Out of all the games in my gaming library, Super Smash Bros Brawl has taken up the most of my gaming life by a large margin. The only game I’ve played even half as much as Brawl is Super Smash Bros. Melee. I may not be a tournament star, but I’ve dived deep into the world of Smash. I can tell you how many frames Zero Suit Samus’ up air comes out in, explain the complex physics of directional influence, and recite the tier list to you from memory. Why am I starting a preview of Playstation All Stars Battle Royale by talking about Smash Bros? Because, that’s the corner Super Bot and Sony painted themselves into when they designed Playstation All Stars Battle Royale. It would be naive to think that Sony didn’t expect gamers to think of Smash Bros. when they first saw PASBR. Will this similarity help Sony reach out to fans of that series, or will it doom PASBR to be forever considered second best?
Playstation All Stars Battle Royale is going to live in the shadow of Nintendo’s fighter. Some may say that this is unfair to developer Super Bot, but they made the comparisons inevitable by the virtue of their design choices. The game’s visual style is clearly reminiscent of Smash right down to the HUD and menu elements. The physics and overall mechanics of the series are similar to its inspiration. Double jumping is present, guarding and rolling work the same way, air dodging is available to all fighters, and the directional input style of Smash is here in its full glory.
PASBR’s controls are similar to Smash, but feature some notable differences. Instead of the tilt/smash/special system that defined Smash Brothers, PASBR features three attack buttons. This may actually make the game a bit easier to newer and younger players who could struggle with using smash attacks or trying to use an up tilt in Smash. The square button activates quick combo attacks, triangle activates more powerful strikes, and the circle button activates special moves. For example, pressing square as Big Daddy activates melee attacks with his drill, the triangle buttons activated tackles and charges, and circle makes use of a variety of plasmid powers. Light, heavy, and special attacks can be linked together. Combos don’t flow as easily as they do in a game like Marvel vs Capcom 3 or Tekken, but they offer a nice bit of flexibility. I can imagine players stringing together interesting and elaborate combos as they dive deeper into the game’s physics engine.
Mobility options in PASBR are limited. Characters can roll, but they can’t run. Character rely on their attacks for mobility. For instance, pressing forward and triangle as Kratos will sent him charging forward with a spear and Big Daddy can lunge forward with a tackle. I’m not ready to pass judgment on whether this is a good or a bad design choice, but it makes for an interesting wrinkle to the traditional formula. There are other design choices that are definitely poor. Mapping throws to the right joystick is a frustrating and awkward choice, and having a dedicated button for picking up items is a strange choice.
The most immediate change to the Nintendo formula is the method by which fighters defeat one another. In Smash, you had to knock your foe off of the stage (assuming you’re playing by the default settings) while in PSABR you need to use super moves to KO your opponent. To earn super moves, you have to earn AP by successfully attacking your opponents. Certain attacks will earn more AP than others, and some attacks will knock AP orbs out of your opponent like a pinata. Once you have enough AP, you can use a super move. Characters have three super moves, and which one you use will depend on your accumulated AP. Level one supers typically launch a simple strike at nearby opponents, level 2 supers may have a wide area of effect, and level 3 supers unleash stage clearing attacks or activate a powerful transformation. Knocking out an opponent earns you two points while getting KOed will deduct one point from your score.
The system feels a little off. Being attacked lacks real impact. When a character is hit in a game like Soul Calibur, it makes a satisfying or wince inducing (depending on whether you’re the attacker or the attackee) sound and visual effect. In All Stars Battle Royale, hitting your opponent doesn’t feel as satisfying as it should, nor does getting hit feel very devastating. Perhaps it’s because normal attacks don’t do direct damage, or perhaps it’s due to visual and audio design, but landing a normal attack just doesn’t feel satisfying.
All Stars Battle Royale was clearly developed from the ground up as a four player experience. Compared to characters from its rival game, PASBR’s roster seem quite adept at battling multiple foes at once. Characters have moves that hit wide areas. Parappa has an aerial boom box attack that covers a huge space above him, and Kratos’ chain attacks cover a wide horizontal area. While Lucario’s Aura Sphere is a good tool to aim at a single opponent, Jak’s various guns can put a hurting on several opponents at the same time. This makes PASBR a pretty chaotic experience as you have to worry about all enemies on the screen, not just enemies in your immediate vicinity.
While PASBR’s massive flashy attacks were well suited for the chaotic free for all mode, the overall control scheme doesn’t feel tight. Attacks feel a bit sluggish rather than snappy, and most attacks require a pretty heavy commitment. Compared to a game like Street Fighter 4, attacks don’t feel crisp, and the overall gameplay feels loose. I can’t imagine having the same kinds of footsies, mind games, careful spacing, poking, quick counters, and punishment that define other fighters, and I don’t think PASBR will make for a very good 1 on 1 fighter.
From a visual perspective, PASBR looks great. Initially, I was worried that the clashing styles of Sony’s roster would be jarring, but Super Bot has managed to meld all of the characters into a cohesive package. Big Daddy and Parappa the Rapper somehow manage to feel like they both belong in the All Star world. The stages are very active, especially the God of War stage which features an angry Hades in the background. When things are in full swing, the number of flashy attacks and stage elements make for quite a spectacle. If nothing else, PASBR is a joy to watch.
My favorite aspect of Playstation All Stars Battle Royale is its roster. I’m admittedly not a huge fan of Sony’s franchises, but I loved how varied and unique the characters on display were. I got to play as Parappa the Rapper who is the most nimble fighter and attacked with a skateboard and boomboxes, Kratos, who has a good balance between ranged attacks and melee attacks, and he may present a balancing issue in the final project, Jak, who focuses on ranged attacks and had a wide variety of sci-fi style weapons at his disposal, and Big Daddy, who is a slower character that has a few interesting mobility options at his disposal and can use his plasmids from from Bioshock 2. Each of the four characters provided a really unique experience, and I’m very excited to get my hands on more characters in the final version of the game.
After getting through my first Playstation All Stars Battle Royale experience, whether or not Sony’s new fighter was a copy of Nintendo’s mascot brawler was really a secondary concern. The bigger issue here is that Playstation All Stars Battle Royale just isn’t where it needs to be yet. There are a few interesting ideas at play here, but Playstation All Stars Battle Royale feels a bit off in many regards. The controls don’t feel tight enough, and the button layout could use some tweaking. Moreover, the unique KO system takes away some of the satisfaction of landing a big hit, and it also takes away some of the tension that makes the fighting genre so satisfying. When only three moves can lead to a KO, it changes the dynamic of a fighter. The system does lead to a more aggressive style of play, and it does help set the game apart from its predecessor, but it needs some tweaking.
Playstation All Stars could become a good franchise for Sony down the line, but it’s the first game of a franchise, and their are some clear growing pains. This is expected of most new franchises, but the fact that Playstation All Stars Battle Royale will inevitably be compared to a decade plus old franchise that has been polished and refined is not going to do the fledgling franchise any favors. Playstation All Stars Battle Royale won’t dazzle with originality, and it won’t wow gamers with its polish. There is some potential in Sony’s new IP, but it may be hard for the game to gain any traction outside of Sony’s hardcore fans. At the very least though, it should provide a few afternoons of off the wall brawling fun.