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Review: PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale!

December 9, 2012

Finally after all the talk, all the hype, all the lingering concerns, all the questions, it’s finally out. PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. So how does it stack up?

STORY

PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is a 4-player arena brawl fighting game, similar to the hugely successful Nintendo Smash Bros, and brings together characters from the PlayStation’s distant past and more contemporary ones as well.

So what is the linchpin that brings together this circus of characters? Well, each character’s involvement is framed in the Arcade mode; they are looking for new power to either save the world or to destroy it, and there are rumours of fighters being brought together by an immensely powerful being. This being is PolygonMan, a ditched Sony mascot from way back in the PlayStation 1 era.

Long gone, but not long forgotten.

While on their way to do battle with PolygonMan, each character meets their rival. Now, the rivalries are framed completely in a short few minute animation, which includes mostly smack-talk between two characters who don’t know each other and just resist any sort of friendly interaction.

Some of these rivals feel justified. Jak & Daxter’s rivalry with Ratchet & Clank feels more rewarding to watch compared to say Colonel Radec (Killzone) and Sir Daniel Fortesque (Medievil). Jak and Ratchet feel like their rivalry has always been there, they are two platformers from two expert first party developers, and when you think of one, you tend to think of the other as its opposite and competitor. That can not be said for Radec and Sir Dan.

Nathan Drake and Sly’s rivalry also seemed really random until I realised they are both thieves and treasure hunters. Their interaction was excellent. Drake taunting Sly: “Bring it on road kill!” brought a massive smile to my face.

The story is obviously not where a brawler will place focus, but SuperBot managed to make a reasonably enjoyable arcade experience even if some of the characters’ rivalries seem a little bit forced.

PRESENTATION

First of all I have to say that SuperBot did a fantastic job of bringing the roster of 20 characters into the brawler realm. Keeping their movements fluid and super-kinetic while maintaining the style of movement that each character has been defined by in their respective titles.

To name a few: Nathan Drake throws clumsy haymakers and stumbles about while fighting, mirroring the everyman image Naughty Dog were aiming for. Jak holds his blaster up to his face, eyeballing his next target just like Jak 2 or Jak 3, his physical actions are recreated wonderfully, his fist expanding in the cartoony fashion as he goes in for a straight punch and Evil Cole stands with that arrogant air that makes him look like the lethal badass he is.

The fighting animations for each character are sleek and join together gloriously to make the manic battles look all the more awesome. As well as each character sounds like themselves (although not all original voices came back). It’s a good laugh to hear Nathan Drake taunting Kratos, or hearing Kratos roar with rage at Fat Princess. As well as all the weapons, kicks and punches sound effects for each character are spot on. Ratchet’s RYNO V is wonderfully vocal as ever, Jak’s peacemaker makes the same whirring static blast and Big Daddy’s thundering footfalls echo around your cranium.

Jak’s Level 3 Super made my brain go into melt-down.

The stage designs are an entertaining twist. First of all acknowledging the mash-up of the character roster, but also providing a very visceral changing landscape to your fights, which is never boring. One of my favourite stages was Alden’s Tower (inFamous), where you climb Alden’s Tower to the top and see the Ray-Sphere, but as you watch the skyline will change to the stylized Paris horizon (Sly Cooper) while Carmelita Fox tries to stun slower players, giving your foes a chance to smack you and gain some AP (All Star Power). Unless you try to control the platform where the Ray-Sphere repeatedly charges up and lobs out orbs of precious meter building AP.

The creators are also clever with their use of certain franchises, mixing the creator friendly LittleBigPlanet with the fact-happy Buzz, makes for a stage that is constantly changing. The arena is slowly built up from familiar LittleBigPlanet textures and blocks before it suddenly turns into a game of Buzz where the blonde haired wedge faced presenter starts firing questions at you and you have to stand where the correct answer is while trying to keep rival players off.

Even from these two choices, you can guess that each plays very differently and focuses the battle in different ways. Luckily for those purists, all stage hazards can be turned off before the fight.

Other awesome stage mash-ups are Loco Roco with Metal Gear and Jak & Daxter’s Sandover Village with Everybody’s Golf, and God of War with Ratchet & Clank’s Metropolis.

Just as the different sceneries are slammed together, so is the music for these stages. My personal favourites are the mash-up of Jak & Daxter’s Sandover Village (a musical theme I love) with the gauntly happy theme from Everybody’s Golf (a musical theme I adore). My other personal favourite is Parappa The Rapper’s theme with the thundering orchestra from the Killzone series.

Though they aren’t all perfect. For example the thumping and grand sound track of God of War is ruined by the highly irritating Patapon music in one of the mash-ups. Even if it is fun to see Hades the ruler of the Underworld get beaten by tiny Patapon characters.

