PS3 Preview – PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale

After a week of steady rumors, many of which we reported first here, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale was officially announced. While many sites are going off press releases and other news, PlayStation LifeStyle was able to go hands-on with Sony’s long-awaited answer to Nintendo’s franchise brawler. We’ve got all kinds of information for you available after the break.

“Expect something new, unique, and very very different.” That was Chan Park, President of SuperBot Entertainment, as he answered those who may be thumbing their noses at what at first appears to be Sony’s answer to Super Smash Bros.. Play this game for even a few seconds, and you can immediately see what he’s talking about.

In our demo earlier this week, we were given free reign to play as many rounds as we wanted with any combination of 1-4 players (the CPU filled in to make each match a 4-player game), six characters, and four stages. That’s a lot of combinations to get through in a preview, but I felt I had more than enough playtime to justifiably declare that Sony has a winning game on their hands.

PlayStation All-Stars is a platforming fighter for up to four players, including online support. You control your character using either the D-Pad or left analog stick, and X to jump. Fighting is relegated to the three remaining face buttons, which are modified by using a directional button. This provides for a variety of combinations (though there are no combos such as pressing Square and Triangle at the same time for a new move) and keeps things moving. Hitting your opponents earns you Energy Points (EP), which you can eventually use for a “Super” move (name not final). You can use up your Super as soon as it hits level 1, which will typically KO one enemy if you manage to hit them, but this can be used strategically to take out two or more opponents if you plan things right.

One very interesting thing to note – there are no health bars in PlayStation All-Stars. Nor can you cause an opponent’s death by hurling them far off the screen ala Smash Bros.. This may confuse or frustrate some people at first, but it does offer up a few benefits of its own. No more cheap deaths by the environment – instead, you lose some of those precious EPs which others are able to pick up. The aforementioned Super moves have a risk-and-reward aspect to them, as well. Do you go for a quick KO with a level 1, or save up for a level 2 or 3 to get multiple KOs in quick succession? The matches we played were set at 3 minutes each, so seeing a level 3 Super was rare – I managed to pull only a few off, one of which did not pay out and only got me two KOs.

Don’t think these Super moves are unstoppable, either. As in any fighting game worth its weight, these moves are counterable. If someone launches a level 2 Super, you can launch one at the same level or higher to stop them dead in their tracks. When two Supers of the same level collide, it seemed to depend on the direction you were facing to determine a victor. Responding to someone who has waited a while to unleash their level 3 Super with a counter-Super of your own makes for some exciting back-and-forth fighting, and gives you a fighting chance. Each character has their own animation depending on the level of the Super, as well.

Speaking of the characters, I played as Sly Cooper, Radec from Killzone, the Princess from Fat Princess, Kratos, Parappa the Rapper, and last but certainly not least Sweet Tooth. Each character had their own strengths and weaknesses, as was to be expected in a platforming fighter:

  • Sly Cooper is a stealthy fighter, utilizing his agility to become a hard target to hit while also leaving bombs behind or exploding out of a barrel to leave you hurting. He is also the only character shown so far who can turn invisible and pluck EP from opponents for his own use. Some of Sly’s Super moves include calling in his friends from his series of games to ram opponents into submission.
  • Radec was easily the hardest character to play with, but also one of the more devastating. He is a distance fighter, equipped with a sniper rifle, machine gun, and rocket launcher, along with some handguns for when the battle must be fought up-close. Radec also has the ability to cloak for a brief second as he drops a bomb, to get away from anyone too close for comfort. His Super moves include a rocket launcher as well as a one-hit kill from his rifle. He runs a bit slow, and his melee is pretty weak – it feels like some more tweaking is in order for Radec.
  • The Princess was a surprise character, since she is so passive in her own game. She knows how to throw some punches, but her main draw comes from the villagers. Pressing circle and any direction initiates a villager to appear and attack, or drop a bomb, or shoot a fireball at your enemies. While that villager is busy attacking, you can continue to attack as the Princess, which can make for a cool two-person team controlled by one player. I saw many rounds where the Princess came out on top, and by a decent margin at that. Some of her Super moves includes riding one of the chickens from the game and KO-ing anyone who dares get in her path, and at level 3 a barrage of villagers flood the screen and attack everyone, while the Princess sits there and munches on some cake. It is a hilarious Super to watch, and debilitating to be on the receiving end of.
  • Kratos quickly became a fan favorite, and with good reason – he was very strong. Not quite overpowering, but definitely on that fine line between strong and too strong. He has basically every weapon that you encounter throughout his games, including the head of Helios and his Spartan spear and shield. His Super moves involve powerful weapons from his past adventures, including a level 3 that has you basically becoming the God of War again, KOing anybody within a large strike range. His downfall is that some of his moves take a while to complete.
  • Parappa the Rapper was a surprise to see (well, not entirely), but he knew how to kick ass. You can use a microphone to reel opponents in, and while they’re confused for a brief moment, wail on them with a skateboard or jump up and kick them over and over and over in one jump, Matrix style. Since his regular attacks are a bit on the light side, if you find yourself away from the action and in need of some EP, you can whip out your boombox, which starts spitting out EP as it changes the stage’s music for a while. One of his Super moves was an extra hard-hitting kick; I didn’t see anyone use anything higher than a level 1 Super, likely because of the slow energy gain Parappa suffered from.
  • Sweet Tooth was another heavy character like Radec, but with a more diverse set of melee attacks. He had a powerful shotgun, could breathe fire, lay down mines for unsuspecting prey, and just generally beat the shit out of you. One of his Supers included a gigantic rocket that guaranteed a KO on impact, and of course the ice cream truck as a mech.

