I won't lie, just a couple weeks ago I had very little interest in picking up PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale - I had played the demo at E3 and got into the beta but the game wasn't really catching my interest. It felt okay, but it really didn't work for me despite my own insistence that this is not Smash Bros. and therefore should not be compared to Smash Bros. The truth is you can't really talk about a game's quality without comparing it to its only direct competitor, no matter how much you try. Trust me, I went through three drafts of this review before accepting that yes, this game was clearly inspired by Smash Bros., and no, that does not make it an inferior game. PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale (called simply PlayStation All-Stars from here on out) is inspired by a great game, but brings its own identity to the genre to become its own greatness, and with luck and time, I'm sure it will spawn its own franchise to compete with Nintendo's established brand.
In PlayStation All-Stars, you and up to three friends local or online, or AI opponents beat the living hell out of one another for supremacy. There are no health bars or ring outs, instead you gain points by acquiring energy to fill your supers bar and executing one of three tiered super moves. Naturally, the lowest level supers are easy to acquire and are a simple one time use, close-ranged attack that can explode your enemies into a cloud of familiar PlayStation symbols. As you gain energy you can level up to a stronger super move that has a much wider range and tends to last longer. If you really want to break out the flashy cinematics, hold off until you get to the third and most powerful level super, which will almost certainly fill up the entire screen or lasts long enough to ensure three or more kills. This method of scoring seemed shallow at first, but within less than an hour and a few dozen matches, I'd already come to see the subtle genius of it. Like any fighter or brawler, each character has distinct, unique supers that need to be utilized properly to get the maximum effect, and if you're fighting a skilled opponent they can dodge them or even counter them if they know what they're doing. There's also the added strategy required to weigh out the pros and cons of waiting to get a full bar or just spamming level 1 supers every few seconds.
Filling up your supers bar is pretty simple. The most basic way is to simply beat your opponents into a pulp, using combos or items. Hitting them fills your supers bar pretty quickly, and executing combos will get you supers really quickly. The second way is to collect the orbs that some items or enemies drop when hit hard or by the level hazards. These orbs look like nanotech from the Ratchet and Clank series, so that works. There are other ways to steal energy from your opponents, like some items that will siphon AP from anyone near you, or in some cases the environment will literally suck you up and spit out all of your energy for other players to capitalize on. There aren't many items on display, which is kind of a shame, but it's not like we need three dozen items spamming the battlefield. Luckily there is an option to shut off items and environmental hazards, but in a party game like this, why in the world would you limit yourself? I've always believed that you should keep all options on the table when playing these types of games and I've gotten tonnes of longevity out of similar games by utilizing this mantra.
Controls are an absolute breeze. Naturally, the differences between this and Smash Bros. were disconcerting as well as confusing, but it doesn't take long at all to figure out the differences and capitalize on them. Instead of two move types, there are three, and each fighter has their own categories to use. For example: on Ratchet, pressing square uses his wrench and whip, which are both melee attacks; pressing triangle will use his guns and other longer ranged attacks; and pressing circle will use his support abilities like the always funny sentinel Mr. Zurkon. L1 blocks and enables dodge, R1 picks up items, R2 activates supers, X jumps, and the right analog stick will grab and throw. Don't worry, though, if you don't like the control layout you can customize your controls however you wish.
There are twenty characters and almost that many levels to choose from right out of the box, and I honestly think that the level design is one of the standout features. The stages all incorporate some sort of active hazard borne of the mash-up between the two different feeder games, like the wonderfully cheery and saccharine LocoRoco level that has a Metal Gear machine rip through the fourth wall to attack you and your enemies, or the Ape Escape level that features a giant alien slug from the Resistance series intrude on the goings-on. Most of these levels incorporate a fun and interactive blend of characters and worlds in a way that constantly has me laughing or picking out little details that make me smile, eliciting feelings of nostalgia or just awe. Superbot may be a first time developer, but it's clear they're dedicated to making this a true mash up of styles and features in every aspect. It's also nice to see that there will be DLC for both characters and levels, as there's already a set of two characters announced to be released as free DLC in the near future.
