Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale Review

When Masahiro Sakurai, the creator of Nintendo’s Kirby franchise, came up with the idea of putting all of Nintendo’s mascots in a single party fighting game, Nintendo stumbled upon the Super Smash Bros. cash cow. It was a fairly intuitive, but unique idea. A fighting game, not for the hardcore, but for parties, where players could pick the character from their favourite Nintendo series and wail on the rest. It was an interesting idea that was only possible because of Nintendo’s huge amount of franchises. This may explain why Nintendo’s competitors never really bothered with copying the formula. Sure Capcom has the Capcom vs. Everything franchise, but those games emulate only the franchise hero aspect of Super Smash Bros. and not the casual party gameplay. Enter Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale, a game that was so poorly named, I cannot possibly believe that it made it through a marketing team. After three generations of consoles, Sony decided that it had built up enough presence to create a mascot brawler in the same vein as Super Smash Bros, despite the fact that it hadn’t really ever relied on mascots the same way that Nintendo had. Today, we are going to see if PASBR (Because I’m not writing that awful name more than I have to), is a wonderful step in bringing Sony’s brand together, or a serious missed opportunity.

Oh, Kratos. You’re an asshole even when you game-jump
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Firstly, I have to attack the name. I’m sorry, but it is just too awful to not dedicate a paragraph to. The only thing in the name that is worth a damn is the word Playstation. Both All-Stars and Battle Royal couldn’t be more generic terms if they tried. If you’re planning on making a game with such ambition, especially due to the inevitable comparisons to Smash Bros., you would think that you would try harder to get some sort of memorable brand. Where do you go with this? Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale 2? Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale: Let’s Get Silly? No matter what, the name is ungodly long and unworkable. What do you expect gamers to call it? All-Stars? Because games such as Mario All-Stars have that one. How about Battle Royale? That’s great, except that it isn’t descriptive of the game in the slightest. There are so many places the name of this game could have went, but instead they chose a name I wouldn’t recommend as a placeholder. Maybe they saw Nintendo’s marketing department cop out with Mario Kart 7 and thought that horribly uncreative name was license to just give up.

Can you guess how many Mario Karts there have been?
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As much as I’d like to say that gameplay is central here, I would be lying. At the core of every mascot brawler is the roster first and foremost. So how did Sony do? Not too wonderful actually. Sony’s mascots have been all over the place and most of the big names associated with the Playstation brand have been from third party developers. I will give them credit. The developers try hard to get representation from as wide a spectrum as possible, but it still seems lacking. Major Sony mascots such as Spyro and Crash Bandicoot, are suspiciously absent; although, there are clearly legal reasons for these two. However, this lack of mascots caused the developers to rely on third parties more, with the inclusion of characters such as Raiden from Metal Gear Solid: Revengeance, Dante from the new DMC, Nariko from Heavenly Sword, Heihachi from Tekken, and Big Daddy from Bioshock. The problem is that these characters don’t ring true. Raiden and Dante come across as promotional tools for their upcoming games. Bioshock was an Xbox exclusive at first, which hardly makes him a Playstation mascot, and Nariko is from Heavenly Sword, a game that was set to be a trilogy, but its failure, or perhaps simply a lack of success, led to future games being cancelled.

Yes, I would kill for more Heavenly Sword. Still the best voice acting I’ve heard in a video game.
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I complain about the third party mascots, but they are actually some of the best parts and one of the reasons that I look forward to this game’s sequels. Sony’s first party mascots are a lot less impressive. You have the Playstation 2 and 3 offerings from Naughty Dog, Sucker Punch and Insomniac in the characters Nathan Drake, Ratchet and Clank, Jak and Daxter, Sly Cooper, Cole, and Evil Cole (Bad decision here). Along with Kratos and Sackboy, these are the real headliners of Sony’s team. Then you have the oldies, also known as Sir Daniel Fortesque from Medievil, Spike from Ape Escape, Sweet Tooth from Twisted Metal, and PaRappa the Rapper. These guys are for nostalgia, but serve to simply remind me that Sony needs to make more Medievil games. Finally, there is Toro, a mascot I still don’t understand after wikipedia-ing him, and Fat Princess, the star of a one-off PSN game that was very mildly popular for a very brief amount of time.

Toro is such a wonderful… thing… I guess…
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So there are a lot of characters, as you can see. The problem is that so few of them are actually iconic. When you see Bowser, Mario, Kirby, Samus, Link and the like, you know exactly who they are. I’m sure there are a great deal of Sony gamers who have no idea who Colonel Radec, Heihachi, Nariko, and Fat Princess are and they are all from games that have been active this generation. Imagine how few people have actually heard of Sir Dan. Sure Nintendo throws some obscure characters out there such as Ness or Roy and Marth, but the rest have the star power to push them through. Aside from maybe Kratos, Drake and Sackboy, none of Sony’s mascots really stand out too much and far too many of the representatives from this game are from abandoned franchises. I feel for all the people wanting a new Jak and Daxter game, or a sequel to Heavenly Sword, but this game is no indication of continued plans. The worst part, as mentioned earlier, is that some character come across as promotional material. This is especially true of Dante, who is only the new and much hated by the internet Dante instead of the classic Playstation exclusive Dante of DMC 1-3. Then there is Raiden, another character who is less popular in his series, but has a game coming out. The same can be said with Sly Cooper, but at least he’s actually a Playstation exclusive character that could be considered a mascot, even if only a minor one.

