Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Truly innovated games are going to be imitated, it comes with the territory. When a game does something new and fun, it’s going to catch on. If it’s truly great, it can even grow into its own genre. That’s why we have first person shooters today, not “Doom clones.” That’s why tower defense games became on of the first really popular genres of smartphone games. That’s why there are so many MOBA games coming out, or as they used to be called “DOTA style.” Which is all a whole lot of words to say that Sony tried to make their own Smash Bros. There, I said it. Let’s move on.
Real talk: what’s the first thing everyone asked about each Super Smash Bros. game? “Who’s in it?” Nintendo has done a really good job bringing together a solid cast of characters – a nice mix of the super stars and a few cult favorites. The biggest problem with PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is that it feels like Sony really struggled to assemble its roster. It seems inherent to the game: Sony has always relied on third party franchises, they don’t have a first party stable anything like Nintendo. Crash Bandicoot, Cloud, Spyro, Lara Croft – these are characters deeply connected to the PlayStation legacy, and I’m sure Sony tried to get them, but they’re not here. It’s disappointing. What we do have is a cast of 20 characters… Which includes Cole from InFamous twice.
Some of the choices are good – Nathan Drake, Ratchet and Clank, Jak and Daxter. Some of them are quirky – Fat Princess, PaRappa the Rapper, Sir Daniel from MediEvil. Some are weird – Big Daddy from BioShock, a game that came out a year later than 360 and PC on the PS3. In fact, BioShock Infinite is repping pretty hard in this game, which feels strange since A: it’s not out yet and B: it’s not in any way a Sony-exclusive. Similarly, the Dante included in this game is from the new DmC game, also not yet out, and I certainly wouldn’t call this version an “all-star.” In fact, if this game simply aspired to be a collection of the great characters of PlayStation’s history, I think I’d have to call it somewhat of a failure.
Of course, this isn’t simply a Pokemon-esque, gotta catch ’em all scenario. You can have all the characters in the world and it wouldn’t matter if your game wasn’t fun. PlayStation All-Stars wants to be more of a fighter than Smash Bros, it’s fighting system feels deeper than that game. Instead of health bars, like most fighters, or ring-outs, like Smash Bros, this game relies entirely on a supers mechanic. Hitting other characters doesn’t damage them, it raises your meter. When it’s full, you can unleash a devastating attack that gives you two points for every kill and takes a point away from your victims. You can fill your meter up three levels, each one unlocking a more powerful attack. A level one might be a simple one-hit attack, while a level-three could blow up the entire screen. It sounds like a crazy idea, but it works pretty well, and at the very least, PlayStation All-Stars is very fun in a four player setting.
What isn’t very fun is the game’s UI. I don’t usually bring up my chosen profession in these game reviews, but shit man, this is not good. During gameplay, everyone’s score is hidden. You literally have no idea how close a match is until it’s over. The menus waste enormous amounts of screen real estate and many features are weird and hard to discern. Come on guys, get it together.
Outside of multiplayer, there are a couple single player modes. There’s training and a challenge mode for you to hone your skills. There’s an arcade mode that can’t hold a candle to the single player story in Brawl. There is a cinematic that plays before the first match, and another after the final boss. These are all still frames with voice over. More interesting, there’s a rival battle before the boss fight, where your character and another yell at each other a little bit before the fighting begins. I liked this idea, and wished it was played up more in the game.
But Sony isn’t trying to make the ultimate fan service game, like Nintendo does. Sony is trying to make a fun fighting game, starring familiar characters. And they’ve succeeded. The problem is, if you’re going to make a game that so obviously draws inspiration from one other game, you’ve got to live up to it. And right now, this doesn’t. At least, this being a Sony game, DLC is a viable option here. Already there are rumors of Crash and Spyro showing up in the future. I’d love to see PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale grow into the game it is in my head.