Platforms: PS3 | Vita (tested on both formats)
Developer: Superbot Entertainment
Four player brawlers are something of a rarity these days, especially if your dusty Nintendo consoles have been boxed up for a while. Skirting around the much-mentioned copycat nature of the game, what we have here is an impressive collection of PlayStation’s most iconic first-party characters (and Fat Princess) plus a select few third-party heroes kicking the pixelated hell out of each other.
As well as brawling, the game is also something of a platformer as the game is set in 2D levels with players able to leap around platforms and sometimes even bounce off the walls or fall into traps below.
The stages are set in a pleasing variety of familiar locations that PlayStation-generation gamers will get a real nostalgic kick from. Jak & Daxter’s Sandover Village, the dojo from Parappa the Rapper, Metropolis from Ratchet & Clank amongst others are just a taste of the arenas you can look forward to. These stages will feature cross-over or “mash-up” elements from other games too. While the creatures from Patapon might be dancing in the background, you should be more concerned with the large figure of Hades from God of War III, who attacks the stage at will. Carmelita Fox from the Sly series makes appearances with her stun gun while even Buzz gets in on the action in the LittleBigPlanet stage, by asking a question and electrifying the platforms below the wrong answer. The LBP stage will also randomly assemble itself as you play, as if you’re fighting inside the level editor. The plane level of Uncharted 3 is reimagined in 2D with a surprise appearance from the Songbird of Bioshock: Infinite and Ratchet’s Metropolis level is suddenly invaded by the Hydra from God of War.
Clearly, the potential of the stages is ridiculously huge thanks to the diverse range of content we’ve seen on planet PlayStation over the years. So, as long as the game plays up to the standard of the characters and stages, we should be onto a party classic, right?
*Goes to Germany to play the game at Gamescom...*
After getting hands-on with the game it quickly became apparent that instead of a party classic, this game is shaping up to be a steaming pile of [We had to cut much of the rest of this paragraph due to endless streams of expletives - Ed.] Where is the rest of the game? Where’s the character balance? Why is the scoring system such bullshit? Arghhh.
Ok, breathe. Let me break this down. To score points you must kill opponents. You can only kill them by performing Special attacks. There’s no health bar and no ledge kills. By performing basic attacks you fill up a Specials metre to one of three levels. Cashing in a Special move at one of these levels will hopefully get you a few kills. Level 1 strikes are close range and unlikely to get more than one kill, Level 2’s are typically wider-reaching and longer lasting, such as Clank coming out to help Ratchet for a short time or Sackboy dropping a line of flaming coals anywhere he pleases. Level 3 strikes vary depending on character. Drake turns everyone into Zombies giving you the chance for easy kills with a golden gun, Big Daddy puts everyone underwater (similar to zombie effect), while Kratos gets to almost instantly win the match.
The Level 3 attack for Kratos is significantly more powerful than anyone else’s I saw during my hands-on. Instead of unleashing a screen-clearing bomb -like Spike’s Satellite beam- where everyone dies once, Kratos turns into a giant and can one-hit-kill everyone with any attack. What makes it even more unfair over other characters though is that players can respawn multiple times and be killed again straight away before this special attack wears off. Essentially, most characters will only let you bag three kills for a Level 3 attack, while Kratos can get nine if he’s really on it. Factor this in with him being able to build up specials quicker than anyone else and we have a serious problem.
While Sackboy tries throwing cake at you, Kratos will be trying to gut you in mid-air before flinging you around the stage with his chained blades. Kratos is the standout cheaty character, but to be honest, anyone with a sword proved to have an unfair advantage. So Dante, Spike and Kratos currently rule the roost while Sackboy and Big Daddy will be synonymous with bad language at any multiplayer matches where players opt for random character selection.
Some characters show signs of potential, if not being as immediately accessible as characters should be in a game like this – make no mistake, this is a casual gamer title. Nate Drake fist-fights and is armed with signature guns from Uncharted, but seems to handle sluggishly. Sly Cooper on the other hand could become a challenger thanks to his mad platforming skills and fast melee attacks. Some special weapons appear at random during matches. Anyone can grab them, so don’t be surprised to see Kratos pick up a rocket launcher or Sackboy attach some wrist-mounted blades.
At Gamescom I managed to get some decent hands-on time with the PS Vita version for some cross-play multiplayer. All our matches on the show floor featured four players, with two on PS3 and two on PS Vitas. The Vita can be used as a controller while looking at the TV, which was a preferable experience as I found the Vita’s screen too small to comfortably fit all four characters onto the screen as the camera zooms out when players spread out. The long distance means you might attack in the wrong direction or waste a Special. On the other hand, if you’re playing local multiplayer and are short a controller, the Vita will more than do. Just bear in mind it’s a bit more expensive than a DualShock if anyone’s prone to taking defeat poorly.
Needs a knockout in the final round
Sony are keeping worryingly quiet on the amount of game modes that will be available in the final version. We’ve been playing three-minute timed matches but we can confirm that there will be a mode with limited lives too. But it appears the scoring system is locked down throughout, which is a disaster. Not knowing how many points you and your rivals have during the match is a real ball-buster and robs any excitement and sense of making a comeback. At the end of each match you’ll have three pissed off people and one surprised person. In my first match I choose Big Daddy and performed terribly. I spent most of the match climbing back up to the fight as I kept falling off the platforms in Sandover Village. Three minutes later, convinced I hadn’t earned a single kill I was shocked -and a little embarrassed- to find out I’d won. Ok, so picking Kratos next time, made the victory a little easier to take on board, but overall the fights seems to be quiet affairs rather than people having fun, whether I was playing with fellow journos or European gamers.
We’re going to have to see some much better character balancing by the time the game ships and a little more responsiveness when activating Specials would be appreciated too. Sadly it’s probably too late in the day to revamp the scoring system, which is a real shame as the way the licenses have been used for mash-ups in level design is looking brilliant for long-standing PlayStation gamers.
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is set for release November 23rd on PS3 and PS Vita.
Second Opinion - Matt Gardner
I really wanted to like this game. Nothing would have filled me with greater pleasure than seeing a brave take on a monopolised genre stand toe-to-toe with Super Smash Bros. and really deliver.
But it doesn't.
The scoring system is completely nonsensical. The fact that everything is predicated upon working your way up to a Super makes for fairly one dimensional gameplay, and the ugly truth is that certain characters are so unbalanced as to make a person weep. The mixed levels underline a lack of faith in single IPs, the game's central systems seem too convoluted for pick up and play brawler fun and far too simple to be considered a proper fighting game, and the fact that you have no idea who the hell is winning halfway through a round is utterly ridiculous.
I stand corrected. It's not a Smash Bros. clone at all. It's much, much worse than that.