Review by Chzrm3
"Sony delivers another worthwhile brawler to the fighting-game genre!"
I've been a fan of Smash Brothers for a long, long time - I fell in love with its unusual take on what a fighting game could be, and over the years I've watched Nintendo carefully refine its marquee fighter. And for a long time, Smash Bros has effectively been the only game in town when it comes to a really fun, engaging 4-player fighting game that's easy to pick up and play, but also complex and nuanced once you get a chance to learn about it.
For years, fans of that beautiful variant on the fighting game formula have been asking for more. We've seen several companies try and come up short, for a plethora of reasons, and for a time it seemed as though Smash had simply caught lightning in a bottle, and nobody else would be able to re-create the magic of that series.
I'm happy to say that Playstation All-Stars: Battle Royale (which I'll just call PSASBR, cause that name's insane XD) has pulled it off spectacularly. But rather than mimic Smash Brothers, they've actually taken their game into a surprising and, ultimately, refreshing direction.
While the game does a lot right and adds a lot of cool new ideas to this genre, I'd be lying if I said it didn't have a handful of flaws. However, the more I play the game, the less important these all seem because the gameplay is thoroughly, unrelentingly addicting. I think the last time I had this much fun with a game for so long was when Smash Bros Melee first came out, and that's high praise.
One of the most important things in a game like this is its roster. Let's be honest, if this was a game about a bunch of cereal mascots fighting each other, none of us would be interested. (Although, Captain Crunch beating up Toucan Sam would be kinda cool....) Putting that aside, without characters that we know and love, the game won't really have the power to resonate with audiences.
When it comes to first party choices, PSASBR's done a fantastic job. All of your current favorites are here - Sackboy, Nate, Cole, Sweet Tooth and Kratos, as well as the PS2 platforming trio of Jak and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank, and Sly Cooper. On top of that, the old school gets some surprising love with the inclusions of Sir Dan (Medieval), Parappa, and Spike (Ape Escape). Radec is also here to represent Killzone, as well as Nariko, Toro (Sony's Japanese mascot), and an Evil version of Cole that's actually very different once you play him. (More than just a clone, he's got a full set of different attacks and specials.) Then there's Fat Princess. : P Those last few characters weren't as well-received, but fans of their games were thrilled to have them, and once you've played the game they really do fit in perfectly with everyone else.
Things get a little hairy from there, as we move to third party. Our guest characters include Heihachi from Tekken, Big Daddy from Bioshock, Raiden representing Metal Gear, and Dante from DmC. This was a huge point of contention for many fans, as they lamented the lack of Crash and Spyro (owned by Activision), Cloud (owned by Square), and Snake (filled in for by Raiden). But ultimately, it was up to the third parties whether or not they wanted to cooperate. Heck, even some first parties didn't want to play nice - in an interview, it came out that Team ICO (the brilliant studio behind the beloved Ico and Shadow of the Colossus games) didn't want any of their characters represented.
This wouldn't have been my ideal roster, and it wasn't the development team's either - they admitted that quite readily. But at the end of the day, it's a great collection of first party characters and a solid effort to get some nice third party representation. And every character really was made with love and attention to detail. If you're an enormous fan of Jak, for example, you'll be thrilled to know that they got Daxter's VA. Same goes for Nate, Cole, Kratos... heck, they even have Stephen Fry narrating for Sackboy! The way the characters were brought to life, the way they sound and fight, it's all so true to those games. If you're a fan of a given character, then don't worry - you can rest assured that character was faithfully re-created for this game. =)
Luckily for us, all of the potential roster woes melt away the moment you sit down with the game and begin to play it. The game is absolutely incredible. If you've played Smash, you'll have some idea of what to expect, because the moment-to-moment gameplay is quite similar.
Attack inputs are super simplistic - you pick a button (Triangle, Square or Circle are all used to attack), and add a direction. If you've played Smash for 5 minutes, you know how this works. However, PSASBR does attacks a bit differently, since there aren't "tilts" or "Smash attacks". They kind of divide your options between the three separate buttons instead, meaning that some characters can have melee attacks on triangle and even circle, while other characters only really melee with square, and use the others for specials.
