If you’ve paid any attention to the pre-launch coverage of Sony’s first-party 2D fighter PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale (which I’m going to abbreviate from here on out to PSASBR to make things easier) you’ll be well aware of the wealth of ways cynics have criticised the game. Glaring similarities between SuperBot Entertainment’s debut release and a certain Namco Bandai classic have defined pre-launch reception of this game, but in this review I’ve chosen not to focus on this ‘issue’. Why? Because SuperBot have created a fighter that deserves to stand on its own. Whilst not perfect, All-Stars is a very well-crafted 2D fighting game that not only pays homage to the legacy left by the PlayStation brand but also manages to be both tactical and accessible in the gameplay department.
You’re first reaction as you begin PSASBR will probably be one of slight disappointment. The game’s menus, whilst functional, are extremely basic and far too old-school for their own good. Many would argue that presentational features like this shouldn’t affect the quality of a game, but it’s certainly not what you’d expect from a triple-A blockbuster.
Fighting your first battle should do a good job of changing your perceptions. Boasting excellent character models, detailed settings and a rock-solid frame rate at all times, PSASBR is game that impresses whilst it’s actually being played. With plenty of both single and multi-player modes on offer, All-Stars is a pretty big package, and the majority of it is pretty enjoyable, despite presentational flaws.
The most talked about aspect of All Stars is undoubtedly the character line-up, with each of the twenty heroes and villains on the roster being revealed prior to the game’s launch. The expected likes of Nathan Drake (Uncharted), Kratos (God of War) and Cole (Infamous), who feature in some of Sony’s hottest first-party franchises, are all included, but SuperBot have appeased hardcore PlayStation fans with some more obscure inclusions. The likes of Parappa the Rapper and Sir Daniel Fortesque haven’t been around much during this console generation, but they do have their own fan-bases which SuperBot should be credited for noticing. There are some obvious choices that didn’t make the final game (*cough* Crash Bandicoot), and the concept of third-party inclusions to the roster wasn’t fully explored despite the inspired choosing of Bioshock’s Big Daddy, but overall the game’s line-up should please the majority.
Each of the game’s characters has their own ‘arcade mode’, which attempts to provide some kind of story to tie-together a series of fights against fellow characters in the PlayStation universe. Unfortunately, little-to-no attempt has been made to provide any kind of reason behind these battles, with only a short starting cut-scene and a brief conversation between two characters before the fighting game clichéd ‘rival fight’ offering up any kind of story.
Much like my criticism of the games menus, this probably isn’t all that relevant when assessing the quality of what is presented as a traditional fighting game, but the fact that SuperBot have made such a lacklustre attempt at providing any kind of narrative begs the question of why this element of the game was even attempted. In theory it could have been interesting to come up with some way in which Cole and Fat Princess had a legitimate reason to enter conflict, but there was no point attempting to pull this kind of thing off without doing it properly and actually taking the time to explain what was going on. After all, if you’re going to do something, you may as well do it properly.
With that said there are occasions when SuperBot nail the whole vibe of what a Playstation universe cross-over title should be. Everything from the music (which is pulled straight from the games each character appears in) to the excellent stages make you feel like you’re playing a first-party PlayStation game. SuperBot has spoken about working with several of Sony’s first-party developers in order to do justice to the great franchises they’ve created, and it really shows.
With a crack-team of fighting game veterans helping create All-Stars, it’s no surprise that what SuperBot really nails is the gameplay. It’s very easy to jump in to the game, mash the attack buttons and have a good time inflicting and taking damage. This is the core fun of brawler-styled fighting games and there’s plenty of it to be had in PSASBR, but as a game it’s so much deeper than it appears.
The sheer variety of attacks at each characters disposal is quite something, and each of the twenty roster fighters are so different from each other (with the exception of Good and Evil Cole) that finding the right person to play as is half the battle. I found the sluggish yet powerful Fat Princess suited my play style, but I enjoyed messing around with more agile characters like PaRappa The Rapper and Nathan Drake.
The fundamental scoring mechanic of All-Stars revolves around ‘Super Attacks’, which can be acquired by successfully hitting your foes using a variety of combos and weapons. Essentially you build up an ‘AP meter’ to unlock three tiers of these attacks, the third being the most powerful. This system can feel unbalanced at times – some level three superpowers have a three kill limit whereas others can be used to destroy more than five at a time – but overall it lends a strong tactical element to an already complex fighter.
In terms of modes, other than the aforementioned arcade ladder for each character there’s plenty of different ways to play as well as competitive online play. Like most games of its genre, All-Stars is best enjoyed with friends and from my experience matchmaking was fairly reliable despite some issues in the beta.
PSASBR is very much a game intended for someone who’s owned every home console Sony have released. In some respects it does justice to all of the licences it includes, although the team at SuperBot were probably better off not attempting to shoehorn in any kind of narrative into the game’s arcade mode since the result is less than impressive. All-Stars is a game that shouldn’t be confined to just PlayStation fans though, as it’s a much better fighter than it is love-letter to the PlayStation universe.
Sceptics take note – All-Stars isn’t a cheap rip off of another company’s inspired idea, but one of the best fighters of the year. Presentational features aside, this is a title that the fighting game community should be adopting, but it’s one of the best 2D brawlers around. Whether that’s enough to spawn a whole series of games based in the PlayStation universe is yet to be seen, but for now Sony has a first-party fighter that will surely be played for years to come.