It usually happens when you’re young, but we’ve all wondered who would win in a fight between gaming icons. Kratos could probably kick Dante’s ass, while I’d bet that Sackboy could clean Parappa’s clock. Over the years, Sony has built a stable of memorable faces and mascots, ones they’ve finally decided to cram into one fighting game that realizes this fanboy’s wet dream. Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale is just what it sounds like: a myriad of gaming’s iconic faces clashing against each other in an arena-based fighting game. All-Stars could have been a cheap cash-in, banking on name alone, but it is a deep, rewarding fighter with a healthy dose of fan service.
Picking through Sony’s history must have been a nightmare for Superbot, but the result has given us a roster that feels like a strong balance between old and new. Parappa and Spike have been resurrected from their PS1 days, while new faces like Nathan Drake and Cole have made it into the fray. Each of the twenty characters feels like a good selection from a gameplay and fan perspective, with a fair amount of franchises getting representation. No, Crash Bandicoot isn’t present, but if the developers are anything like us, you know they tried to snag him. Overtly complaining about who isn’t in the game feels like a pessimistic viewpoint that only ignorant snobs would churn up.
Focusing on what is actually here is the important part. The twenty included characters all have moves, sound effects, and supers faithful to their respective games from the general ideas to the minute details. Seeing Spike use his monkey-catching net as a super is a great broad touch, but hearing the signature ape squeal when you use it is a small, appreciable detail, something that most people won’t even notice. Soundtracks, extra costumes, and movesets are all clever nods to franchises and almost makes it feel as though Superbot played through and carefully studied each character’s game to understand the soul behind each face on the roster.
These souls mix within the stages as well, which are some of the most memorable fighting arenas in the genre. Backgrounds will be initially set within one universe, usually with plenty of peripheral action occurring with secondary characters from that franchise. Fairly soon into the match, another series will collide with the current, making for some amusing backgrounds and tasteful clashes in aesthetics. Witnessing the joyous LocoRoco world of Franzea get invaded by Metal Gear RAY strikes the same odd chord as seeing Hades forcefully slam his fist on a colony of Patapon, both of which are creative mixes of existing franchises. Of course, every map has some sort of game blending and not only is it visually stimulating, but gives each area a dynamic feel.
The thoughtful window dressing of the roster and arenas is just that: window dressing. The smooth, responsive fighting system is really what matters and its what gives All-Stars its staying potential and replay value. Up to four players can duke it out in these two-dimensional arenas with each trying to land attacks to build up a meter with three levels. The super moves are the only way to land a kill and thus a few points. Each progressive level takes more successful attacks to achieve and can pay out handily if you choose to go build it up to an all-powerful level three super.
If that’s part of your plan of action. Deciding when to cash out your bar is what makes All-Stars so addicting and strategic. Dishing out a level one super is risky since most can be easily interrupted, but it is fastest level of super so their quantity can salvage their quality. Frugally saving up to a level three takes a lot more time, but can easily turn a match if used correctly. Players will find what works for them, whether it be using many level one and level two supers or just a single level three super to come out on top. The understandable flexibility within this system offers something for those who want to button mash and see explosive effects and those who want to break every character down and utilize them to their full potential.
Given the variety of combatants, there is something here for every sort of player. Looks aside, most of the fighters control differently with unique strengths and weaknesses. Because of this, every player that picks up the game will find at least a few characters they jive with. Big Daddy might stick with players urging for a tank-like character, while Radec or Ratchet might satiate those yearning for a long-range fighting style. Besides the semi-palette swap that is Cole and Evil Cole, utilizing a different fighter feels wholly different but familiar enough because of the consistent basic moves. It’s similar to Mortal Kombat in that regard. Uppercuts and X-Rays are the same base inputs, but the nuances of the combos and strategic uses of the meter differentiate each fighter and make for a well-rounded, equally useful cast.
