PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale review for PS3, PS Vita

Platform: PlayStation 3
Also On: PS Vita
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: SuperBot Entertainment/Bluepoint Games
Medium: Blu-ray Disc, Digital
Players: 1-4
Online: Yes

PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is pretty much the ultimate form of PlayStation fan service and there’s certainly no doubting what its influence was. As Super Smash Bros. did in previous generations of Nintendo systems, Sony, SuperBot Entertainment and Bluepoint Games have found a way to mash-up characters and environments from an assortment of first and third party franchises into a competitive, multiplayer fighting game. Sure, Super Smash Bros. has had the benefit of being around for a number of year, has obviously undergone a few tweaks and balances and has amassed a sizeable player-base, so it’s almost an unfair comparison to make. However, all things considered, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is an extremely solid entry into the genre with enough of its own personality and features to make it definitely worthy of a PS3 or PS Vita owner’s attention.

Just to get it out of the way, the user interface and menu designs in PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale are all sorts of ugly. The game begins with a really nice intro that hypes you up for the impending action, and then you are dumped into what looks like an awkward HTML frontend from a decade ago. It’s functional and loads quickly, which is a good thing, but it clearly takes away from the overall presentation and polish for what is still a $60 PS3 game. On the other hand, the PS Vita UI makes a bit more sense since it was designed for a smaller screen and touch controls, and my complaints don’t really carry over. I can always appreciate a good frontend design in the games I play, and either due to a lack of time or resources, this is not one of them. The developer’s time was clearly better spent elsewhere, and thankfully that attention was well placed at the very least.

From a gameplay perspective, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is well thought out and surprisingly balanced, more so than I honestly anticipated. I’m impressed that SuperBot and Sony haven’t pushed out a flurry of updates to patch the game, and my 2 weeks of play time with both the PS3 and Vita versions has definitely been enjoyable and overall snag free.

Competitive players will claim otherwise, but PlayStation All-Stars falls under more of a casual-style of fighting game when compared to the classic 2D and 3D fighters developed by Capcom, Namco Bandai, SNK and others. In other words, it’s easy to jump into and dramatically kick some ass, though there is more than enough room to grow and plenty of techniques to master. Case in point, my kids (ages ranging from 5 – 7), can’t really play Street Fighter IV effectively, but they actually can do some damage in PlayStation All-Stars.

The main goal of PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is as straightforward as you would expect from such a fighter, especially if you have ever played a Super Smash Bros. title. Choose a character from a selection of 20 first and third-party PlayStation characters, and take on up to 3 other characters/players in a 2D fight to the death. All characters share the same basic controls – X to jump; Square, Triangle, Circle to attack; L1 to block; R1 (Touchscreen on the Vita) to pick up an item; L2 (Select on Vita) to Taunt; R2 (R1 on Vita) to unleash a Super Attack; and finally the right analog stick to perform a variety of throws. Characters can defensively roll by moving in a direction while blocking, and also air dodge. The game is fast and smooth, and moves come out without a hitch.

Winning a fight in PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, or at least scoring some significant points, is slightly different than most players would expect from a fighting game at first. Simply beating the snot out of your competitors, no matter how brutally or efficiently, isn’t enough to earn you a win. Pummeling your foes serves the purpose of earning AP points that build up the levels of your Super Attack meter which can then be unleashed to vaporize the other players and earn points. Every character has their very own set of Super Attacks ranging from Level 1 through 3 which they can initiate at the appropriate time to score the maximum number of kills and points. Levels 1 and 2 can cause some serious damage if you’re in the correct position and don’t get countered, but Level 3, which as you would expect, takes much longer to build up, is damn near invincible and essentially guarantees at least a couple of kills depending on the character’s specific Super Attack. There are a few winning conditions available for a match, which is determined by the mode or match settings: most kills in a certain period of time, last surviving character with a set number of lives, or first player to reach a certain number of kills. If there is a tie then the match goes into overtime with double or triple AP points earned in order to build up the Super Attack meters more rapidly.

