Well, they’re not likely to win any points for originality, that’s for sure.
But sharing more than just a few strands of DNA with a certain genre-defining brawler franchise on Nintendo’s Gamecube and Wii doesn’t disqualify PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale the same way that creating an exact replica of your classmate’s science fair volcano would. No, Sony’s fan-service brawler throwdown has more than enough charm and originality to stand—and punch, and shoot and slap you upside the head with a sturgeon–on its own.
If you’re a Sony homer, this game is your virtual franchise paradise, with a meaty lineup of playable characters that feature Sony franchises both forgotten (Nariko from Heavenly Sword, Sir Daniel Fortesque from MediEvil) and front-and-center (Kratos, Ratchet and Sackboy).
Careful selection is required, however, ‘cause not all of them are all they’re cracked up to be. Twisted Metal’s Sweet Tooth is unexpectedly both sour and bland, and so is Killzone’s Mael Radec. On the opposite end of the quality scale, Evil Cole from the Infamous series is an absolute beast, with charging (and electrically charged) attacks that can leave opponents perpetually on their asses. And the fact that Sackboy just got nerfed by the development team’s latest update tells you who’s still number one around the Sony offices.
The battle environments, meanwhile, are a triple-scoop of well-designed fan service mashup, smothered in clever-flavored gravy. It’s awfully hard not to salute the genius of a God of War-themed level that features a ginormous Hades smashing his fists down on unwary combatants AND a pack of Patapon humming and marching in the background. Kinda like Wreck-It Ralph, there’s a huge dose of added fun in spotting all the little references to your favorite games. The game’s special items also deepen the vibe, with tie-ins to Sony games that don’t even have character representations here. (Surely you remember the axe from Mark of Kri. Right?)
The sweet fan-service vibe is twice as nice for Bioshock fans, for whom Battle Royale is like the best early Christmas present ever. Not only does Big Daddy get the game’s most devastatingly awesome Level 3 super attack—the screen fills with water, turning your opponents into sitting fish/ducks—but one of the game’s best environments is based on Columbia, the setting for the forthcoming Bioshock Infinite. Seeing the Songbird flit across the screen had me reaching for the fast-forward button to flip to the game’s official release in February. I think that’s probably why I got squashed by the metallic fists of the giant DollFace from Twisted Metal. Ouch.
Plenty of strategic touches make it clear that SuperBot took some serious time to consider what works and what’s uber-annoying about games in this genre. Topping every player’s smash-the-controller list are the spamaholics who trap and pummel you with the same damned combo game after game. Battle Royale doesn’t eliminate this tactic, but it does curtail it enough to keep it from unbalancing the proceedings completely—after you’ve taken a certain amount of damage from a particular combo, you’re teleported away and given a few seconds of invincibility to recover your bearings.
If that’s not enough of a signal that you’re better served paying attention to defense, plan to spend an inordinate amount of time pushing the “rematch” button. Winning matches, no matter what the victory conditions or how many opponents you’re battling, always comes down to building up and executing your super attacks and blocking and dodging your opponent’s devastating moves. As your opponents become tougher and more skilled, you’ll need to have the patience to save up for harder-to-block level 2 and 3 assaults. Before the clock runs out, of course.
Battle Royale’s also the latest Sony title to feature crossplay, giving us yet another reason to keep our PlayStation Vitas close at hand. Buying the PS3 version of the game allows you to download the Vita version for free, so you can bash with Fat Princess and Parappa the Rapper on the bus.
As tightly crafted as Battle Royale is, some of the game’s punches and kicks end up landing on empty air. The characters seem awfully small against the more detailed environments when you’re rocking a four-player match, especially when some of them (Dante, the Coles, and Nathan Drake) don’t look terribly different when viewed from a distance. The game’s long-term staying power is an issue too, in part because the storylines and motivations for each character, imparted with painted stills and voiceovers, feel kinda flat. Once you’ve completed the stepladder solo campaign with a couple of A-list characters, you’re not likely to want to soldier through it again with Spike from Ape Escape–well, unless you’re one of those insane completists who has to unlock every badge, costume, trophy and minion, anyway. Hey, have fun with that.
Even if you aren’t, there’s a ton to love about this game, and more on the way given that Kat from Gravity Rush (yes!) and Emmett from Starhawk (um, okay) are set to arrive in the arena as DLC sometime after the ball drops on 2012. I guess the invite addressed to Finn from Sorcery must have gotten lost in the mail.
+ Expansive list of fun Sony characters
+ Mashup environments based on Sony games are a two-ton blast of fan service
+ Attention to brawler-game mechanics and detail is evident
+ Seamless cross-play
– Some characters get lost in the detailed battle environments
– Replay value may be short-lived
Platform: PS3 and PS Vita
Developer: SuperBot Entertainment
Release Date: 11/20/2012
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-4 (local and online)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher