in the content department in comparison to competing games. Why isn’t there more match customization for my friends and I to toy with? Is there nothing else to do besides just regular death matches?
It feels like a missed opportunity, a chance to get really creative — especially when other competing games offer a variety of modes that mix up the fun.
PlayStation All-Stars is a bit of an interesting call. It’s a genuine brawling game that’s as silly as it is fun to play, and the fact that it’s simply Sony’s take on Nintendo’s long-lasting mascot fighter shouldn’t detract from that… because it took pieces of what made Nintendo’s game so popular and altered it to feel a bit more unique.
Overall though, the game feels a tad lacking in content. Single player for each character takes less than 30 minutes to beat, multiplayer and versus aren’t customizable by more than a few basic attributes – and unless you count the bonus challenges for each character, All-Stars will have you punching, kicking, shooting and supering your opponents for every moment you spend with it. More gameplay variety would have been nice.
If you’re a PlayStation 3 owner looking for a similar smashing experience to that of Smash Bros., chock-full of characters that you’ve either grown up with, currently love and support, or perhaps both, PlayStation All-Stars is worth checking out. Like I said, it’s a small market these games are in… there’s plenty of room for both.
Also, you essentially get two games with your purchase: a copy for your PlayStation 3 at home and a free copy for your Vita on-the-go, and they carry over content and play against each other. That in itself is a sweet bonus.