However, there is one outlier in urgent need of some balance tweaks. Sly Cooper was given the honor of being wholly different from everyone else by having invisibility in the place of a block mechanic, but Superbot seems to have overcompensated for Sly. Invisibility has no timer, meaning Sly can hang back in corners and avoid conflict all together. That is the point of being invisible, but it’s way too easy to abuse and troll with. His counter, which can be easily spammed, can also immediately strike against melee and projectiles, something others with counters cannot do. Stealing AP from opponents isn’t too unfair, but the amount at which he steals is borderline criminal especially given the fact that he can do it while invisible. Sly’s level one super is the most broken of the bunch, being an attack that is not only uninterruptible, but one that can extend many feet in front of Sly. If most level one supers only have a five foot kill area, Sly’s can probably reach up to thirty feet. With some adjustments, Sly can be fixed, but as of now, he’s too easy to abuse and much too frustrating to actually fight against.
Putting all of these mascots into one game has potential for a ridiculous, intertwining story, but unfortunately that wasn’t the outcome. Rather than going the Mortal Kombat route and having a cohesive, multiple-character storyline, they opted for a less interesting path. Each of the twenty character-specific campaigns only has still images with a voice over and loosely gives a excuse for fighting. Some reasons are literally as weak as “I need something to fight.” After some basic battles, you’ll fight your rival. Rival fights can range from hilarious (Big Daddy and Sackboy) to downright stupid (Kratos and Sweet Tooth) and are a missed opportunity that felt like only the first step of a good idea. The grand boss comes in the form of Polygon Man, which is a clever grab from Sony’s history, but there isn’t much justification past “He’s a bad guy now, so kill him.” I can’t help but feel that Mortal Kombat‘s blueprint would have been a better fit and even though story modes don’t really matter, it would have been cool to see Sony platforms pitted against each other in a more grandiose plot. There’s always next time.
Besides the arcade mode, multiple other modes can help train players and make their skillsets more diverse. Certain missions give you the task of hitting a goal by focusing on a specific aspect of the fighting, be it using certain supers to get kills or gaining AP using certain buttons. On the outside, they are just extra fluff to give it the illusion of more modes, but they are brilliantly designed to make you learn every detail of every character. There are a ton of them too, so All-Stars gives you plenty of assistance if you are willing to put in the time.
Multiplayer is where the true heart of All-Stars is. Gathering with your friends locally to more intimately absorb the inherent competitive atmosphere is easy and complete blast, but online is one of the smoothest experiences out there. Whether it is on the PS3, Vita, or cross play between the PS3 and Vita, sending invites and getting games started is simple and fast, which is all you can really ask for. Simple and fast translates to the gameplay too, with lag nearly being non-existent. A fast-paced game like All-Stars benefits exponentially from a smooth online offering. Matchmaking is fast at the cost of pitting you against players with similar ranks, but most players will probably appreciate the low wait times.
While menus look plain and a little too clean, the in-game visuals hold up nicely. Conflicting art styles mesh well together and each of the character models and backgrounds are colorful and fairly well detailed, even if they don’t as good as their root game counterparts. Musical scores are ripped straight from the other titles, with a little remixing, and all sound great here in their new home. New songs make their way into the game too, with the menu theme song and loading screen jams being hypnotically catchy for better or worse.
The “Thank You” message that plays at the credits is indicative of what Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale is: a thank you to all the fans. It could have been solely that, but Superbot has used popular formulas and mixed in their own juice to create an intricate multiplayer fighter with more than just initial fanboy appeal. The fighting system alone can uphold All-Stars, meaning the whole disc could be filled with flat, white polygonal stick figures and it would still sit proudly within the pantheon of Playstation franchises. The incredible fan service is just the icing on top.
+Strong cast of characters
+Except for a couple voice actors, each character is true to their respective franchise from the broad swipes to small details
+Deep, accessible fighting system for a range of skill levels
+Plenty of things to unlock and a couple extra training modes to help perfect skills
+PS3/Vita cross features work fantastically
-Plain user interface especially on PS3
-Story modes are pretty anemic
-Sly Cooper is ridiculously overpowered
Final Score: 8.5/10