It’s hard to believe the original PlayStation came out almost 20 years ago – and that Sony now has a library of characters deep enough to celebrate the fact. It’s just too bad the company couldn’t have done more with this moment than the uninspiring PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale.
In the tradition of Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. series of fighting games, Battle Royale is an out-and-out brawler that brings together all of PlayStation’s best-known – and least-known – characters for a healthy dose of button-mashing madness.
The roster includes recent stars such as God of War’s Kratos, Uncharted’s Nathan Drake and LittleBigPlanet’s Sackboy, as well as more obscure characters such as Fat Princess from the downloadable game of the same name and Spike from Ape Escape. The characters can go one on one with each other, but things are more fun – and frantic – when the arena is full with four combatants, either locally or online.
Combat is as simple as you want it to be, with one of the gamepad’s buttons for jumping and the other three for attacking. While you can easily join in and mash buttons, each individual character’s strengths and weaknesses soon become apparent.
Sackboy, for example, is excellent at dropping objects that can hurt opponents but he’s relatively weak in direct combat. Kratos is deadly up close yet vulnerable to distance attacks. Killzone’s General Radec, on the other hand, is very good at those long-range assaults.
Each character has more than 20 unique moves, so becoming good with them does require some skill and strategy. Using the right combination helps build up each character’s “special” meter, which unleashes devastating attacks that kill opponents. Since the objective in most battles is to kill those opponents as many times as possible, that’s a good thing.
The battle arenas are almost the real stars of the game, with each inspired by different PlayStation games. They’re not static though – the fight may start in an arena based on Resistance or Parappa the Rappa, but it inevitably morphs halfway through into something from another game, usually with incongruous and often funny results.
One particularly hilarious example sees the Craftworld-based LittleBigPlanet arena change into a giant game show set from Buzz, PlayStation’s trivia series. When the titular host appeared and asked a trivia question, my friends and I all stopped fighting with each other to jump onto a platform that corresponded with the correct answer. Once the answer was revealed, we went right back at each other.
The arenas can also have an impact on the action itself. In the God of War environment, for example, Hades hurls down balls of fire that can bring characters closer to death. The environmental interactions thereby add a fun, extra touch of mayhem.
As you keep playing PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale you will find it becomes an increasingly dull affair. Each character has his or her own “story” line, although these are lazily done. Their tales start with voice-overs and a slide show of still photos that state their particular contrived motivations for being in this fighting tournament. Why this couldn’t have been done with, I don’t know, “interesting” cutscenes is a mystery.
A handful of fights later, they face individual nemeses and boss battles, wherein some mirth can be found. In Kratos’s quest, for example, he confronts Twisted Metal’s Sweet Tooth. The duo get into a heated argument after Kratos knocks the killer clown’s ice cream to the ground. When Sweet Tooth tells him to pick it up, Kratos exclaims that “the Ghost of Sparta bends for no mortal.” Alas, funny moments like these are too rare in this game.
Sure, fighting with each character will gain him or her experience points, but these unlock only cosmetic changes like new costumes or victory poses. Without any interesting unlocks or cinematics to watch, it’s easy to get bored with PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. My group of friends got tired of it after only half an hour.
The PS3 version of the game does come with a free download of the Vita version as well, though the two games are virtually identical. After a convoluted installation process that requires connecting to the PS3, you can cross-save your games, so playing on one system transfers over to the other.
I actually preferred the game on the Vita, since you’re closer to it. In large, multiplayer fights, the characters end up quite small on a big TV screen, a problem that’s ameliorated somewhat on the portable system.
In the end, though, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is a short-term thrill. It’s still two years till the PlayStation’s official 20th anniversary. With any luck, 2014 will see a deeper and more enticing sequel to this game.