PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale – Preview
One of my all time favourite stories about the videogames industry is the inception of the PlayStation. Back before I was even born, Sega and Nintendo spawned a rivalry so intense that arguments over which company made the best games would lead to fisticuffs in playgrounds everywhere. Aiming to get the upper hand, Nintendo formed an alliance with an electronics company by the name of Sony and began work on a project that would give the SNES a CD-ROM drive. The twist came when Nintendo dropped Sony and decided to instead work with Philips, which spawned the infamously terrible Philips-CDi and Mario and Zelda games so terrible that most Ninty fans prefer to forget they ever existed. Rather than sit idly by, Sony instead decided to take what they had, build on it and create one of the most popular consoles in gaming history.
In recent years, I’ve often found myself under ire from Sony fans for my claim that the company do a great job of pretending Nintendo don’t exist whilst seemingly copying their ideas wholesale. The N64 controller had a built-in analogue stick and a port on the back that would soon be used for the rumble pak; possibly the first example of force-feedback on a home console. Two years later, Sony released the Dualshock, a new controller that suddenly had analogue sticks and built-in rumble. Nintendo unveil connectivity between the Game Boy Advance and the Gamecube (or more obscurely, between the N64 and Game Boy Colour), and suddenly Sony’s all about that with their PSP and the PlayStation 3. Nintendo reveal that their next console will be using motion controls, and despite Sony publicly speaking out against motion controls at the time, have since been ham-handedly forcing Move into as many titles as they can get away with, claiming it’s the future of the entertainment experience.
To their credit, Sony have often taken and improved on those ideas set by those before them. The Dualshock’s additional analogue allowing camera control completely altered the way we play games today and gave way for the first person shooter to thrive on consoles. The handheld-console connectivity has been revolutionised by Sony to the point that you can buy a full retail title for your PlayStation 3 and be able to run it in its entirety on the Vita. The motion controls for the Move is… well, two out of three ain’t bad.
However, at E3 Sony showed off a new title that seemed to be its most egregious theft yet; PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, a free-for all brawler that was so familiar to any Nintendo fans present that they could even hear the exact same sound effects if they listened closely enough. Yes, Sony’s cross-platform fight-fest seems at a first glance to be a wholesale rip-off of of the incredibly popular Super Smash Bros. series, but even the most cynical part of me was confident that there would be more to it than initial impressions suggested.
One of my original concerns with Sony’s foray into the fighting scene was that they lacked a strong roster of characters that had the iconography and fan attracting power that games like Smash Bros. had in spades, but this was somewhat alleviated when I found myself at the character select screen. Iconic characters like Nathan Drake, Jak & Daxter and Kratos are all represented, alongside cult favourites like PaRappa the Rapper and Toro from Japanese exclusive Together Everywhere! However, there were several things that particularly interested me about the current line-up; firstly that some of the characters weren’t from Sony, but were well known for appearing on the company’s consoles, like Devil May Cry’s Dante or Tekken’s Heihachi. That wasn’t the case of the Big Daddy, whose inclusion seemingly sticks out like a sore thumb, considering that BioShock appeared on the PS3 some time after its release on the PC and Xbox 360. Equally, I found myself fascinated by the glaring omission of characters like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon – both of them unofficially adopted as mascots by Sony back in the era of the original PlayStation and have far more connection to the brand than the aforementioned plasmid-enhanced behemoth.
This fascination was replaced by confusion as soon as the battles took place, as for the most part, and I don’t say this lightly, the combat is an unmitigated cluster-fuck. I played at least six matches and I left the demo more confused about the game’s combat than before I sat down to play it. I found myself at a complete loss when different button combinations would often perform the same attacks, yet if I tried to deliberately pull off a certain move, using the same combo as before, it would produce an entirely different attack for seemingly no reason. I was dumbstruck when upon swapping to Nathan Drake, seeing as he managed to wreck everyone’s shit on a consistent basis with explosive barrels, a giant pillar and ability to create cover and hide behind it, I couldn’t figure out how to perform any of those moves, and trying to use the combination for the massively overpowered gatling gun would sometimes cause him to pull out a pistol and weakly shoot opponents instead. I then won the match, and had absolutely no idea how I’d managed to pull that off.
Compounding the control misery is the fact that jumping is relegated to a single button, rather than being able to flick the control stick upwards as in nearly every other major fighting game out there, and in the heat of the moment you’ll often find yourself wondering why you’re not jumping, then lamenting just how imprecise said ability can be. There’s often no way to effectively gauge how effective some attacks are, other than how far they fling an opponent across the screen, which is often a pointless endeavour seeing as you can often only dispatch your enemies by depleting their health entirely or knocking them off the top of the screen. There would be some actual strategy to the proceedings if you could see how much health you had left or how likely it’d be that you’re about to be knocked out, but said lack of health bar means you’re often just imprecisely flailing and unsure of what attack to throw in case you waste the special ability you’re given once your character bar fills up, or if you’re wiped out on the way to perform it.
Much like current modern fighting games, landing enough hits on your opponent helps build up a meter that you can then deplete to unleash some kind of massive attack, with different levels performing an attack of varying magnitude. The implication is that you’re supposed to save it up to the maximum level, then let rip with an uber ability, but these often took the same amount of time to perform or wiped out the same amount of enemies as the lower levels, and so after a few matches I never felt any compulsion to let it build up. Some characters, Nathan Drake and the Big Daddy especially, seem far more overpowered than others, or simply have easily repeatable moves that make short work of anyone who comes near and leave little incentive to widen your move variety. Kills will add plus two to a player’s score, but you only lose one point when you die, which encourages flat out attacking and move spamming rather than any real strategy, and that’s if you can tell anything that’s going on, as the stages often feel claustrophobic and it’s hard to discern what’s going on at the best of times.
As much as it initially appeared to be a massive Smash Bros. ripoff, my problems with this game are more than skin deep, and I can’t help but feel that maybe PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale would have been any fun to play if it had stolen more from the Nintendo brawler. Every time I wanted to give up on Sony’s attempt at a free-for-all, I forced myself to play another match in case I wasn’t getting it, or in case I was subconsciously disliking it due to my extreme love for smashing bros, but elected to stop when the demo unit became stuck on an everlasting loading screen.
While I’m not often a big fan of fighting games, I like how many are simple to play yet hard to master due to meta-games like the tiering system, but you never feel like you’re in control of PlayStation All-Stars. There’s often no rhyme or reason to what’s going on, and the impression is given that the game does what it feels like rather than what you want it to. Admittedly, the Vita cross-play feels seamless and is an amazing achievement for a title that lends itself as much to on-the-go gaming as it does for a night in with your buddies, but I can’t help but get the feeling that it’ll be nothing more than a pretender to the throne, rather than the king of fighters.
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