PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale Review

Sony has been receiving a lot of flack for PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, namely for seeming to rip off Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros., but is the game different enough to shed that image or is it too much of the same to really call it original? In short, we think there’s more than enough here to call All-Stars original and unique, even if the concept is a borrowed one.

The gameplay is largely the same, but with quite a few additions. The game has a short tutorial (which we’d definitely advise you playing through, by the way) that opens us up to the world of All-Stars. It shows off the difference between level one, two, and three “Supers”, or superpowers you get by filling up your stamina-like meter. It goes over basic controls and additions to gameplay, as well as how to take advantage of level design with jumping and evading tactics.

By virtue of having a whole slew of new characters to play – 20 to be exact – you get access to a veritable ton of abilities. In fact, each character has more than 20 unique moves! This is an incredible feat in and of itself as this variety is really where the game shines. Sackboy (LittleBigPlanet) is great with items, but as you might expect, is very weak. Kratos (God of War) is remarkably powerful up close but a little gunfire will take him out from afar relatively easily. And of course, Nathan Drake (Uncharted) is somewhere in the middle; he’s excellent at hand-to-hand combat as well as pistol-handling.

The gameplay itself sometimes degrades to button mashing when you really get into it, especially if you don’t know the character’s abilities. We found ourselves gravitating towards Kratos for the simple fact that his chains are incredible effective and grabbing and stunning nearby opponents. However, when we played as other characters like Fat Princess (Fat Princess) or a Big Daddy (Bioshock), we were totally lost without going completely button crazy.

The Supers are really where this game shines, bringing an entirely new mechanic to gameplay. In addition to the regular combat moves you have, Supers build up as you make your opponents take damage and you can unleash them in three levels. A Super typically lasts only a second or two, but have increasing power through each level. A level one Super is pretty basic and knocks out your opponent about fifty percent of the time. A level two increases this likelihood to about ninety percent by our estimation, and lets you take out multiple opponents pretty easily as well. If you manage to save up your strength for the all-mighty level three Super, you’ll be wiping the entire board off almost every single time. Supers have the tendency to feel overpowered when they’re being used against us, but we have no complaints when we’re doling them out.

The graphics of a game like All-Stars are difficult to qualify. The PlayStation 3 is no slouch, and while we’re sure the graphics are textured beautifully, because of the perspective of the game, you just can’t see anything up close to know whether or not that’s actually the case. There is still tons more going on in Sony’s brawler than there ever has been in Nintendo’s games, but it would be nice if we could have a camera flyover to see just how detailed these character models and stages really are. Animations are fluid and clean, though, and we never saw a hiccup in framerate which is excellent considering the game can have quite a bit going on at once.

Environments in All-Stars are probably the most unique part of the game. Rather than having one relatively static environment as each stage, the environments shift and change, hopping between radically different games as they take on a life of their own. For example, when playing a world from Parappa the Rappa, the background dropped away and suddenly we were fighting in an entirely different world. It made us sit up and take notice at the striking visual changes between a cel-shaded environment and a completely three-dimensional one, and this kind of visual difference was striking.

Audio in the All-Stars is as you might expect from a title like this; crisp and clear, yet nothing revolutionary by any means. Don’t get us wrong, the audio is good, but it is appropriately subdued given that there is so much going on visually and all your focus is required. With constant audio bombardment, the game would become a sensory overload, and it seems like Sony had a purposely light hand with the audio in All-Stars.

PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is the first title in Sony’s Cross-Buy series of games. When you buy the PlayStation 3 version of the game, you end up with the Vita version absolutely free as well. This might seem a bit odd, but when you note that you can play PS3 versus Vita in online multiplayer, it makes perfect sense. Sony understands that you’re probably only going to pick up one version of the game, so they may as well incentivize you to get a Vita by throwing in the portable version. It also speaks to the development cycle of handheld games coming very close to those of portable titles, making it much more efficient to code for both platforms.

The Vita version, we found, ended up being a better experience, because it was more intimate, not to mention being easier (or rather, possible) to play on the go, in bed, on the toilet, or anywhere else we had an internet connection and enough battery life. With that said, if you’ve got both consoles, definitely get the PlayStation 3 version as you’ll get the Vita version for free, and when a few buddies come over, you’ll be able to pop in the disc to play on your big screen TV.

PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is a great party experience with a decent online component and some wicked value as you get both a console and portable version of the game. It won’t sustain you in the same way that Call of Duty‘s multiplayer will, nor will it be the hit in the same way that Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. series has. But that doesn’t mean you should dismiss the title. For a penny under $60, you get two games (they’re largely identical, as you might expect) that provide a ton of variety and plenty of gameplay hours that you can enjoy on the big screen or your Vita’s little one.

Sony has announced the first downloadable content for All-Stars will include Kat from Gravity Rush and Emmett Graves from Starhawk as playable characters. They will both be available in early 2013 for the low, low cost of zero dollars.