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When pre-judging a game like Playstation All Stars: Battle Royale it’s almost impossible to overlook the obvious similarity it bears to Nintendo’s Super Smash Brothers franchise. Many might be inclined to call out Royale’s developer, Superbot Entertainment, for the blatant cloning attempt and be dismissive of the game as woefully unoriginal. But having spent the last week with this Sony release, it owes much more to titles such as Street Fighter and Tekken than Smash Brothers. Let’s not forget that when Nintendo released its first offering of their franchise fighter, they did so into a crowded market of fighting games and many folks who had yet to play it were unimpressed because it featured (judging strictly by its appearance) overly simplistic gameplay. Nevertheless, those that made the leap and really bored into the mechanical aspects of Smash Brothers were rewarded with a much deeper experience. Such is the same with All Stars: Battle Royale. Ignorance in this case, is definitely not bliss my friends.
Conceptually Battle Royale revolves around four players battling it out with one another utilizing characters from various Sony franchises and certain third-party franchises. During each match, players damage one another to earn AP (The game's currency for the super meter) or pick it up in the form of orbs that appear on the stage under various circumstances to build up the "super meter". Filling this meter allows players to pull off one of three levels of supers to kill their opponents to score points, which is how the game's default mode is won.
Combat is fluid and responsive. Characters feature a host of moves to use at their disposal, and dodge rolling, chain-combos, and baiting are all techniques that are present. Characters seem to be taken out of their game in a literal sense for their personalities, fighting styles (if they have one), art styles, and even animations are intact. Superbot have also taken the liberty of making fun of such characters with their movesets. For example, Nathan Drake's habit of destroying objects he's traversing which has him falling onto an unfortunate combatant through some floor rubble. It's little touches like these that makes the game more enjoyable to play than it already is because the characters play and feel exactly as they would in their own game.
Characters are not the only thing pulled straight from other titles, items are taken from various Sony franchises and each is useful under the right circumstances. Stages are also varied and the crossovers from one franchise to another are seamless and cool as hell to watch. Stage hazards challenge players to keep them on their toes – for a player may lose the AP they've been storing up over the course of the match if hit by one of the many perils the game contains. Even with a host of stage hazards and multiple characters on-screen at once, the framerate remains consistent throughout and never dips into unplayable or even noticeable territory.
Stages range from eye-pleasing to amazing in visual quality. The most impressive of these stages is Columbia from Bioshock Infinite. This stage looks spectacular, but mainly because it looks like it's right out of the game. The background pops with life and is filled with explosions and destruction that can disrupt the platform where the "real" battle is taking place.
Single-player is where Battle Royale stumbles and that's a damn shame. Every character's story begins and ends with what amounts to concept art stills with voice acting from the respected characters in the background as narration and dialogue. This is disappointing because so much effort went into other parts of the package that this important piece could've received more love than it did. On one hand, it's awesome to see Sully in Drake's story stills with both Nolan North and Richard McGonagle reprising their roles and knowing Spike is still after Specter, but there isn't much meat to the narrative other than stage after stage of battling various characters with no background info as to why. Why is Sackboy my first opponent in Drake's story? I don’t know. On the other hand, the one saving grace fortunately is the rivalries shown in cutscenes before the respected character’s fight. It's awesome and interesting to observe how the characters react to one another outside of their comfort zones.
Battle Royale's roster is a strong one. I saved this topic for last seeing as it was the most controversial case outside of the game's announcement. The roster does not have the same resonance and contiguity as the Smash Brother's, but perhaps that is an unfair comparison. Nintendo's past and commercial success may have given us an exaggerated look on our nostalgia and our love for those characters being in the same game. There weren't many Nintendo fans craving for a duel between Link and Mario until HAL Laboratory embraced and defined the idea in the original game. We never saw those characters sparring in our imaginations and we never suspected if they were even in the same universe, but that changed when they were placed into the same game and from then onwards Nintendo fans felt a sense of belonging between the two.
PASBR's roster is balanced, extremely diverse, and bereft of "clones." Ironic isn't it?
Also very much like fans felt in the original Smash Brothers, I did feel that these characters could be in the same universe. It's not as believable as something like the aforementioned roster, but having such a diverse and unlikely roster of heroes and villains gives the game an identity all its own. Much like what the rest of the game tries to get across to consumers, but most will likely overlook those aspects.
Battle Royale yields some of the most fun multiplayer action I've had in a fighting game in a many years. The online functionality rocks, the cross buy is brilliant, the game is balanced, and it contains an incredible amount of unlockables for a deceptive amount of content. It's combat system is much more combo-heavy and is more in depth than that of Smash Brothers. I’m not saying that this is a superior game, but, as far as first attempts go, this blows the original Super Smash Bros. out of the water. I don't look at the comparisons however when I'm playing. Instead I reminisce on old childhood memories of leaving my N64 on for hours and letting the time fly by while unlocking one thing after another only to realize that it's tomorrow morning. It's those experiences that give us gamers feelings of nostalgia. It's those experiences that cuts to a gamer's core and this one cuts deep.