PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale has too much going on - Preview

By Joseph Trotter, October 6, 2012
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On paper, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale has a lot going for it. Following the obvious example of Nintendo's Super Smash Bros., a game so similar it must at all times be compared to it, PSASBR has tried to copy the frenetic styling of its majestic influence with a flurry of fast-paced matches involving various (great?) Sony characters. The resulting concoction is decidedly mixed.

The main problems with PSASBR (at least on the PS3) are three-fold. Firstly, it is not particularly accessible. This sounds strange to say of a game which has a relatively straightforward premise (to kick the crap out of your opponents until they die), but the controls are somewhat convoluted and unclear. Attacks are assigned to triangle, square and circle, whilst to pick up weapons is R1. Although fine in itself, this doesn't particularly make combos easy, and the decision to place blocking and dodging on the L1 button is bizarre; a flick of the right stick, a'la God of War, would be a far more effective and fluid means to dodge. This complaint only becomes contextualised when considered with the next two problems.
 

When playing PSASBR, you are aware of just how much is going on, and how much detail has gone into the game. Unfortunately, because of this very fact it is often very difficult to actually tell what is happening during a scrap. Sparks fly, environments crash, attacks are unleashed in technicolour, but you'll struggle to actually see your characters in the midst of this onslaught. Although the graphical effort is admirable, and it does truly look fantastic, it results in a loss of clarity during the battle. The genius of SSB is its ability to maintain clarity despite the effects and frantic battles.

PSASBR has missed this point, instead creating a spectacular visual onslaught which although great to admire also greatly hinders the gameplay. As such, how can you block when you can barely tell where you opponent is, or what attack they are using? How can you retaliate against a super-attack when you are barely warned by any sort of visual indicator or sound-effect?

These super-attacks lead into the third major problem: the grossly unbalanced characters. Watching a tournament playing out (to win a 3D TV, no less), it was striking to see how many characters were using either Kratos or Ratchet & Clank. It soon became obvious why. These characters dominate every match they are in, turning mediocre players into monsters. Kratos is spectacularly powerful, fine in itself during God of War but not in a multiplayer arena battle game. Ratchet, however, is the only character with a level 1 superpower which is impossible to dodge, killing every character on screen, effectively making him a cheat pick.

This would be less of a problem if many of the other characters could stand up to them, but, like much of the roster's gaming reputation, most are too weak to offer resistance. Cole from inFamous can make a decent fist of it, but Sly Cooper is pretty ineffective and the less said about paper-weight Parappa the Rapper the better. The roster itself does not need comment here, but needless to say without Sony's third-party big hitters it is definitely lacking in interesting personalities.
 

There are, however, some good ideas hidden within PSASBR. The arenas are well designed and have a narrative structure to them, whether it be the plane whose cargo is falling out or the fantastic Buzz! level, which questions players during the battle, punishing or aiding them depending on whether or not they answer correctly. The game modes are fun (in-fact, the whole premise is great) and the game still plays well despite the problems detailed above.

In many ways it seems as though they had a clear idea of what they wanted to produce but in some ways have overlooked the contradictory elements; how can you have a visual feast and keep the game clear? Is it possible to have super-attacks and a balanced roster? Can you make the gameplay accessible yet offer a deeper experience for those who persevere? Sony have, for the most part, gone with one over the other, which has in many ways led to these problems. Although not crippling, they do offer concerns. The key to mimicking greatness is to not only to understand what made it great but how it made it great. PSASBR has only got it half right in this respect, and as such the game remains far behind its spiritual rival SSB. Perhaps the inevitable sequel will deal with these issues properly.

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