PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale Hands-On Preview

by James Pikover September 13, 2012 @ 1:14 pm

It is, perhaps for good reason, surprising how many people love simple arcade fighters like Smash Bros. The genre has been around for over a decade and has made competitive play even more fun on a single TV with up to four players. Sony, in an attempt to capitalize on that same gameplay for a console that’s largely become popularized (at least in the US) as an individual’s system so more people would play together, is putting all of the Sony heroes (and villains) under one game roof.

And from my time with the game, it’s going to be great, though not relaxed.

With an auspiciously long title, Sony’s PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale pits 16 PlayStation-branded heroes (and four non-exclusive characters, including Dante [from Devil May Cry, specifically the upcoming DMC], a Big Daddy [Bioshock], Raiden [Metal Gear franchise], and Heihachi Mishima [Tekken]) against each other across 14 adaptable levels. We could see more characters added in at a later date, but that’s the confirmed count so far. The characters, which range from Sweet Tooth to Kratos to Parappa the Rapper, all utilize attacks based on either actual gameplay from their individual games or based on their game styles.

Some of the combat is so close to each character’s games that you can easily use some of the same moves. The control scheme is fairly different though; after all, it is a 2D platformer arcade fighter, though the basic attack structure remains intact. Anyone familiar with God of War or DMC or Heavenly Sword will feel right at home with those characters. Others, like Nathan Drake or Colonel Radec (Killzone), feel different because their games and controls are clearly not from a fighter like PSASBR, but with the simple controls (one main attack button, one heavy attack button, one grab, and jump), it doesn’t take long to learn any character’s moves.

What does take some time – and this is the brilliance of PSASBR, something I think designer Seth Killian (former from Capcom, started as a pro Street Fighter player and then worked on the game) is responsible for – is finding which character works best for your play style considering both their standard and special attacks, as well as your opponents. Special attacks are the key, the highlight of PSASBR. There is no health bar, no earning points easily. The only way to come out ahead, and to really compete, is to actually blow the living hell out of competitors using special moves. These attacks charge up as the battle continues; each normal hit you land tacks on another point to your special attack meter, like so many fighting games use.

When reaching level one, all characters can unleash an attack that, if it hits an opponent, knocks them out of play for five seconds and earns the attacker a single point per player hit. Those points are added at the end to determine the victor, but this is a game built by Seth Killian, an ex-pro gamer. It’s never as easy as charging up and pushing the right button; firstly, it’s hard to actually fill up the special meter. Even at 15 minute intervals games feel short, and you can easily spend that whole time just filling up to level-one. And once you get there, the attack has to be timed and performed correctly, and differently for every character; no two characters have identical attacks in any way, including specials. And like any good fighting game, opponents can stop you mid-stream.

In my playtest, I found out the hard way that using a special can leave you more vulnerable, both because all players can see the specials meter and because when you’re trying to pull it off, it’s easy to get distracted by the craziness of battle. The game is so dynamic that levels can inflict damage or even kill you; expecting to pull off a special anytime is relying on dumb luck. I tried pulling off a special and while I was in the middle of it, the player I meant to hit just turned around and smacked me, and I lost all of the energy I spent five minutes building up.

Of course, if I’d known the character better (in this case, Dante), then I would’ve known that his special takes a second to deploy. Other characters, like Fat Princess, are especially dangerous because they can use low-level specials that cover a large area, and take out multiple enemies at once. The more powerful the special is, the easier it is to direct and take out competitors, but again that takes more time and is completely visible to all opponents.

I mentioned earlier that the levels are dynamic, which is another interesting feature in PSASBR. All of the 14 levels, which come from one or multiple games simultaneously, actually change during the course of the match. Parts of the ground may disappear and reveal spikes, or some external force like a massive sea serpent may pop out and attack characters randomly. Twenty weapons (across all of the character’s games) also drop in and out randomly, allowing one player to pick it up and inflict even more punishment with its power, be it Achilles boots for increased speed or Nariko’s cannon for ranged destruction.

If this all sounds crazy, that’s because it is, yet at the same time gameplay requires a lot of focus and precision. If you just want to throw down with some friends, blasting each other across the map, then this may not be the best game for you. Some characters require getting up close and very personal to lay any attacks, and most are slow to get from one side of the map to the next. In my playtest with several characters, I found that if knocked across the level, it’s very easy to spend up to 10 seconds just getting back into the action. Yet at the same time, some characters have half of their attacks that fling opponents around like a shuttlecock. There’s equal room for frustration and serious joy from success. That is to say, it isn’t a cartoon/comic fighter. You are going to have a good time, but you’re going to have to work at it.

PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is also one of the few games releasing this holiday that is part of the Cross-Play program, meaning if you purchase the game, you can play it on the PS3 and PS Vita with a single copy. If you plan on buying the PS3 version so you can play on the Vita while a friend plays on the PS3, just know they’ll need your PSN account to do so. It’ll likely require a code for the account to play online. The game comes out on November 8th in Japan, November 20th in the US, and days later in Europe and Australia.