|Release: November 20, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Crude Humor, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence|
by Angelo M. D’Argenio
It’s nearly impossible to review PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale without drawing parallels to Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. series. So I’m not even going to try.
Super Smash was one of those one in a million series that could be appreciated by both casual and hardcore players alike. Sure, it spawned countless arguments about stage selection, item usage, and whether or not Meta Knight should be banned, but when all was said and done, casual players had a crazy flashy, button-mashy chaos-fest while pros had a deep and nuanced game that focused on positioning and evasion.
Sony PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale attempts to recreate the magic of Smash, but in a different way. Instead of creating a game that inevitably causes arguments about what settings to use, Superbot attempts to create a game that can be enjoyed by casuals and pros on any settings. In some ways, they succeed, but in others, they actually drive an even deeper rift between the casual and hardcore crowds. PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is an undeniably fun game, but it is also frustrating if you are the type of person who takes your competitive games seriously.
Here’s how the game works: You have three basic attack buttons—light, heavy, and special. Like Smash, these attack buttons do different things depending on what direction you hold while pressing them. Because of the simple control scheme, certain characters actually get to retain combos from the games they come from. For example, Kratos’ basic attacks correspond to the exact buttons you would use in God of War, while Heihachi has some simple Tekken strings that use the basic Tekken button placement as well. Also, the difference from “tilts” and “smashes” that we saw in the Smash series has been removed by simply assigning light and heavy attacks to two different buttons.
The block button is a shoulder button, and it works well enough. Using it on the ground allows you to shield yourself from enemy attacks and combining it with a direction or using it in the air lets you dodge. Unlike Smash and many other fighting games, your guard can never be broken. You can be thrown out of a guard, however. (To throw your opponent, just tap the right stick in the direction you want to throw said opponent.) Unfortunately, this is the weirdest control in the game, as tapping the right stick doesn’t nearly have the accuracy or responsiveness that it needs to have for split-second throws in a fighting game.
The final button that you have to be concerned about (other than the jump button which, simply put, lets you jump) is the Super button, which is assigned to the right trigger and allows you to use your accumulated Super bar for Super attacks. This is the most important mechanic in the game. Supers are the only ways to score kills in the game; there is literally no way to die other than being hit by an opponent’s Super. That means stage hazards can’t kill you, items can’t kill you, and you can’t accidentally fall off the stage to your death. Battle Royale has essentially eliminated all of the “cheap death” scenarios that have annoyed us for ages in Smash.
But if Supers are the only thing that can kill you, what do all of your other attacks do? Well, the only thing they do is build meter. If an attack hits home it builds a lot of meter, and if it’s blocked it builds significantly less. Throwing an opponent makes him lose a portion of his meter, and getting hit by an item or a stage hazard does the same. So the only thing your normal attacks do is build meter and adjust positioning, and while this seems like a shallow premise, it actually works.
This is mostly due to the game’s fun combo system. Chaining moves together in flashy ways builds your meter faster than simply spamming attacks at your opponent. And there is an anti-infinite combo system built right into the game, as building meter past a certain point causes your opponent to automatically burst out, flying to the other side of the screen. Managing to hit this limit does reward you with another hefty meter bonus which gives you an interesting choice between trying to build the most meter possible or attempting to hit your opponent with a reset and keep your positioning. These are high-level fighting game tactics that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a party-style fighter.
There are a few problems with the game when played in certain modes, though. Free-for-alls are extremely annoying, as the addition of a third and fourth player essentially nullifies the game’s entire combo system. You can rarely get past the second or third hit in a combo without another character attempting to stab you in the back, so most of the time you don’t even bother, resorting instead to spamming your safest meter-building attack over and over again. 1v1 is a more balanced game type, focusing more on positioning and combo execution, but it essentially makes Level 2 and Level 3 Supers, which most of the time are just boosts to area of effect, totally pointless. Timed matches can unfortunately put players in positions where there is thirty second left in a match but no way to build meter fast enough to get another Super out, which reduces the entire game to runaway tactics.
The most balanced type of match in the game is the “Kill Limit” match, which tasks players with scoring a certain number of kills, but even these can feel cheap when an opponent lands one lucky Level 3 Super in a multiplayer match which scores him seven kills at once and instantly wins him the game. On top of all this, in every game type, whiffing a Super is so detrimental that it’s nearly impossible to come back from. It essentially makes all the work you spent building the meter for that super go to waste, and several matches come down to “whoever screws up their super first loses.” So in terms of gameplay, I wouldn’t say that Superbot has necessarily hit the sweet spot that pleases both casuals and hardcores at the same time. Arguments will still be had about the “correct” match settings to use, and certain parts of the game will be ignored or turned off altogether in the pursuit of a more balanced experience.