However, for all its polish and wonderful in-game aesthetics there is one major presentation problem with All-Stars. That problem is the menu screens. They seem very lack-lustre and create an impression that All-Stars perhaps isn’t the big budget triple A title we thought it was.  The menus look so flat and not very interesting or visually appealing. Leaving you feeling underwhelmed after pressing the Start button after the epic opening animation backed by Madeon’s ‘Finale’.

 

GAMEPLAY

At first glance All-Stars may seem similar to, almost a copy of, another prominent fighter franchise. Nintendo’s Smash Bros is undoubtedly the spark, the template that SuperBot looked at. But unlike Smash Bros, All-Stars is about beating on your opponents to build AP which will fill your Super Meter which has 3 distinct levels. Where Smash Bros is about launching opponents off the stage, All-Stars is about closing down on them and starting meter building combos and getting massive AP bonuses (throws and AP-stealing items can also help the more wily players gain an advantage).

There are three levels of Supers, 1, 2 and 3 (obviously). Just like learning combos for characters, learning their Supers and the subtleties of the different levels is important to racking up the kills. A strong offence and clever use of your Supers mark out good All-Star players.

The Dojo Stage.

There are plenty of modes for hungry fighter fans to sink their teeth into.  All-Stars offers an arcade mode which lasts about half an hour and can be done wither on or offline. And there is also a deep tutorial/practice mode where you can take part in combat trials, combo practice, move tutorials. These are different for all characters making for a very extensive and deep fighter experience.

There are three game modes for each fight. Timed, where kills count for two points and deaths are minus one point, Stock, where each player is given a number of lives and has to be the last one standing to win, and finally my favourite Kill Limit, where you set the number of kills that has to be reached to end the game. The one to get their first wins. In this mode deaths will not affect your kill score. This can all be played in free-for-all for between 2 and 4 players or team matches.

The fact that I find Stock the worst mode is perhaps a testament to the differing styles of gameplay between Smash Bros and All-Stars, as Stock is by far the other way to play Smash.

Where All-Stars stands out is it’s combo system. The combo system is deeply satisfying and more in the skill of a traditional fighter with links, cancels and combo breakers. It’s wonderful to pull off some of these combos and feel like you are really growing as a player. But the 4-man battles do make the combos exceedingly hard to pull off because you get clouted round the back of the head. This is where one-on-one becomes very fun. Each player setting up beautiful combos, but also the nervous tension of successfully using your Super because if you fluff it up, you have to crawl your AP meter back up. This makes for a very tense and thrilling fight.

The combo system is deep, but it’s only deep if you want to learn. For new-comers, All-Stars is still easily accessible and from my group of casual gamer friends, none of them had any problem picking All-Stars up and enjoying it as much as I do.

During my playthroughs I have found some slight camera malfunctionings on the larger stages and a bit of an imbalance regarding some characters as Kratos and Raiden who seem slightly overpowered, but in general All-Stars gameplay is fast paced, super-kinetic, dynamic and engrossing to the point where I forgot how many hours I was putting in. And I might publish some tips and tricks for a few characters in the future, so keep your eyes peeled.

Nathan Drake.

RE-PLAYABILITY

Fast paced, addictive gameplay aside, what will keep you coming back for more All-Stars? Well, you earn RP (Ranking Points) for every fight with each individual character, giving you an ever-increasing rank number for that character. As you rank up each character you can unlock new intros, outros, taunts, costumes and victory music stings to customize your fighting experience.

There are also plenty of profile pictures and backgrounds to customize your online player tag, as well as unlocking bobble head ‘minions’ which are mostly supporting characters from the roster’s franchises. They come up and celebrate with fireworks when you make a multi-kill. Mine is an adorable little Victor Sullivan from Uncharted.

There is, however, a severe lack of unlockable stages. You can’t even unlock the Arcade stages that you face your rival on, or the final stage where you encounter PolygonMan.

Though not to fear. SuperBot has promised DLC support for All-Stars with the first bunch hitting PSN in early 2013. Two new characters, Kat from the PS Vita’s Gravity Rush and Emmett Graves from Starhawk, as well as a new stage. A Heavenly Sword/Wipeout mash-up.

With the unlockable figures and goodies as well as up-coming characters to master and stages to do battle on, All-Stars promises a lot of re-playability.

VERDICT

PlayStation fans should and need to get this game. For its first outing, SuperBot has made a brawler that PlayStation fans will enjoy and get behind, and it’s distinct enough from Smash Bros when you play it that it doesn’t feel like a clone.

My Verdict – Get it!

Image Links: shoryuken.com, wired.co.uk, dualshockers.com, gamerant.com, community.us.playstation.com

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