Publisher: Bandai Namco
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. That's fine. It's not supposed to, unless you happen to be a die-hard British fan of Hirohiko Araki's superb but cruelly under-localised manga.
Are you both sitting comfortably? Good, because this game is very much directed at you. CyberConnect2 are no stranger to decent-but-not-exactly-brilliant licensed games, and All Star Battle is one of their most ambitious yet: a playable journey through the entire canon with loads of playable characters, sweet visuals and unbridled personality.
For everyone else, All Star Battle is a slightly stiff fighting game in which you can defeat your enemy with a thousand baseballs and ride a horse around the arena. Or summon robotic bees and deadly bubbles mid-battle. Making sense is for chumps.
This will come as no surprise if you already played Capcom's original JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, whether on CPS-3 arcade cabinets (very unlikely, since it never arrived in Europe as far as I know), PS One, Dreamcast or 2012's downloadable HD version. Capcom did a fantastic job of shoehorning a complex and convoluted manga series, complete with all of the ludicrously overpowered and over-the-top characters, into a slick and gorgeous fighter that was packed with interesting systems. Namco Bandai's successor has lost none of the visual charm -- its gorgeous cel-shaded visuals are packed with quirky charm while the character roster is utterly sensational -- and is just as outrageous to play.
There's no in-game tutorial, which is a crying shame since All Star Battle features a few fairly simple yet unique gameplay mechanics that would have been very easy to teach. Be sure to hop into practice mode and muddle through. At face value, it's a straightforward brawler with light, medium and heavy attacks, quarter rotations aplenty, a noob-friendly auto combo mapped to light attack and a somewhat clunky first impression. Everything feels a little stiff and slow, from the stodgy movement speeds to attacks that, for a while, don't seem to flow as organically as we're used to in modern fighting games.
Stick with it, though, and you'll discover a world of pleasing yet not overcomplicated depth as you experiment with the roster. On a basic level we have the sidestep, which lets you step in and out of the screen to avoid enemy attacks. "Battleground Gimmicks" (no, really, that's what they're called) throw Injustice-esque scenery hazards into the fray, forcing opponents to watch their footing or providing throws. Successfully landing attacks powers up the Heart Gauge, which places a range of utterly ridiculous special attacks and/or animation cancelling at your fingertips. From flurries of thousands of punches to billions of baseballs, the range of unique attacks is as devastating as it's gloriously stylish. Unless you manage to pull off a 'stylish evade,' complete with familiar pose and camera pan.
Then we come to Styles and Stands. Persona 4 Arena recently ripped it off to great effect, but JoJo's Bizarre Adventure was the original trend-setter, since many characters in the anime can manifest support characters mid-battle or otherwise power themselves up to utterly insane levels. Some ride on horseback in the middle of a match, throwing balance out of the window. Some bring automata directly onto the field. Hammon users power up their heart gauges with hilariously macho taunts, while vampires suck it right out. Everyone has their own singular personality that's represented directly through gameplay. Balance isn't anywhere near as horrible as I expected -- about two-thirds of the roster are viable, which actually compares favourably to many of Capcom's licensed brawlers -- yet I couldn't care less, because I'm having too much fun.
This sounds crazy because it absolutely is, and it leads to All Star Battle being one of the most unique and interesting fighting games in some considerable time. Though not as polished and balanced as the likes of Skullgirls and other competitive FGC-centric offerings, it offers a sense of totally unpredictable, utterly mad, delightfully anarchic brawling that I haven't experienced since Anarchy Reigns/Max Anarchy. It's just so ludicrous, so over-the-top, so bombastic and so knowingly hilarious that you can't help but love it, especially when played against locally against a friend on the same couch. Online multiplayer is serviceable, but full of veterans who'll crush you in seconds.
Story mode should have been the jewel in All Star Battle's crown. After all, it's an earnest attempt to recap the entire storyline, with every single story arc playable as separate episodes, different protagonists and challenges. Unfortunately it's also an unrelenting slog. CyberConnect2 have managed to commit one of the cardinal licensed game sins: making the source material boring. Each arc has been crunched down into reams upon reams of text, breaking up incredibly repetitive themed battles that often make you play in the same arena multiple times on the trot. And you'll have to participate in order to unlock most of the characters.
Whilst the voice acting is exuberant, there's lots of it and some optional objectives challenge you to match key events in the manga with moves of your own, the story deserved better. Hell, we already know that CyberConnect2 can do better. Fans will be dismayed to see the vibrant manga treated so matter-of-factly (and rail against some nonsensical character name changes) whereas newcomers may actively be put off exploring the series further.
It's a godsend compared to the Campaign Mode, however. The less said about this money-grubbing online-only cesspit the better, since Bandai Namco decided to cram a mobile monetised social game into their full-priced purchase. Entering the campaign's battles against tough opponents is the only way to secure certain costumes and taunts, yet participating depletes an energy bar that takes a couple of minutes to charge up. Which you can pay money to avoid waiting for. Alongside an embarrassment of boosters and comsumable items. In a game that already cost you forty quid.
But once again, I'm just about having too much fun to notice this nasty vestigial feature. So long as you regularly play fighting games with friends or online, or actually know your Jonathan Joestar from your Joseph Joestar from your Johnny Joestar, this is going to be a breath of fresh air in your collection.
- Gorgeous graphics, eyecatching art style and irrepressible personality
- Amazing character roster with unique (and totally crazy!) styles and Stands
- Some neat and versatile gameplay systems to get to grips with
- Feels a little stiff, lacks fluidity of most modern competitors
- Lengthy yet prosaic story mode turns the crazy canon into a bit of a slog
- Detestable monetised social game disguised as campaign mode
The Short Version: Fans of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure will find much to love in this riotously rambunctious fighter, but the gruelling story mode and hateful 'pay to play' Campaign sap the personality and verve out of the zany experience. Still well worth considering if you're a franchise aficionado or fancy playing something a little bit different - it's a shame that the fun of the core battling isn't throughout the entire package.
So it's a good thing that the core battling is so much outrageous fun and the characters are so ridiculously insane, then!