Sony has collected what currently stands at twenty characters from its large stable of exclusive IPs for PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale, offering PlayStation 3 owners the chance to take control of their favorite heroes and villains, and pit them against the protagonists of other series in one giant, chaotic rumble. Choose your favorite character, start a match, and almost immediately everything seems to feel right. Moves are easy to remember and learn, stages come alive with PlayStation lore, and whaling on your friends or the computer is an undeniable blast. But the moment the match ends and a winner is called, you may start to feel like something was slightly … off. Clicking back into the menus for other game modes certainly doesn’t seem to help. As entertaining as PlayStation All-Stars‘s frantic mayhem can be, the fun that begins with every match always seems to end with the score tally.

It’s evident from even a brief playthrough of PlayStation All-Stars‘s roster that each combatant was designed with the source material in mind, not just modeled after someone’s generic idea for a fighter, then gussied up with a familiar skin. Every All-Star invited truly feels like they’ve traveled from their respective games to this one, with a unique feel, strategy, and moveset that’s loyal to their pedigree. Uncharted‘s Drake has the ability to create and take cover behind a chest-high wall, while Kratos’ Blades of Chaos feel almost directly lifted from God of War. Considering that the design priorities obviously fell to perfecting the experience of each individual character, it’s a wonder that most of the actual fighting feels so balanced and natural when these movesets collide. But they do. Marvelously.

PlayStation All-Stars‘s sharp free-for-all action completely carries the experience with excellent pacing, balance, and the tactical opportunities it presents. If you’ve played any other brawlers this all should feel pretty familiar – all, that is, but the game’s victory condition, which is likely to be the source of most contention among fighter fans used to a more traditional system. As fun as the shooting, punching, throwing, and stabbing can be, none of it inflicts any damage. There are no healthbars to be found, just the gain and loss of something called “AP,” a power currency that builds with each successful hit you’re able to land. With enough AP, characters can unleash one of three tiers of “supers,” and the more AP spent, the stronger the move. Supers are as roster-varied as general attacks, but as the only method to actually score, they wield far more influence over which characters find the most success.

While it’s true that there’s some balance to be found between a character’s AP generation and the strength of their victory-swaying supers, it’s generally not enough to outweigh the raw scoring power of those wielding the most devastating attacks. Some characters, such as Dante and Evil Cole, transform into indestructible reapers at the third level, capable of decimating all opponents on the stage multiple times each before the move ends. Compare that to the best super Ape Escape‘s Spike can muster, which simply auto kills his opponents once. It’s easy to start feeling outgunned depending on whom you’re controlling when equivocal play can lead to, well, less than equivocal results. Yes, characters like Spike are supposedly built with other advantages to balance that out, but often the scales just don’t seem to level out as evenly as intended.

In moving away from a damage-based system (or damage-gravity-based system like in Super Smash Brothers) PlayStation All-Stars also brings some fresh advantages to the field. With no short-term repercussions for taking a beat down, personal defense loses out to constant aggression, forcing the action into a perpetual frenzy, the perfect environment for what’s designed to be a frenetic brawler. The game relentlessly challenges you to execute as many successful attacks as humanly possible in a short amount of time, forcing you into a constant state of offense! offense! offense! with minor concern for much else.

Levels wonderfully mix recognizable elements from different series, while deftly balancing interactivity with unmolested gameplay. Stages rarely directly interfere with the action, and when they do, it’s never enough to drastically alter the course of a match. For example, the host of Buzz! will sometimes appear and put a trivia question to the group. Suddenly, different areas of the arena become labeled with possible answers. Stand on the right choice when the timer runs out and you’re fine. Stand on the wrong one and get hammered with a missile, spilling a small percentage of your earned AP to be nabbed by your fastest opponent, but not killing you. Brilliantly, not only is the consequence manageable, but it only happens once, careful not to overshadow the core gameplay.

But while the variance of characters and stages exist as the heart of the game, what surrounds them is an empty skeleton of modes, options, and unlockables. The primary single-player mode is simply a bunch of arbitrary matches strung back-to-back, culminating in a boring boss fight. Challenge mode does the opposite, grinding individual matches into smaller pieces by forcing you to simply use a single attack numerous times, or perform one type of super to score X number of kills. There’s little joy to be found in either mode, and only the most dogged of completion-for-the-sake-of-completion types are likely to find much joy there.

Jumping online offers matches much as you’d find locally, with the same option of playing a time- or stock-limit game. There are a few standard ideas at play to keep you connecting, such as monthly league ranking and leaderboards but, much like its offline offerings, nothing revolutionary. We tried to connect to the servers multiple times during the review period with extremely limited success. Lag was represented by way of missing characters, deaths tallied when none actually transpired, and every match ending in an overtime where 50% of opposing players were essentially lifeless AP-piñatas. This marked the very start of PlayStation All-Stars‘s public servers and hopefully won’t be representative of eventual quality, but that’s what we experienced during the eight matches to which we were actually able to connect.

Latency issues aside, 90% of your time with PlayStation All-Stars is going to be spent fighting, away from the game’s lifeless game modes, unlockables, and challenges. And that fighting, easily the most important factor of the game, is an absolute blast, even if the way it resolves doesn’t always feel fairly tallied.

Bottom Line: PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale is a well-designed brawler with a roster of faithfully re-imagined characters and a potentially controversial victory mechanic. There’s not much to be found outside of the actual fighting, but that fighting is enough to make it a worthwhile experience.

Recommendation: PlayStation All-Stars is definitely worth picking up if you’re satisfied by solid, engaging mechanics, and don’t need much else to keep you playing. And with PlayStation Cross Buy offering a bonus copy for Vita owners, and free character DLC already promised down the road, there’s a lot of value to the package.

[rating=4]

Game: PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale
Genre: Fighter
Developer: SuperBot Entertainment
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform(s): PS3, PS Vita
Available from: Amazon(US), GameStop(US), Amazon(UK), Play.com(UK)

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