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PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale
Graphics: 8.1
Gameplay: 8.5
Sound: 8
Control: 8.2
Replay Value: 8.4
Rating: 8.3

Although this fall doesn’t necessarily have a bona fide mainstream blockbuster exclusive for the PlayStation 3, Sony has delivered a fun, surprisingly in-depth party brawler that controls well and rewards the skilled and diligent. It’d be a mistake to assume PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is nothing but a Smash Bros. clone. Nintendo’s offering was a fun little tasty treat of relative simplicity in comparison to the robust fighting mechanic we find lurking beneath the surface in Sony’s title. Ready to throw down?

With a few eye-popping backgrounds and excellent sets, Battle Royale provides gamers with a clean, vibrant visual experience. The graphical effects are top-notch, the animations are smooth and even complex, and the best part is as follows— The amassing of multiple characters all going ballistic in a somewhat cramped arena could easily create a disconcerting visual display. That doesn’t seem to happen, though. The graphics are such that they’re not downplayed or muted; in fact, they’re crisp and take center-stage. And yet, they don’t blind the player too often, which I find to be a significant achievement.

I’m not the biggest fan of the soundtrack, as it’s not particularly inspired or especially invigorating. The music exists as a halfway decent complement, but it never really stands on its own and pushes the action forward. However, that may be intentional, as it allows the gameplay to be the focal point throughout; I just expected a bit more in the way of kickin’ tracks. On the other hand, the effects shine through nicely. They’re diverse and well-implemented, and each strike, each awesome special ability, and each crowd-pleasing combo will make your ears ring…and that, my friends, is the ring of satisfaction. Well, provided you’re the one doling out the pain.

As I said before, on the surface, this game appears to be quite simple. And there’s no doubt that the premise is indeed simple: Square off against three other opponents and attempt to emerge victorious in a battle to the finish. But the longer you play, the more you start to realize that true mastery will require time and effort, while accessibility remains high for newcomers. You use the square, circle, and triangle buttons to execute a variety of attacks, most all of which are unique to the character you have chosen. The analog stick adds another layer of intricacy, and there are even different perspectives for different fighters.

This really is a true-blue fighting game, which is what makes it so much different than Smash Bros. The fun factor remains high for just about everyone, but those who drop a fair amount of time into learning one or two characters will discover a surprisingly deep and fulfilling combat mechanic. It’s not really about old-school combos that require immense finger dexterity and reactions; it’s more about timing, strategy, and figuring out the strengths and weaknesses of very distinct characters. To start (developer SuperBot is bound to deliver more) there are 20 fighters, ranging from Nathan Drake to Cole MacGrath to Fat Princess to Sackboy to Nariko to Dante and a great many more in between.

By far the most impressive aspect of this game is the TLC exhibited in each member of the roster. They all feel drastically different, and it’s not merely because they all have different special skills. It’s also because they all move differently, attack differently, and offer the player different strategies. Not only does this demand your time and attention if you want to embrace one particular character, it also encourages experimentation because you’re always interested in mixing things up. Plus, the various stages make just about every battle feel fresh and interesting.

PlayStation fans will recognize a great many franchises in those stages; they’re inspired by the likes of Metal Gear Solid, Killzone, Hot Shots Golf, Ratchet & Clank, Uncharted, LittleBigPlanet, Resistance, and even lesser-known franchises such as Loco Roco. Furthermore, because each stage is interactive in its own way, it contributes greatly to the combat action. You not only have to keep tabs on your opponents, you also have to keep an eye on what might be happening in the background, which makes the battles all the more engaging.

The key to success lies in the AP (All-Stars Points) system and executing world-ending super abilities by building up those points. The meter in question isn’t a health meter; rather, it’s split into three tiers and at each tier, you can unleash a character-specific skill that can deal major damage. This is a serious challenge, especially when battling two or three very capable human players. You will soon find that there’s a serious amount of strategy involved, as you’ll have to play defense while simultaneously building up your meter and preparing to own the competition. It ain’t easy but it’s pretty damn fun.

Defense really is a crucial part of the game, as you’ll have to dodge-roll, block, or simply evade a lot of incoming attacks if you want to remain relevant. Falling behind early in a match can be problematic, especially if you’re hell-bent on being overly aggressive. Mashing buttons really doesn’t work well in Battle Royale, which is always a testament to the robustness and complexity of the underlying mechanic. You have to balance your own performance with that of your opponents, you have to make split-second decisions concerning your accumulated AP, and you have to learn your chosen character’s style.

Now, all of that might sound a little daunting and truthfully, it kinda is. But isn’t that precisely what separates this game from any other party brawler out there? This allows Sony to say, “See, this is a very different animal and yet, just about anyone can pick it up and play when first starting.” Sure, the tutorials may seem a little out of place in such a game, but you’ll quickly realize they exist for a reason. It’s also important to remember that some characters just plain don’t like one another, so don’t be surprised to see some intense rivalries heating up. In short, there’s probably a lot more going on than you may have anticipated.

Unfortunately, the story mode doesn’t feel all that rewarding to me. The stories are sort of mundane and while often amusing, they clearly feel like an afterthought. The only upside is that due to the inherent diversity of the roster, you want to go through with multiple characters just to become accustomed to the extremely different styles. Still, I had hoped to find a more satisfying single-player experience. It’s obvious that this title is designed specifically for multiplayer fun and I understand that, but more could’ve been done to make the single-player action a little more compelling. I wish this didn't fall by the wayside so often.

But that multiplayer really is a blast. Getting friends in a room or playing online is always a good time and thus far, the action appears to be going forward without a hitch. I haven’t come across any significant problems, and I think it’s really cool that PS3 players can play against Vita players and vice versa. There’s a ton of customization, plenty of available (and wicked entertaining) modes, and you’ll soon find yourself losing many hours to the multiplayer goodness. This isn’t really my thing and I have to say, I might return to this from time to time. I rarely do that, so that’s saying something.

PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale has a lot going for it. I find the single-player a tad disappointing, the learning curve can actually feel too steep for certain characters, and you may start hearing about various combat balancing issues (I’ll bet money on that). But the control is rock solid, the entertainment is always of a certain quality with virtually no glaring flaws or drawbacks, the diversity and variety of the roster is absolutely fantastic, and the multiplayer could definitely attract a great many people. I don’t think it’s the elite AAA exclusive the PS3 could’ve used, but there’s no doubt that this title is a pretty clear winner.

The Good: Pleasing, technically sound visual presentation. Top-notch graphical and audio effects. Incredibly diverse fighter roster. Deeper than expected combat mechanic. Rock solid control. Immense multiplayer fun.

The Bad: Soundtrack isn’t anything special. Single-player experience is lacking. Perceived balance issues.

The Ugly: “*%($&*!!! I was this close to my special!”

11/20/2012   Ben Dutka