We were able to play in four different levels, including Sandover from Jak & Daxter, Hades from God of War, Metropolis from Ratchet & Clank, and a level being created from LittleBigPlanet. Each level had some crossover from other Sony franchises, such as a battle with a Hydra occurring in the background of the Jak & Daxter level or a tribe of Patapon attacking Hades (yes, you read that right, and yes, it is as awesome as it sounds). As each sequence plays out in the background, the level is directly affected. In the Hades level, for instance, Hades will occasionally slam his weapons down on the playing field, which creates a shockwave that must be avoided, or else your character is stunned for a few seconds, ripe for the KO. This also creates new areas in the level, which are later pummeled by arrows shot by the Patapon. In the LittleBigPlanet level, the stage is built as you are fighting, with new platforms and objects coming into existence after a Popit menu shows up as a clue. Mid-fight, the background changes to that of the Buzz! Quiz series, and a question about another Sony franchise pops up onscreen. You must make it to and stay on a platform that shows the correct answer, or else a pie comes from offstage and stuns you for a few moments. This quickly devolves into a King of the Hill minigame as those who think they know the answer fight to stay on the platform as the timer ticks down. My strategy? Wait until time is almost up with a Super charged, then just before time is up hop onto the correct platform, launch your Super, and take all the glory for yourself.

Like that other brawler, there are items to pick up in PlayStation All-Stars as well. Unlike that other game, however, there are only a handful of different items, and they don’t appear too often. You’ve got the Spear of Destiny from God of War, which is used to throw opponents into the air with explosive, EP-draining force. Then there’s a rocket launcher, which also depletes EP. The Resistance universe donates the hedgehog grenade to deplete EP. Lastly, a shield from the WipEout series is the only defensive item, which temporarily blocks all attacks from hurting you. These items appear randomly and can be picked up by anyone, though they do inhibit your regular attacking ability. You drop them if you’re hit hard enough, which is something to consider when you are thinking of just jumping down on three opponents after grabbing a spear. These are all the items we were shown so far, and while they can help turn the tide of the match they weren’t the main method of attacking in PlayStation All-Stars. Some more items from other franchises are bound to be confirmed – Ratchet & Clank disco ball anyone?

I have to admit, going into this preview I did not have the highest of expectations. A developer I’d never heard of, making a game that combined all my beloved PlayStation favorites into what some people had already dubbed a Super Smash Bros. clone? I definitely had my doubts. But after seeing all the core changes SuperBot Entertainment has done – no health, three levels of “Super” moves, a much lighter focus on items and heavier focus on strategic hitting, all while maintaining a frantic, action-packed pace, I have a much higher level of confidence that PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is going to be a game to look out for this holiday season. The controls were tight, the environments entertaining, the matchups absurd (FOUR Kratoses? Madness!), but above all, the time I spent with PlayStation All-Stars was fun. Isn’t that what matters the most?