Let's not beat around the bush: PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale has blatantly and unabashedly borrowed from Nintendo's ubiquitous brawler Super Smash Bros. in innumerable ways. But let's not sell it short, either. Even though All-Stars pays serious homage to what came before it, it still looks like a game that the PlayStation Faithful will absolutely eat-up in droves.
Rumored to have existed for several months under the moniker Title Fight, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is currently under development at SuperBot Entertainment (with the help of Sony's super-powered group at Santa Monica Studio). And after getting extensive hands-on time with the game, it's difficult not to get excited about the possibility that, while incredibly and undeniably similar to Smash Bros., it could turn out to be a very strong game in its own right.
The paramount reason why All-Stars has such incredible potential is simple. As SuperBot's president Chan Park explained, his development house has been "purpose-built" to create a fighting game like this. A lot of the talent working on the game has extensive experience in the genre. The development team totes guys that worked on series from UFC Undisputed to Mortal Kombat. These guys didn't just look at what Nintendo did and outright copy it. Rather, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale represents the definition of iteration, an evolution of the style of game that attempts to take the formula to another level.
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For the time being, Sony allowed SuperBot Entertainment to show-off six of the game's characters, and the cast represents a hodgepodge of PlayStation franchises. Fat Princess, Parappa the Rapper and Sly Cooper join the likes of Twisted Metal's Sweet Tooth, Killzone's Colonel Radec and God of War's Kratos on the preliminary roster, though Sony will reveal many more characters leading up to the game's launch, which should occur during the lead-up to 2012's holiday season.
Each character has his or her own combat style, which immediately becomes evident when you begin playing for yourself. Parappa the Rapper has strength at close range, where he can use his Chop Chop Master Onion-learned kung-fu stylings on his opponents. Colonel Radec, on the other hand, is almost entirely ineffective unless at a distance, relying on a plethora of Helghan firearms and pieces of technology from afar.
Sweet Tooth's considerable strength complements his brutal fighting style while Kratos' skill with his arsenal of weapons is obvious. But the two most interesting characters in this preliminary roster were undoubtedly Sly Cooper and Fat Princess. Sly Cooper's agility shines through almost immediately, and he has a special skill that no other character has. He forfeits his ability to block -- something every other character can do -- instead going invisible when the L1 button is held down. This allows him to sneakily slink around and get the jump on other characters. Fat Princess, on the other hand, relies on her deceptive, innocent look to get in close and cause the brunt of her damage. She can even summon forth minions such as the sword-wielding warrior or the fire-throwing wizard from her self-titled game to briefly supplement her attacks.
In a game like this, it should come as no surprise that SuperBot Entertainment wants it to feel accessible. And it most certainly does. Attacks are mapped to the Square, Triangle and Circle buttons coinciding with the direction you're pressing on the d-pad or left analog stick, giving each character an exceptional amount of moves. The right stick can be used to throw opponents, while the R1 button lets players pick up items (such as the Hedgehog Grenade from Resistance) in the environment to use on enemies.
And then there's the most powerful button in the game: R2. By building a special meter for each character -- a la Street Fighter or Marvel vs. Capcom -- players can unleash a torrent of special attacks that grow in power the higher the meter gets. For instance, Sly Cooper's standard first level attack might be fairly unimpressive, but his second level attack allows him to bomb enemies from above and can easily kill everyone on the screen. And if you get to a third level attack, watch out: Colonel Radec will get into a body-encompassing machinegun from Killzone 3, while Sweet Tooth turns into a gigantic truck to rain down destruction on his foes. These attacks spell almost certain death for everyone else on-screen.
But with accessibility comes inevitable depth, and it quickly becomes apparent that the more you play, the more nuance you'll be able to derive from the experience. You'll develop a play style and preferences for certain characters; as an example, Colonel Radec will be a complete turnoff if you're not into ranged attacks, while Sly Cooper may just be too damn fast for you to keep track of. But there is balance, too, and no one character seems to have an edge over anyone else… at least not in this small group of six.
Another stand-out in PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is its stages, of which SuperBot Entertainment showed-off four. Unlike Smash Bros., which has levels mostly relegated to a single franchise, All-Stars has stages dedicated to two franchises each. The Metropolis level is dedicated to Ratchet & Clank and God of War, while Jak and Daxter's Sandover Village also incorporates Hot Shots Golf. Likewise, Hades (not surprisingly) revolves around God of War, but includes the famous PSP franchise Patapon, too. And then there's the Dreamscape, which combines LittleBigPlanet with Buzz!, complete with ingenious in-game quizzes that keep things fresh on the fly.