Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale treads a thin line

The PS3 finally has a fighting game that it can call its own. Well, almost. Featuring a motley crew of famous Playstation characters, Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale is Sony’s take on the crossover fighting genre — their version of Nintendo’s ever-so-popular Super Smash Bros. series. The likes of Kratos, Sly Cooper, Cole McGrath, Nathan Drake, Sackboy, Raiden, Ratchet & Clank (to name a few) put on their PG-13 boxing gloves and take each other on in the game’s wacky battlefields. The similarities between this game and Nintendo’s are staggering, and while it would be easy to label All-Stars Battle Royale a “rip-off” and walk away, it must be said that the game is quite self-aware of this fact. Lead designer Seth Killian (formerly Community Manager for Capcom) and the development team are clearly paying homage to SSB, but they’re also treading a thin line in doing so.

The heavy inspiration drawn from SSB is explicitly clear from the second you pop the disc in and start the game. Each playable character almost feels like he, she or it is standing in for Nintendo’s equivalent, and in certain cases, it feels like Sony’s got benchwarmers (Raiden for Solid Snake, Fat Princess for Princess Peach). On the other hand, this is the only game in which you will see Nate Drake, Sweet Tooth and Kratos sharing the screen with a Big Daddy from Bioshock. The similarities don’t stop there, though — even the announcer sounds eerily similar to SSB’s. Fortunately, not everything is a high definition carbon copy of Nintendo’s much-loved series, because, Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale has taken a leap of faith with the fundamental gameplay.

Unlike SSB’s “ring-out” mechanic, you need to score kills in All-Stars Battle Royale. To do this, it is most convenient to fill up your “super” meter (which stacks three times), and subsequently unleash your character’s super move (the level 3 variant is ridiculously powerful). Each character’s super move feels distinct, but one can’t help but notice that this feels a little Street Fighter-inspired. But unlike Street Fighter, Battle Royale is far more accessible. In addition to the super moves, characters are able to chain combos together, accelerating the rate at which their super meter fills — miss a super move, however, and your meter is reset. This makes combat a bit of a grind. The game’s 14 different arenas are, appropriately, crossovers of two games from Sony’s various franchises (for instance, “Hades” is based on Patapon and God of War). Each level comes with environmental hazards that can damage characters, while there are item drops (most of them are from Sony first-party titles) which add damage bonuses.

In addition to the base multiplayer modes, Playstation All-Stars adds cross-platform multiplayer with the PS Vita version of the game — functionality that not only shows promise, but is (hopefully) a sign of things to come for the Vita. On its own, the multiplayer is fairly addictive, but the Vita compatibility makes it quite interesting.

You could say that Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale lacks originality, but you could say that of any number of games whose genres are sparsely populated. It’s only a matter of time before crossover fighting games become more common (an Xbox variant starring the likes of Master Chief and Marcus Fenix, perhaps?), and we learn to attribute a game’s apparent lack of originality to the genre’s expected standard. But until then, it wouldn’t be entirely unfair to say that Battle Royale’s “homage” is more of an “imitation”, even if it is a pretty good one.