This is Snake, Sony. He’s kind of a big deal.
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So how about the gameplay? PASBR’s gameplay holds up fairly well. X, Triangle, and Circle act as three different attack buttons, which change depending on what direction you press. You also have a basic Smash Bros.-style evasion button, and the every-present taunt. What sets PASBR apart from Smash Bros. is how points are scored. Regular attacks against enemies build up your AP meter, which can fill up to three times, allowing you to use a special attack that will kill an enemy if it connects. Higher meter attacks are better, but require more AP to use. In this way, PASBR is similar to Dissidia’s Brave and HP attack system. It works well and keeps things fresh as each character has unique special attacks that usually involve something from their own canon, such as Kai from Heavenly Sword coming into play for Nariko’s level 1 attack. The basic gameplay works; although, the addition of Smash Bros.-style items is pointless, as there are exceedingly few and none of them are particularly iconic.

Where’s your God now, Kratos?
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The issue with the gameplay isn’t the basic systems, but, unfortunately, the balance. Some characters are just plain better than others. This comes primarily from the fact that the developers did a wonderful job of making each character play in a unique way. Unfortunately, uniqueness tends to lead to balance issues. This is why games such as Street Fighter with its insane amount of clones are often quite balanced. However, it goes a little too far here. There is no way that a Daniel Fortesque player can compete with a Kratos player if they both have similar skill. Coincidentally, it seems that newer character are almost universally better than older ones. A conspiracist might think that this is some sort of statement from the developers. One plus side are the unlockables, which include costumes as well as new intros and outros (winning animations). These are based on character level, which increases as you play with them. Unfortunately, a single pass through arcade mode will unlock almost everything.

I’m sorry, Sir Dan. You don’t even have a stage based on your games.
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The modes are basic in this game. Arcade mode exists offering a completely unnecessary bit of story for each character. This mode is fun enough, but no amount of still pictures with narrations can disguise the fact that it is just a collection of AI battles. More could have been done, even if it were the score points that were given out at the end of rounds in the original Smash Bros. and Melee. There are challenges, which are the same for each character. This is neat, but shouldn’t take an experienced player more than a couple of hours max. There are a host of training options, which are wonderful for new players, and are definitely appreciated; although, a little more depth would have been nice. Online modes are basic, but workable. However, Sony’s good online service means that PASBR is workable online unlike its Nintendo counterpart.

Where’s your God now, offensive portrayal of the overweight?
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Two things have to be mentioned from a graphical point of view. Firstly the stages. If there is one thing that PASBR does right, it’s its stages. Each stage is comprised of familiar settings from various Sony games. However, the fun comes as the battle rages. As you battle, the stage will shift and new things will happen. What is particularly interesting is that these things will be from other games, meaning each stage features a cross over of two of Sony’s games. It is amazing to watch hydras from God of War tear through an otherwise Ratchet and Clank stage. Or see Dr. Nefarious jump out of nowhere to start harassing you. There are a good amount of stages, but they are so good, I would love to have seen more. Unfortunately, not everything is good on the graphical side. What is a major miss is the presentation. Menus and the like are all very bland and boring with none of them looking current gen. This obviously doesn’t hurt gameplay, but it does make the game come across as cheaper than it should be.

That thing in the middle may be scary, but its the Patapons you have to fear. Bloodthirsty evil eyes…
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Overall, what do we have with PASBR? What we have is a very competent game with some good ideas mixed in. Nothing is handled in a particularly bad way, but there is a distinct lack of polish in the game. Make no mistake, the game is fun, the characters are varied, which is huge in my book, and the modes are diverse. There is a minor lack of content, especially in the single player category, but a workable online service does help to mitigate this, at least a little. Was PASBR a missed opportunity? Perhaps, but it certainly set the groundwork for what could be a very, very good sequel. Maybe that’s not a good thing, but there are some good ideas here and a lot of fun to be had. As a final note, the cross-buy feature is fantastic and allows gamers who buy the PS3 version to get the Vita version for free. Both games play identically, and it’s a really nice bonus.

Pros

– Varied characters
– Fun combat system
– Accommodating new players
– Large roster
– Cross-buy


Cons

– Sony’s brand is noticeably weaker than Nintendo’s
– Lack of polish in menus and balance
– Lacking in single player content

Score 7.5

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