PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale has taken a lot of knocks by people calling it a clone of Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. series. But I went into PSASBR willing to review it as its own game. I wanted to see it for its own character. But with so few games in this genre, it’s pretty tough not to make a few comparisons between the two. But while making such comparisons, you can definitely see what each series could learn from the other.
The basic premise is there: You have 27 video game icons from a swath of different games like Metal Gear’s Raiden and the titular Fat Princess. Each character has a bunch of moves that not only allow for crazy action on-screen, but are thematic and just plain fun to watch. I especially love Nathan Drake’s moves, all of which look like a clip from an action movie.
While battles are based around knocking your opponents out more than they knock you out, the mechanic for doing so is a complete 180 from Smash Bros. In that game, characters accumulate damage which makes them more vulnerable to being launched out of the arena (the only way to actually die). That makes it a good policy to stand back and let other players soften each other up, as only the killing blow scores a point. In All Stars, characters build up AP by dealing damage. Special attacks unleashed by AP are the only way to take out opponents. In other words, the only way to win is to dive headlong into the fight and dole out the pain right from the start.
As you build up more AP, you can spend it on higher-level super attacks allowing you to more easily take out multiple opponents. Some of them even turn the battle into a mini-game. For example, Ratchet and Clank’s ultimate attack has the duo jump inside their spaceship and the player gets to target the screen with laser cannons, taking out any fleeing opponents he hits.
Another area where All Stars can actually say it surpasses Smash Bros. is the one that might mean the most: online multiplayer. The Wi-Fi battles are easy to connect to, and I’ve never had a problem setting up a match with random opponents. What’s particularly impressive is how seamlessly you can play between the PS3 and Vita versions of the game. You can even switch between the two versions and still carry over all your records as long as you use the same PSN account.
The stages are cool in that they all change over the course of a battle. You might start a battle in a dojo from PaRapper the Rapper, but half way through the walls crumble and a massive Metal Gear is launching missiles at everyone. While there are tons of dynamic hazards like this one, they aren’t frustrating because they can’t kill you; just interrupt you and maybe steal some AP.
So, it looks like the main pieces of the puzzle are all there for a wicked good time. So what’s holding this game back from being the biggest game on Vita?
Well, for starters, forget about getting any mileage out of the single player mode – and for a portable game, solo playability is pretty damn important. I beat the game on the hardest setting my first day and was disappointed when no new modes were unlocked. Each character has a bunch of training missions to take on, but none of them do anything particularly wild or fun. I longed for the crazy stages Smash Bros. threw at me, like when I had to fight 40 mini-Yoshis at once.
While the multiplayer works flawlessly, it’s still missing variety. You only have a few options to tinker with before a match which limits the experience. What I loved most about Smash Bros. was setting up crazy scenarios where players would be knocked out left and right, weapons were everywhere, and mayhem ruled the screen. Of course, this is something that could easily be fixed in an update.
Maybe it’s a bit unfair to weigh this against the title, but PlayStation’s cast of characters isn’t as suited to this genre. I mean, Sweet Tooth is a fiery nightmare clown with a chainsaw. Kratos is a savage antihero who killed his own wife and children. These are not characters that seem right in a zany free-for-all with Sackboy.
But most of all, what I feel All Stars needs more of is charm. Smash Bros. was a celebration of everything that was Nintendo, and it came through in every aspect. All the music was magnificently composed to evoke nostalgia while still sounding epic and new. The endless unlockables tied into almost every notable game in Nintendo history. Even the story mode in Brawl made a silly kind of sense to it all (if you looked at the characters the same way a kid looks at his action figures).
Calling PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale a clone of Super Smash Bros. is like calling Rayman a clone of Super Mario Bros. because they’re both platformers. The more you play it, the more the differences are apparent. While I do believe Sony could have benefited from stealing a few more pages out of Nintendo’s book, it’s still a worthy addition to a genre that’s surprisingly underrepresented.