At first, I wasn't sure how I felt about this, but in practice it's actually a great design decision. It allows characters like Sackboy, Spike and Sir Dan to come equipped with a massive assortment of gadgets, weapons, and different items that they have constant access to, while characters like Heihachi, Nariko or Raiden are instead focused almost entirely on melee, having just a few fun options on circle to mix things up.
It really lets them define roles and niches for the characters. When you play Sackboy, you'll appreciate how the creation aspect of LBP has been effectively brought into a fighting game, since he can set up electric panels, lay down bounce pads, fire cakes from his cakinator, and do a few other nasty things that leave items all over the battlefield. Jak and Daxter, on the other hand, have a slew of guns from their games, ranging from the standard gun-types in Jak 2 to the crazy ones introduced later in the series. And when you play someone like Raiden, you'll have a blast figuring out how all his attacks combo into one another.
If you didn't know, this game operates on a system where you build up a meter to fire off a killing blow. You can charge up your meter even further to get stronger attacks, and while the level 3 attacks certainly take a while to build up, they're incredibly strong once you earn them. In much the same way that the characters are wildly different, so too are the special attacks.
Level 1 attacks tend to be some form of a raw strike or a powerful blast from a gun. These can very easily miss and are difficult for some characters to set up, so they're very situational. While Sweet Tooth's is smooth and reliable (you grab someone and stick a grenade on them, then kick them away), Drake's is much harder to land on a moving opponent. (He throws a propane tank and shoots it.) However, Drake has the edge if he's firing into a group of 3 enemies, whereas Sweet Tooth getting more than one kill with his level 1 is an impressive rarity.
Level 2 attacks actually have the most variance to them. A few characters have temporary power ups, where they can run around the stage destroying everyone. (Parappa scoots around on a skateboard, while Sly dons a jetpack and drops bombs from above). Other characters just get insanely strong attacks, like Evil Cole's drain, that have a huge radius. There are even some crazy and unique specials that fall into a category all their own, like when Sir Dan hoists a chalice into the air and it fires off gobs of wine everywhere (which naturally kills whoever touches it).
The Level 3 attacks tend to run along a few common themes. There are cinematic 3's, where you just kill everyone in the match. Spike, for example, calls down a Satellite to evaporate everyone. Nice! There are transformation 3's, where you turn into a beast and slaughter everyone, such as Sweet Tooth hopping into his Sweet Bot and tearing people apart. Then there are the environmental 3's, where you change the nature of the map for a few seconds, like when Big Daddy floods the stage and then swims around, killing the other combatants (who are all struggling to swim and, as such, can't move far at all!)
The matches themselves vary from frenetic and wild (FFA) to tactical and team-work oriented (2v2) to bouts of patience and raw skill (1 v 1). Personally, I've been enjoying 2 v 2 the most, as my brother and I have developed some pretty great teamwork and have been having an absolute blast helping each other set up level-1 kills. One of the coolest things about 2 v 2 is that you've really got to pick your character based on what your teammate has. You don't, for example, want two characters who need to rush for a level 3 super, because it means you'll spend about the first 1:30 of a match getting no kills. You also typically want one character who's strong in melee combat, and one who can fire away from range, so you establish a sort of "front line" where you hold people back.
While FFA is certainly less tactical, it's still a blast to play, but the heart of any fighting game is its 1 v 1, and oddly enough, while you can do ranked FFA and ranked 2 v 2, you can't do ranked 1 v 1. (It's one of the games most vexing flaws). 1 v 1 is still an option, naturally, you just have to invite people from your friend's list (or heck, play locally if you can! : D) It's a strange omission, and hopefully Superbot patches it, because 1 v 1 in this game is very satisfying. It's got a much slower pace than 2 v 2 and there's a good bit more camping involved for some of the characters, but Superbot built the game with that in mind, and everything in 1 v 1 works very well.