Sony, SuperBot and the other supporting developers did a great job pulling characters, along with their distinctive abilities and personalities, from their respective games and mixing them together into one roster. Some of the universes that the characters and environments originate from are extremely diverse, but they somehow found a way to make everything work together. Fat Princess and PaRappa taking on Big Daddy and Kratos doesn’t sound like it would work on paper, but it does in PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. The movesets for each character are larger than expected as well, and none of them feel like a clone of another character (except for Good/Evil Cole, sorta). The variety is definitely more than adequate with big/slow/powerful characters feeling and playing much different than small/fast/less powerful characters. A good portion of the roster falls in the middle with more than a few weapons-based or fighting characters like Nariko, Dante, Raiden, Kratos, Sir Dan and Heihachi. Additionally, characters can be further divided into those who excel at long range vs. close-up combat, and depending on their moves, certain types may have the upper hand on specific stages and layouts. With all 4 players getting it on, there is almost always the feeling of controlled chaos within the game, and that’s not even factoring in the dynamic stages and useable items. Considering the variables involved, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale really does feel fairly balanced and it’s expected that SuperBot and Sony will work in tweaking it further after a couple of tournament seasons. Balance issues can and will bubble up most likely, though at the very least they have a solid base to build upon.

Online play, which supports up to 3 other players (and is the game’s bread and butter), has been absolutely rock solid on both platforms – even via PS3 / PS Vita Cross-Play. Partying up with local or online friends and jumping into quick matches or ranked games is smooth and fast. After hundreds of online matches in all combinations, I can probably count the connection issues I’ve encountered on one hand. That alone is an impressive feat in my book and I assume the beta test sessions were put to good use. It’s extremely easy to pop online and get involved in several matches in a relatively short amount of time, so on both platforms, it’s very pickup-and-play friendly. Players can created their own online sessions and set them up as they wish, including restrictions, backgrounds, win conditions and whatnot. Other than that, official Ranked Games are available which will track your progress in the current tournament season with all stats being reset after that time.

Even though I was quick to complain about the user interface and front end at the start of this review, the in-game visuals in PS All-Stars are excellent. The character models are super impressive, and the wide variety of animations, details, costumes and nuances are dead on. I can’t imagine how long it took to get all 20 characters up to such a level, but that effort I can definitely appreciate. Even the voices, remixed theme songs and sound effects are damn near perfect. The backgrounds are similarly awesome, especially when they shift and change, and background elements from other games start phasing in. PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale effortlessly pulls off four detailed characters, dynamic backgrounds, tons of effects, excellent image quality and a perfect 60fps framerate the entire time, even on the PS Vita. So as I said earlier, the developers definitely did spend their time and resources where they should have.

PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale’s main draw will likely be the local/online multiplayer, though there is no shortage of single player content. Each character has their own story in the Arcade Mode, there are numerous forms of training, challenges and tutorials, along with many goals to achieve and content to unlock. Each character can be leveled up independently (while playing online or offline), and they all eventually unlock new costumes, backgrounds, voices, intro music, icons, and so forth. There is no way to earn new moves or Super Attacks or anything of the sort that might screw with the game’s balance. I would estimate that it will take an average player dozens of hours to achieve 100% completion, but I suspect that once they hop online, it’ll be hard to go back to playing through the game’s single player only modes.

If you’re both a PS3 and a PS Vita owner and any of this sound intriguing, then picking up the PS3 version is a no brainer. The full Blu-ray or PSN version of the game provides gamers with the opportunity to download the PS Vita version for free via Cross-Buy. What that means is you get both versions for the price of the PS3 game. Vita owners can pick up a copy a la carte if they wish of course, but I have to say, having both versions is a great perk. The game supports Cross-Saves as well, and stats such as your character levels and certain unlocks seamlessly sync over to the other version, so you never lose your progress.

Even lacking a bit of polish, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is an impressive piece of work especially for PlayStation fans and those fond of Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros series. It’s fun and easy to get into, and offers enough local and online multiplayer fighting action to keep PS3 and PS Vita players interested for quite some time.

Grade: B+