If you think about every major video game publisher whose games you ever played, certain staple characters may come to mind. Recalling those characters might even bring a smile to your face, and remind you of the fond memories you had playing as each of them.
So let's take all those memories and all those characters, and put them in one room together and make them fight. There's something pleasantly delightful about seeing your favorite PlayStation protagonists out of context and beating the hell out of each other.
And that's exactly what PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is all about.
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is a fighting game. But it's not a fighting game in the way you remember Street Fighter or Tekken. For one thing, you can have up to four players fight against each other. And that's the beauty of a brawler like this one, especially if you have every player in one room to match smack-talk to the virtual smacking. If a traditional fighting game is about relying on the choreography of button combinations, a brawler like PSAS is about jumping on each other's heads and throwing each other around. It's chaotic, it's fun, it's a little bit silly.
But there's also a singleplayer campaign component to this multiplayer experience. The campaign feels more like a tutorial, getting you used to how your character plays, the rules of the game, and fighting against three people at once by scaling it upwards from just one. The campaign is yawningly easy, but it is a good place to get your feet wet. What kept me repeating the campaign over and over again, though, was to watch each character's intro and outro scenes. They're like mini-storylines, setting up everyone's motivations within the context that you're familiar with seeing them in. None of these are particularly significant. None of them blow my mind—though some are definitely better executed than others—but curiosity got the better of me. What's Kratos' motivation for fighting in this league? What does Big Daddy get out of this? How'd they convince Nathan Drake to participate?
The game isn't about the campaign, though. It's about the characters, and the maps that take advantage of some really significant setpieces or even events from each game referenced. Every level is wacky and wonderful, and constantly shifting into wackier and more wonderful environments. Though every map acts as the battleground where you'll face off against friends, they're also there to attack you. You'll have to be mindful of the map hazards even as you're fending off your friend roleplaying as Fat Princess. Levels will spontaneously combust and break away to reveal some new background action. Maybe you're bouncing on sun-colored flowers, or trying not to fall off a map that is the opened door of a cargo airplane mid-flight. You even get to fight in a city in the sky (a reference to the upcoming BioShock), and other maps send Songbird to attack you. The maps are all alive, and just as active as you are bouncing and slicing inside them. The only downside to these maps are how few of them actually exist. I love their creativity, but the fuel to their flame runs out quick.
PSAS is a fun brawler game. But its beauty is in the details. In how the game incorporates references to all the PlayStation titles it features in one bundle. It's in the maps, the very short cutscenes, the characters' special moves.
Playable fighters in PSAS can be judged like any other fighting game. My favorites might not end up being your favorites. I loved Evil Cole from Infamous, for instance, but wasn't a big fan of Sweet Tooth. Twisted Metal's character moved too slowly and his hits felt too difficult to direct. Big Daddy has an amazing third level Super move, but he relies on strength as opposed to speed, which isn't too much my style. I prefer springy characters that use swift movements and are always on their feet.
So Nariko, Cole, Raiden, Kratos and Dante were all favorites of mine. Maybe you prefer characters with sillier moves, so Fat Princess, Toro and Sackboy are probably more your flavor. Regardless of who you choose, they're all interesting to play, at the very least to witness each of their first, second and third level special moves. To make this game work, to really evoke the feeling of each character's game that they're meant to represent, every detail should work towards the theme. The special moves really bring out each game reference. It's a bonus that they're mostly creative, and some even creatively animated.
You see that kind of variety between each character even in something as simple as a throw move. Your fighting style isn't limited to just three buttons. You can combine a direction and a hit, choose to throw in one of three directions (and therefore styles), and string attacks together for seamless combos. Some characters' strong suits are in long range versus short range, and others rely on traps (like Sackboy). The PlayStation characters that were made more blatantly for fighting—like Cole, Dante, Kratos, etc.—feel more fluid and their actions feel more fleshed out. It makes sense—there's more to work off of when designing their brawling abilities. In fact, a character like Cole plays so well that I could see him in a traditional 1vs1, arcade-style fighting game.
A big component to brawler games are the items found randomly on the map. Items can drastically change an experience, even dictating your priorities (namely, a shift of focus from cornering your friend of six years while they yell at you to stop using that same move over and over you bastard). The second I see the comically-sized cod (or whatever the hell fish it is) on the map, I dart straight for it, because seriously nothing is funnier than slapping someone in the face with a fish. This goes for real life, too. I was surprised to find just how powerful the fish-slapping technique is, as well. It sends people flying. As does the chicken (yes, there's a chicken). And when you're playing a brawler with three friends in a room with you, don't you want even more ammunition to tease them with? What better way than to remind your friend that you just slapped them in the face with a chicken? A CHICKEN.
While playing PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, I had a weird feeling I couldn't place. The game is designed well, and theoretically I like it quite a bit, but something seems to be missing. Is it that it's releasing during a time that a sea of games are washing over us in a panic just before the craze of holiday gift-buying? If you asked me to compare, I'd say hold out and play those other titles you undoubtedly have on your wish list. But it's not quite because of the pre-holiday rush, the busiest time of year to be a gamer.
I decided that it had to do with how much content is currently available. PSAS' strengths are in the characters, and how they play. Though it can feel like a mixed bag, there are definitely gems in there for everyone. But as it stands, you can burn through the map and even each character's campaign with little effort. Even map items are few, and so it's easy to lose the spark of curiosity that I began the game with. That doesn't mean that PSAS is a bad game by any means. It just means my guess is that you'll tire of it soon without constant content updates.
Brawlers are the silly brother of fighting games. Maybe you're not terribly proficient with fighters. Maybe you go to arcades and would love to approach the unoccupied joystick, but that one dude has the most fierce look on his face that you just know he'll end up wiping the floor with you. Enter a game like PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, where it's much easier to get a handle on each character's moves, and therefore a lot more accessible to all sorts of players. The next time your friends are around and not too keen on versing you in a fighting game for fear of embarrassment, you can tell them to rest assured knowing that this brawler is fun and accessible. And they may even catch a reference or two that gets them smiling for the recognition.