While the player vs. player modes will take up an overwhelming majority of your time with PlayStation All-Stars, there are other modes to keep you busy if your internet goes out or if your friends are at work. Each character has their own arcade mode offering their own story that pits them up again their rival. Sly Cooper, for instance, has a loosely constructed story about racing Nathan Drake to some maps of some sort, culminating in them fighting in an angular, blue arena that serves as the game's last level. The final boss is apparently important to PlayStation history, but I didn't actually know who he was until I looked it up. The final fight is a little different than the other fights, but it's really nothing to write home about. Arcade mode is nice and it's good to see that each character has his or her own unique story and motivation, but it's clear that Superbot's attention was aimed directly at the core gameplay and not the story mode, since there are less than ten stages in arcade mode and even on the hardest difficulty takes little more than half an hour to complete. That said, if we get a sequel, I'd love to see what kind of plot the writers could concoct as an excuse to bring all of the PlayStation characters together.
Probably the biggest appeal of PlayStation All-Stars that separates it from its competition is that it has flawless online play with no lag and no issues with matchmaking. You might want to find a way to mute other players' microphones, though. Like any competitive online community, people get flat out angry and offensive if you kill them or best them in a match of supers. Online can be played with any combination of local and online characters, so you can have two local players and one online enemy, or you can go solo against three online opponents. All of this is recorded on the online leaderboards, which reset every couple weeks to ensure only the people who have been playing in the last little while get recognition. Truth be told I'm not sure if I like this, but I don't care about leaderboards so I'll leave the fretting to the more hardcore.
In addition to the simple 4-player hectic action and the simple arcade mode there are also a swath of tutorials and challenges to complete. The challenges are sorted by general and character based. The basic ones require you learn how to play the game and do combos, but the character specific ones can keep you busy for a very long time. Like any challenge mode, the early tasks are simple, such as “knock out enemies using your level 1 super 10 times in the time limit”, but later they get much harder. One of the later missions requires you do the same thing, but getting hit resets your energy bar and only uses that get double or triple kills count. Each character has dozens of challenges, each with three difficulty levels. This will keep even the most experienced veterans busy for a very, very long time.
As you play, be it local, online, arcade, or any of the challenge modes, you level up your characters. If you play as Ratchet a lot, that character will level up, unlocking you dozens upon dozens of emblems and other things that are based on the Ratchet and Clank universe to customize your avatar during online play. I think the infusion of a pseudo RPG element in a fighting game could have easily been abused, but SuperBot manages to blend the compulsive need to level up with the adherence to balance with ease. Each of your characters can get up to level 999, and this information will show when you see other people online, so others can know if you're going to be a pushover or if you're going to beat them to within an inch of their life, forcing them to cry to their mommy. You can also unlock taunts if you really want to rub it in the faces of your enemies. Regardless of the balance, some characters seem broken in that they're just better than others. Sly Cooper, Raiden, PaRappa, and Kratos are all overused and are consistently winners of their respective games.
I'm not one to harp on about graphics in games, and I'm not the kind of narrow minded fool that thinks that games need to be in HD to be fun, but wow this game pops! Right from the techno-infused, action packed opening video to the credits it looks beautiful. Not only does it look beautiful, but each level and character is specifically tailored to its own world. Sly Cooper is cel-shaded, PaRappa the Rapper is as flat as he was in his game, and each level comes with its own blend of tracks from its source material. As an added bonus, each and every character that had a voice actor was voiced by that same voice actor. James Arnold Taylor and Nolan North, your voices are wonderful, and prove that neither Sony nor Superbot spared a dime of expense making sure the game felt as authentic as it could. The loading time could use a bit of a refinement, but the 10 seconds it takes is barely noticeable unless you're impatient.
As an aside for Vita owners worldwide, getting your free digital copy to play on Vita is a breeze. Not only is the Vita version identical to the console version in virtually every way (aside from local multiplayer, which can't be done on a handheld anyway), but you can play console players as a vita owner! Sadly, you can't play locally with the same PSN account, with one player playing Vita and three others playing on the PS3 that harbors that same account, but it's still a tremendous deal and a great way to get players enjoying their Vitas.
Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised by PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. I was expecting a cheap cash in on the Smash Bros. series, but what I got was an equally deep and fun game that certainly knows where it got its inspiration from but managed to have its own identity. Given the fleshed out online play and promise of character and potentially stage DLC, I can see this being a mainstay in living rooms for years, or at least until the inevitable sequel comes out. If you can manage to get over the stigma of PlayStation All-Stars being a Smash Bros. clone, you will find yourself having a tonne of fun with a game that is unique and in some ways even superior to its inspiration. Every PlayStation fan owes it to themselves to pick this game up.
This review is primarily based on the PlayStation 3 copy of Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale, although the Vita version was also played.