Forget about plausible narratives – PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale pits the best of Sony against each other for no particular reason whatsoever. Does this brawler stand out on its own, or is it just a long-lost smash brother?
Crash Bandicoot and Spyro are missing.
I know that’s a pedantic point. I know I should judge PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale on what it does have, and not what it’s missing. But I just can’t help think they should’ve been there. When I think of PlayStation mascots, those are the first two names that come to mind.
Not seeing their avatars sitting alongside the rest of the stars hits me right in the childhood, but luckily the rest of the cast are just about able to fill the void. They hail from a varied range of Sony franchises, spanning each era of the PlayStation, and providing plenty of choice (albeit a choice that’s overwhelmingly male, which is more an indictment of the industry than the game itself) . Sackboy pops up alongside Sir Daniel Fortesque who stands next to Raiden, while Infamous’ Cole appears in both his good and evil form.
They’re not living in happy-go-lucky Sony land, though, and for one reason or another have decided to fight for the crown of Sony champion. The aim of the fight isn’t to knock your opponents out the arena or reduce their health bar to zero: instead, Sony have taken a more positive approach to point-scoring, giving you a meter that you need to fill in order to land special attacks that score you points, or remove a life from an enemy, depending on the game mode.
It causes a surprising amount of tension, although games do occasionally come to a seemingly abrupt end as a result of one well-timed special attack, meaning you feel cheated out of a worthy conclusion. Filling your meter requires you to attack other characters, and the game plays out at a frantic pace, as everyone desperately tries to get the upper hand by unleashing their special attacks first. Each fight takes place on an ever morphing battlefield, and the carefully constructed arenas are the crowning glory of Battle Royale.
The LittleBigPlanet level builds as you go, adding environmental dangers and new platforms as the clock ticks on, before the spikey-haired host of Buzz pops up and throws a trivia question your way. It’s daft yet brilliant, making you choose which platform to stand on as the multiple choice answers sit next to each one, with a correct answer filling your meter: this isn’t an aside or a mini-game, this takes place while you’re still brawling, meaning even if you know the answer you might get thrown off the platform and lose the prize.
It’s not just knowledge of videogame trivia that you’ll need to succeed, but a well-rounded knowledge of each stage and character that is required. Perfecting your own chosen character isn’t enough, as you’ll also need to pay careful attention to each character’s combat style and special attacks in order to know when to duck and run for cover.
While button-mashing is a viable tactic for the most part, the best players will be the ones who really take advantage of Battle Royale’s nuanced combat, from avoidance strategy to the lengthy and difficult to pull off combos. Granted, the frantic and busy nature of having four players charging about makes combos very difficult to pull off – there’s usually a third party in close proximity who’ll give you a swift slap to the back of the head and ruin your carefully planned out routine – but if you manage it, you’ll get a huge boost to your meter.
You’ll soon learn that some characters are, unfortunately, more powerful than others, leading to an unbalanced playing field online. The highest level players all seem to play as Raiden, with his swift, easily executed, basic attacks seeming to incapacitate foes and generate as much meter energy as any other character’s special attack.
Special attacks are also on the unbalanced side. Some characters first level specials are easily interrupted, or have low accuracy, and are only able to hit one person. However, characters like Fat Princess can quite easily strike down three foes at once. The balance issues continue into the higher level special attacks, with some characters able to continuously attack and kill each foe more than once, while others get a much smaller window in which to strike.
Crash and Spyro were Sony, but the company’s moved on. The PlayStation characters that do crop up are all unique and identifiable, but you’d struggle to identify anyone as a ‘mascot’: they’re all just missing that certain something. The same is true of Battle Royale. It represents Sony, and it does it with substance and style, but it’s not quite the perfect package, with the fast-paced brawling combat dulled by the sense that some of Sony’s prized characters are just more favoured than others.
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, from SuperBot Entertainment and Sony, is out now for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita [reviewed].