PS All-Stars walks and talks like Smash Bros., but puts its own stamp on franchise-based fighting
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale
Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. was released in 1999 on the Nintendo 64, and immediately became a critical and commercial success. It spawned two sequels, one for each of Nintendo’s follow-up systems, the GameCube and Wii: Super Smash Bros. Melee and Super Smash Bros. Brawl, respectively. The series casts an undeniable shadow, and PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale has to live in that shadow, for better or worse.
The similarities are both obvious and numerous: both games feature 2D battle arenas in which well-known console-specific characters do battle, using items and chaining together combos. Brawl added Final Smash attacks, something you’ll see in PS All-Stars as well, though they’re called Supers here. The game will no doubt be called derivative, uninspired, or even lazy. It may be considered a Smash Bros. clone, but that shouldn’t put you off; even as a clone, it’s still a fun clone, with minor flaws.
PlayStation Vita owners are likely still searching for some quality entertainment to feed their Sony handheld. Two of the biggest franchises available on the system - Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty - failed to deliver a killer app experience, and the system needs all the help it can get. PS All-Stars lends a hand by being one of Sony’s first games to utilize the cross-buy system. If you pick up PS All-Stars for PS3, you’ll have the ability to install the game to your Vita as well, at no extra cost.
The process takes some time, and there are many menus to navigate, but the overall experience is more lengthy than painful. You can even set up matches between someone holding the Vita and someone playing on the TV, a very Wii U-like experience.
The Vita experience of PS All-Stars is virtually identical to the console version, and that’s a good thing. There’s no slow-down, no huge downgrade in graphics, no sacrifices made for the sake of the Vita. It’s just as satisfying, and contains all the modes found on your PS3 disc.
A new challenger arrives
While nearly all of Nintendo’s franchise are iconic and instantly recognizable – the possible exceptions being characters like Captain Olimar and Captain Falcon – Sony has never had a true mascot for any of their systems. That’s not to say the Sony systems haven’t been full of vibrant, interesting characters, but let’s be honest here: How many modern gamers know Toro Inoue or Sir Daniel Fortesque?
PS All-Stars’ cast feels all over the place in terms of tone, and it can be off-putting to see PaRappa take on Sweet Tooth or a Big Daddy. The characters also skew toward the PS3 era, leaving out some pretty big names from earlier generations. Many of the better-known PlayStation characters that were left out aren’t owned by Sony, and it takes two to tango. If Vivendi Universal, the current owners of the rights to Crash Bandicoot, don’t want Crash to be in the game, he isn’t going to be in the game.
The biggest snag with the roster is that, being a company with so many franchises appearing on its systems, Sony loses the ability to truly court nostalgia, because no one’s experience with the PlayStation consoles is going to be the same. For example, I grew up playing Tomb Raider, Spyro, Primal, Silent Hill, and Legacy of Kain. Those games defined my PlayStation experience, yet none of them are represented. This isn’t a problem that’s specific to Sony, how many Microsoft-specific characters are there? Nintendo sits alone when it comes to a cohesive stable of characters and properties.
Odds are you’ll also have some fond memories of a PlayStation game that, for whatever reason, didn’t make the cut. The assortment on-hand is good, but hardly all-encompassing. It would be a good idea to look at the game’s roster to figure out if there are enough characters you like if you’re banking on nostalgia. The upside is that, if you do see a character you like, the team has gone through a lot of work to make their story interesting, and their combat feel like it does in the game they come from.
Playable characters aren’t the only way for Sony’s games to be represented. Stages mash up two franchises to create dynamic playing fields. My personal favorite is a level that starts out in the back of the cargo plane from Uncharted 3. Soon, red lights flicker and the plane rumbles, as its haul begins to fly out the rear hatch. The map opens up, and in the background you see Songbird from BioShock Infinite. That sort of cross-over is rare in gaming, and it helps the game to stand out.
Frantic, but flat
The biggest difference you’ll notice between PS All-Stars and Smash Bros. is the lack of a damage meter. In PS All-Stars, you don’t attack opponents to damage them, you attack to build up “AP,” which can be unleashed in the form of a Super once you’ve acquired enough. Hitting an opponent with a Super is the only way you can score a kill, meaning no falling off the level kills, no damage counters, no life bar.
In this sense, PS All-Stars is more like the Dreamcast’s Power Stone or the PSP’s Final Fantasy Dissidia than Smash Bros.. While those games did measure damage via health, super attacks were your bread and butter that got the job done.
It’s an interesting system, but it has some issues. The default battle is a timed match, with no set number of lives, and no way to track score. This means that every match, every mode, is going to last the same amount of time, no matter how skilled you are. It gets tiring, and you’ll wish that you could just move on already. Beating someone 14 to -7 isn’t fun, it just drags the experience out.
Because there’s no health or damage meter, there’s also very little to increase the tension during fights. In Smash Bros., higher damage meant more dramatic battles, as one hit could send you flying toward oblivion, and there was often a “will I or won’t I make it back to the platform” moment that causes you to tense up and pray that you’ll catch that ledge.
There are no such moments in PS All-Stars. Every hit does the same amount of knock back, and every combo gains the same amount of AP. There’s not enough variety in character attacks or damage output to keep a match interesting for a timed match, making the decision to make that the default for all modes. Stock limit and death limit rules are much more fun and interesting, since the constant risk of death feels more tangible and immediate. In a stock limit match, you have a set number of lives and play until you lose all of them. In a kill limit match, the first to reach the number of kills wins.
A good, but not great, battle cry
There’s much here for the dedicated player. As you use characters, you’ll level them up, which unlocks customization options both for the character and your profile.
You can choose your character’s costume, taunt, intro, outro, and victory music. For your profile, you can change the background, icon, Free-For-All title, Team title, and minion. Minions are usually sidekick characters from Sony games that exist in the background to cheer on your character. I set mine to Keira from Jak & Daxter.
There are also challenges to be completed, and completionists will obsess over these: 246 solo challenges, 186 online ones. They’re all pretty simple, but that doesn’t always mean easy. I was able to achieve the challenge of advancing two characters to level 10 relatively quickly, but it will be some time before I can win two match-made games without getting killed.
PS All-Stars brings a new kind of fighting to the table; one that may not match the excitement of its competitors, but always feels good. There are no cheap deaths, no hits that don’t connect, no lack of polish on the game. Default rule matches feel like a chore, but once you adjust a few settings, PS All-Stars turns into a great party game.