With its love affair with proprietary technologies, long-standing corporate culture, and Japanese sensibilities, it’s hard to imagine Sony handing the keys to its most beloved gaming franchises over to a third-party developer. Yet, featuring characters from the most iconic first-party games in the PlayStation library, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is a 4-player casual fighter designed to rival Super Smash Bros. and it’s all being made by the independently owned SuperBot Entertainment.
In many ways the game is an exercise in trust, both regarding Sony’s working relationship with an external studio, but also the relationships built between long time PlayStation fans and their suite of intellectual property. A game like PlayStation All-Stars only works if fans care enough about the roster of characters to want to see them brawl and the developer handling the adaptations is able to deliver honest versions of those characters. That investment of faith is paying off, though, with a whimsical fighter that celebrates the best of PlayStation’s nearly 20 year history.
We find Kratos (God of War), Sweet Tooth (Twisted Metal), Fat Princess (Fat Princess), Sly Cooper (Sly Cooper), Col. Radek (Killzone) and PaRappa (PaRappa the Rapper) pitted in a bout to the death across a variety of recognizable locales. Each character brings its own unique play style to the game, offering the sort of variety needed to build a functional stable of fighters for different types of players.
Kratos is by far the most natural fit for the game, with his Blades of Exile and other medieval weapons providing tactical advantage at short range. He’s a character that’s all about powerful hits that knock players around the map like tennis balls fed into a pitching machine. What makes him interesting is his ability to use the chains to latch on to enemies and close the distance to them in relatively short time.
Sweet Tooth, on the other hand, is a much more tactical fighter, using mines and mortars to control the battlefield’s flow. He’s not as fast as the others, but he makes up for it by creating danger zones that players actively have to avoid lest they find themselves on the wrong end of a bazooka. It’s a clever direction for a character who’s never been playable outside his ice cream truck, but manages to work.
As a non-combat character, PaRappa could have gone in a number of directions, but the lightning-fast close quarters combat he’s capable of packs a million punches in a minute, just like his raps. Making use of his skateboard and boombox for special moves, he has all of the trademark attitude we’ve come to expect from PlayStation’s poster child of the 90’s.
Similarly, Fat Princess offered the devs a creative blank slate, but the combination of steamroller weight and the ability to call upon an army of knights and mages for specialty support captures her essence perfectly. She’s a big girl and hits like the brick house she is; her attacks are some of the slowest seen so far, but pack an incredible punch.
Col. Radek offers a long-range option for
cowardly strategic players who like to keep a healthy distance from the action. Packing an arsenal of firearms, Radek’s best tool is a sniper rifle that can pick off enemies from across the map if he gets enough alone time to aim and charge up the shot.
Sly Cooper was by far the most interesting character and played the most with the game’s few truly distinct mechanics. To capture his stealthy style, his block button is replaced with an invisibility power that allows him to sneak up on enemies for a Sucker Punch surprise. When Sly lands some of his attacks, he drains enemies’ AP which is fundamental to winning PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale.
Unlike most other fighting games, PlayStation All-Stars doesn’t rely on health bars or ring-outs. Instead, players build up an AP meter while fighting which can be charged to three states before being used to unleash the Special Attacks necessary for killing opponents. When players are primed to deliver their death blow, they’ll start glowing and it’s only a trigger pull before they’re able to wreak devastation on anyone in their attack range.
What makes this a fascinating mechanic is that it creates a risk vs. reward dynamic where players need to consider whether they’re skilled enough to hit someone with the less powerful tier one attacks, or if they should hold off until they earn a screen-clearing tier three Special. It also changes the dynamic of combat from everyone focussing on weaker players looking to steal kills to focussing on navigating around or centering attacks on the strongest players to drain their AP before they can use it. It’s a small change, and takes some getting used to, but it has incredible potential to make the game more accessible and promote a more positive feeling for all players – even the downtrodden.
This new kill mechanic is the largest departure from the Super Smash Bros. formula, and depending on how you view the prospect of playing a very similar game, is either a blessing or a curse. Comparisons between the two are undeniable, and it’s clear that SuperBot approached the game with the intent to match Nintendo’s creation as closely as possible. In almost all regards they’ve equalled Smash Bros. from a design perspective, but just swapped out the 8-bit nostalgia factor for a 32-bit variety. If you’re looking for something different than what we’ve already seen from Nintendo, it’s unlikely you’ll find it here.
More concerned with fan service than anything else, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale isn’t going to break much new ground in terms of design. Calling it a clone wouldn’t be entirely unfair, but simply providing an alternative in an underserved genre with characters and environments from across the rich PlayStation history might be enough to make the game worthwhile. It all comes down to how much the gaming audience really cares about these characters, and Sony trusts they do.