PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale has been in public beta since the 18th for all PlayStation Plus members and PlayStation Vita owners. It’s refreshing to see Sony thinking so pro-actively towards both of these neglected platforms. Especially considering PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale could be a potential game-changing game for Sony’s ailing handheld, since if you purchase the game on PS3 you will also receive it on Vita and both versions can play against one-another. But how does the beta hold up?
Well, the beta only has 6 characters — Parappa the Rapper, Kratos, Colonel Radec, Fat Princess, Sweet Tooth and Sly Cooper. However, from my experience only two of these characters seem necessary — the incredibly overpowered Kratos and the fan-favourite Sly Cooper. It seemed impossible to have a game without at least one of these characters having multiple forms in each four player battle. With Sly its seems harsh to criticise the developer for his surprising popularity but Kratos’ powerful and long-range attacks seem to overwhelm the opposition and make him an obvious choice.
Balancing issues aside the game is surprisingly good and fairly unique, which is especially astounding considering it is a blatant clone of Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. series. PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, a name that never gets less annoying to say, distances itself from its Nintendo counterpart by changing the aim from knocking your opposition off a platform to completely destroying them. This, however, can only done by the use of special moves, which can be charged to one of three levels by beating each other into a pulp.
Mastering the special moves is key to winning battles. The most powerful special moves can obliterate multiple opponents with ease, yet the same can be done with the least powerful; assuming you have the skill and luck to pull it off. This brings into play an extremely tense risk versus reward element. Do you build up your charge to get a few easy kills with a level 3 special, or do you gamble and try and take as many out with a few level 1 charges. It’s a tense and tactical stand-off between yourself and the opposition, with one missed special move having the potential to change the winner.
As such, it seems remarkable that the specials aren’t especially well balanced. This is most notable with Sly Cooper, whose level one special — a forward attack by Murray, is more efficient than his level two attack, a tricky to manoeuvre jet pack that drops bombs on enemies. Considering that the game is currently only in beta, it would be expected that this problem won’t see its way into the finished game. However, taking into account how finished the game looks, bar one or two minor bugs, its concerning to see such balancing issues still at large.
All of this is glossing over the main problem though. Yes, the game plays in a perfunctory and self-evident way. Yes, it manages to distance itself from the looming spectre of Super Smash Bros. in terms of gameplay. But does it manage to create it’s own unique identity? The simple answer is no. It’s hard to look at PASBR without seeing it as a cheap copy of SSB.
Even worse is that PlayStation clearly doesn’t have the mascots necessary for a mascot game. Reading through the roster of the full game is almost painful. Who in their right minds ever thought the Fat Princess would be representing the PlayStation brand? Nobody, and the same can be said of Raiden, Nariko, Spike and several other of the characters. That’s before you even factor in the disparity of visual styles. Seeing Radec fight Kratos is fine, although slightly weird; seeing them both fight the cell-shaded Sly Cooper is surprisingly OK; but when you throw the completely cartoony Parappa into the mix it looks ridiculous.
Everybody has their own fantasy list of potential candidates, all of which would include big hitters who made the PlayStation brand so important such as Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon and even Lara Croft. Without those icons, the roster is laughable and perhaps indicative of the PlayStation brand’s decline over the years. Is it a coincidence that most of the brands that made PlayStation one of the most successful worldwide are now all multi-platform?
What made Super Smash Bros. so successful is its blend of strong gameplay, identifiable mascots and a fanatical fanbase. PASBR definitely has the former, although it is currently a bit unbalanced. It definitely lacks the identifiable mascots. So that leaves the fanbase to decide the games fate. Will it attract the fanatical who play the game because they love PlayStation and the games represented, and will it attract the hardcore who play the game for the simple to pick up difficult to master gameplay? Though I want the answers to be yes, I can’t help but thinking no to both these questions. The game itself stands up as a quality mascot fighter, but it will live or die depending on the community it will build. Sony has giving it every chance possible, releasing it cross-play for PS3 and Vita, and releasing the beta for PlayStation Plus members. Only time will tell if it succeeds though.