There's also the option to play non-ranked games, and in these you can even use custom rulesets. That's pretty cool, especially for people that don't want to play under the ranked rulesets. Speaking of rulesets, you can play around with the options if you're just hosting local games/online games with friends. While there aren't nearly as many options as Brawl has, I've been very happy with the additional choices. Outside of turning off items/stage hazards, you can also tune the AP gain of all characters to high or low - high makes for some incredibly fun matches! On top of this, there's an option called 'kill limit'. Think of it as an inverse stock mode, where you're all racing to see who gets 10 kills first. It's very fun, and after playing it I really hope Smash adds it in Smash 4, because it's a great mode when you don't want anyone to get knocked out early, but also don't want to do timed matches.
The stages, much like the characters, suffer a bit from the restrictions of IP holders but have been crafted with a lot of love. While I personally would've loved a stage that incorporated Shadow of the Colossus or an airship from an FF game, it just wasn't in the cards. Superbot did a tremendous job with what they had to work with, and the result is 14 stages that vary from vibrant and colorful to dark and gloomy to cartoony to realistic to nostalgic to flat-out awesome.
There's a stage where you fight in the plane from Uncharted 3, a stage where you're on an LBP canvas that gets turned into a level during the match, and even a stage from Locoroco! (One of my personal favorites, because the stage tilts during the match and changes its layout drastically!) Some of the stages are absolutely fantastic - when I first played on the Twisted Metal level, and then heard that familiar music from Jak 2 start playing and the Baron declare "Even friends can be enemies!", I had the first legitimate fanboy squeal I've had in years.
On top of that, they all get sort of mashed together with another franchise halfway through. So while you'll start one level on a pier in San Francisco, seeing aliens from Resistance invade, you'll end it being assaulted by Dr. Nefarious as he laughs at you/calls you a moron. The things they did with the mash-ups are pretty insane, but it ends up working well and really gives you this feeling that all these Playstation games kind of did come together.
While you can turn off the stage hazards, sometimes the mash-up still happens. It's a bit of a shame, because I would've preferred the option, on some stages, to just leave the music as-is (the music changes when the mash-up happens and becomes the second game's song.) Another tiny little flaw, but in the grand scheme of things it hardly matters.
Every character in this game has 2 alternate costumes, all complete with different colors. One set of the costumes was a pre-order bonus, but the other one is in-game and you'll be able to unlock if very easily. That pre-order bonus should be available sometime soon online, although they usually like to wait a bit to make the pre-orderees feel special. : )
This alone is awesome from a customization standpoint, and most fighters don't go that far. On top of that, you can actually also unlock different taunts, different intros and winning celebrations, different music that plays when your character wins (everyone has to hear your music if you win, so it's a nice cheeky way to celebrate!), and even things to customize your profile regardless of which character you choose. The funniest of those options are the minions, nubby little versions of characters from the games. As a Jak fan, I was thrilled when I unlocked Keira and could have her cheering me on at the start of the match. (The minions don't really do anything, but if you clear the screen with a super attack they'll pop out and celebrate with you, which is adorable).
My final little flaw is that the menu has 20 possible looks, one for each character - originally, we were going to be able to customize this so that we could always see our favorite character, or just pick an aesthetically pleasing menu. It seems that was omitted from the final version. Hardly a huge deal, but it's too bad because some of the characters, like Radec, have awesome menu screens. (On Radec's menu it's snowing and the music sounds a bit slower and darker). Other characters, like Evil Cole, have these kinda gross menus.
Luckily, I didn't buy this game for its menus, I bought it for the characters, and I've stayed for the gameplay. I didn't want to write this review too early because I wanted to make sure I really enjoyed the game, but after a week of obsessively playing it and not getting the slightest bit bored, I'm happy to say that this game is an absolute triumph for Playstation fans.
If you love Playstation, you'll love this game. If you enjoy Smash Brothers and wish more games tried that style of gameplay, you'll be very intrigued by what's been done here. And heck, if you're just looking for another fun game to play with your buddies on the couch, this is it. It's got the mileage of Smash with some surprising depth, and while the roster may not be perfect and the game may have a couple of hiccups in its overall presentation, the gameplay itself and the way the characters were treated has exceeded my expectations.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 11/27/12
Game Release: PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale (US, 11/20/12)
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