Since its announcement, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale has been repeatedly compared to the Super Smash Bros. franchise, and at first glance those comparisons are warranted. This is a four-player, free-for-all brawler with action in every direction, just like Smash Bros. However, after my time with it at Sony’s E3 2012 booth, I can honestly say that PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is a title that can stand on its own. Smash Bros. may finally have some competent competition.
I played four total matches, three on PS3 and one on the Vita, using the cross-play functionality. All eight known characters were available on the PS3 while only four were playable on Vita. For the PS3 matches I chose Sweet Tooth, then Parappa, and finally Sly Cooper, saving Kratos for my Vita match. Each match had a three-minute timer, and the player who racked up the most kills would win the match.
Gameplay is reminiscent of that Nintendo fighting game, but there are a few mechanics that make PlayStation All-Stars unique. Each character has a meter at the bottom of the screen that gets filled by successful attacks on opponents: the stronger the attack, the more the meter is built. Each character then has a “super attack” of varying power, depending on how many times the meter has been filled. If a character lands a super attack, they “kill” whoever they hit and score a point. This is the only way to score points; normal attacks will not take out opponents.
The super moves range from the practical (Big Daddy shoulder rush) to the comical (Fat Princess on a giant chicken), but the Level 3 supers are game changers. Parappa, for example, breaks out into one of the raps from his PS1 video game, and everyone on the map dies, resulting in three quick points. Nathan Drake’s may be the most overpowered of all, as a Mayan coffin rises from the stage and turns everyone into the zombies from the end of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Drake then wields a golden gun and can one-shot-kill opponents as many times as possible about 20 seconds. After seeing Drake’s level-3 super, Parappa’s instant triple-kill seemed weak, as he was limited to just those three points. As more characters are released, the imbalance will probably right itself, but at the moment Drake is a beast with three super meters.
The arenas these battles take place in reference all twenty years of PlayStation’s history. One stage starts in Ratchet and Clank’s Metropolis, but is soon invaded by the Hydra from the original God of War. Another starts with Hades from God of War 3 patrolling the arena and attacking the fighters until Patapon warriors show up and throw spears at the battlefield, hitting Hades and the four combatants. Each stage starts out as a simple battlefield, but morphs over time into a vibrant backdrop with just as much action in the background as in the foreground. I particularly like when Hot Shots Golfers show up in Jak and Daxter’s Sandover Village and rain mortar-like golf balls on the arena. How many tee shots do they get, anyway?
I only emerged victorious once out of my four matches, and it was the Vita Cross-Play match. Cross-Play is seamless, as the PS3 and Vita versions link up perfectly to one another. The same amount of action appears on the smaller screen with barely any noticeable graphical decline. Controlling the game is virtually the same as well, except supers are activated with both shoulder buttons on the Vita as opposed to just R2 on the PS3. Some players (me included) might find that to be a more comfortable control scheme. After trying it, I may even use the Vita as the controller while I play on the PS3 if the game ships without customizable control schemes.
Though many seasoned Smash Bros may be wary of Sony’s decision to compete, take it from this Smash fanatic: PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is shaping up to be an unique and excellent experience. The similarities begin and end in how these games appear in videos; once the controller was placed in my hand, I forgot all about Smash. Sony has made an interesting choice trying to directly compete with Nintendo here, and based on what I played at E3, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale will be a worthy competitor when it launches this holiday season.