PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale Hands-on Preview -- Smashy SmashyBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Apr 27, 2012
It’s been one of the worst kept secrets in recent gaming memory, but at long last, Sony has finally revealed PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, SuperBot Entertainment’s ode to/generous borrowing of Nintendo’s beloved Smash Bros. formula of bringing together numerous iconic franchise-defining characters for good old-fashioned 2-D brawling. Nothig about the reveal was surprising in the least, but after spending some time butt stomping Sweettooth with Fat Princess and skateboarding over Kratos as PaRappa the Rapper, surprise took a backseat to fun, and I was totally fine with that.
Bringing together a host of legendary characters for a game that PlayStation lovers have been waiting for untold numbers of years has been far from an enviable position for first time developer (yet top-to-bottom seasoned) developer SuperBot. However, having such a rich history of characters and games to draw on also provided the team with the perfect building blocks with which to construct the ultimate PS fanboy beat-em-up.
As SuperBot director of operations David Yang put it at the game’s reveal event this week, “It’s been a dream come true game,” thanks primarily to the fact that Sony and PlayStation gave the studio the “keys to the candy store.” To that end, Yang went on to say that the prospect of the project made the team feel a mix of “excitement with a tinge of terror,” both of which served as crucial motivations for the designers tasked with bringing this long awaited/expected title to life.
At the heart of PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is the cast of famous PS characters. During our hands-on demo, we tried out six (the final number of fighters has yet to be revealed): Kratos, Sly Cooper, Fat Princess, Twisted Metal’s Sweettooth, PaRappa the Rapper, and Killzone’s Colonel Radec.
As you’d expect, each character has a distinct feel and move set that stays true to their movements, looks, and styles from their respective games.
For instance, Kratos is able to use his signature Blades of Chaos to snag other players in mid-air and pull them in for a good fist-based talking to, while Sweettooth breathes fire and uses a shotgun to blast fools at close range. Each character has a block ability except Sly who, instead, is able to turn invisible for a brief time, in keeping with his thievius racoonus roots. In other words, all of the unique quirks and combat approaches of each character have been thoroughly accounted for and represented in their move sets.
Speaking of moves, each character has around two dozen attack options. The square, circle, and triangle buttons deal different kinds of attacks, each of which can be modified based on the direction you're pointing on the d-pad or the thumbstick (the game supports gamepad play as well). So for instance, up on the d-pad with the square button will do an upward strike, while hitting down and triangle while in mid-air will trigger an aerial attack.
In addition to standard attacks, each character also has three unique super attacks that scale from one to three depending on how filled up your super meter is when you trigger it with the R2 button. The more hits you land and damage you do, the more the meter fills up. You can also collect Action Point balls that scatter throughout the level--sometimes as the result of using weapons that appear in the level, like Kratos’ Sphere of Destiny--to raise your super meter as well.
Once you’ve reach level 1, 2, or 3, you’re free to unleash the super, but as game director Oman Kendall explained, a well-timed level 1 super can be just as effective as a level 3 if used smartly, suggesting that timing can often be more important than sheer power level. Based on the matches I played, this absolutely ended up being the case (I think my 5-0 record more than proved that). So while turning Sweettooth into a towering, machine gun-armed Mechatooth or riding around on a giant chicken as Fat Princess can be highly deadly, so too can PaRappa’s skateboarding attack, because it all depends on who happens to be in your immediate area at the time you trigger the super, adding a great level of strategy to the chaotic action.
The characters are certainly the all-stars of the show, but an equal amount of work has gone into the arenas in which you’ll be doing battle. But rather than have the stages simply adhere to one theme inspired by a single PS title, the levels are themselves mash-ups of multiple games. The first of the four we played started off as a Ratchet and Clank level, complete with conveyor belts, laser barricades, and a futuristic city backdrop, but at around the halfway point of the match, dark clouds rolled in, it started to rain, and a massive three-headed Hydra King from God of War burst forth from the body of water in the background.
Another map started out with a disembodied person building the level around the players using LittleBigPlanet’s level editor (creating platforms, hazards, backgrounds, etc.), but then turned into an interactive Buzz! game in which players were asked a question and had to stand on a platform with the letter that corresponded to the correct answer. Wrong answers resulted in giant pies being flung at the stage, covering it with creamy filling. Yet another features Hades from God of War being attacked and ultimately brought down by Patapon tribes.
In action, the combat has a “thuddy” quality to it, in that hits linger for a second before they send the person you hit soaring gracefully through the air, and there’s an ever-so-slight delay after each attack, which keeps you from just stringing together endless combos without having to take a breath. While the combat definitely felt on point, the action became a bit cluttered at times, due to having so many characters, items, AP balls, droppable items (mines, sticky grenades, etc.), and such flying around the screen (impeccably animated and stutter-free I might add) at the same time.
There were several instances where I honestly had no idea where I was or if I was hitting or being hit. In these moments, clarification would often come via me being shoot across the map into the wall. Thankfully, you bounce off walls, so getting back into the fight was never more than a half a second away.
Even though this was the first (and hardly the last) time seeing the game, it was as if it was our fifth or sixth time, that’s just how fully realized PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is, even at this stage in development. This certainly has a lot to do with the blueprint laid out by Nintendo’s hugely inspirational mash-up brawler, but it’s also a reflection of the senior design team at SuperBot, many of whom have come directly from working on the various properties represented in the game, and their appreciation and understanding of what makes those characters special and how those attributes can translate into the fighting game arena of PlayStation All-Stars.
I’m sure there will be plenty of surprises revealed closer to E3 regarding characters and maps, but it seems like most of the appeal of the game, at least on the part of PS faithful, isn’t about being surprised; it’s about being given what you’ve wanted for years (with some surprises sprinkled in for good measure). It’s certainly an unique position to be in from a developer standpoint, but if what we’ve seen so far is any indication, the folks at SuperBot are more than up for the challenge.