PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale Vita Review
by Brendan Kelly
Not so long ago I sat up one night, staring blankly at my television screen wondering where it all went wrong*. Every video game I owned was too complicated, too hard, required too much brainpower to be a wise choice for two in the morning. Those that were simple enough were far too simple, and didn’t provide any sort of challenge. Occasionally, video games are like girlfriends**, in that you want a girlfriend who is less intelligent than you, but not one who thinks cheese is a vegetable (please forward your complaints to my editors, who love that sort of thing.) So if you’re looking for that ideal middle-ground between having to use your brain and having to have it surgically removed, then PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale for the PS Vita isn’t a bad place to start.
*You might be thinking ‘you must have little to no life to spend your nights staring at a blank television screen.’ I would like to point out I had had far too much coffee at this point, and was in fact bordering on hallucination. I actually almost knocked the television off its stand because I thought my arm was a centipede, before I realized it was in fact a hummingbird. But I digress.
**As someone who writes for gaming websites, I have never had a girlfriend, but I very much hope to someday. Chicks dig guys who compare them to video games, in the same way they dig ponytails, goths, and Mike Myers.
When I told people I was looking forward to the release of PSASBR, they all asked me the same question: what in God’s name is PS All-Stars? My immediate answer was that the game is exactly like Nintendo’s hugely-successful Super Smash Bros. franchise, but with characters from Sony’s repertoire instead. After playing the game, I’m sort of torn by that description. It pits characters from Sony’s biggest franchises against each other in fights to the death, or at least to death by embarrassment. So you’ll get Kratos from God of War beating the hell out of Parappa the Rapper (something I have long wanted to happen), or see Heihachi slamming Jak and Daxter against walls. PS All-Stars is conceptually similar to Smash Bros., but then me putting three lumps of meat between two buns is conceptually similar to a McDonald’s Big Mac. That doesn’t make it the same thing. In fact, although the two both rely on the idea that if you put a bunch of completely different characters from different universes together in a tiny environment they will beat the shit out of each other, the similarities are fairly limited.
For one thing, All-Stars feels very different to how Smash Bros. used to. Every character has their own set of moves, which is what you would expect, but they also move differently and require new strategies. For example Kratos is fairly balanced, combining speed with powerful attacks, while Big Daddy is much slower but is capable of rocking his enemies with nasty, nasty hooks. Because of that the game feels varied and fun, and playing the game through as each character doesn’t get boring as quickly as it could. You can also adopt different strategies for each character and still be effective. For example, Kratos works just as well as a melee-scrapper as he does a guerrilla fighter. Killzone’s Colonel Radec can work as an in-fighter or switch it up and make use of an array of ballistic weapons. There’s enough variation to keep you interested, but not so much that the game requires hours of practice to be successful.
Another element that keeps the game varied is the character roster. At release the game features 20 characters, from an extremely diverse range of games. There’s the duplicitous Cole MacGrath from Infamous, the fat princess from Fat Princess, the much-hated Raiden from the Metal Gear series, demonic Sweet Tooth from Twisted Metal, and that sack from LittleBigPlanet. This level of variation means there’s a little bit of something for everyone, whether you’re into creepy murdering clowns, tubby royals, electrical super-men, or sacks. For really old-school fans, the game’s antagonist is none other than Polygon Man, the short-lived mascot for the original Playstation who lost his job to more accessible characters like Crash Bandicoot and Parappa. The levels are also themed and packed with hazards to keep you on your toes. The God of War stage for instance features a giant Hades who will smash your character around if you don’t watch out, until halfway through the stage when a tribe of Patapon warriors appears to distract him. It’s a minor detail but one that keeps the game fresh and can also be used to your advantage.
To its advantage, PS All-Stars is exactly the kind of game that works well on a handheld device. It’s easy to pick up and play, and then put down again when you’ve had enough without requiring too much thinking. The Vita-exclusive additions are fairly minimal, with the biggest being the use of the touch-screen to pick up items during battle. The touch-screen is also utilised in the game’s menu screens, but other than that this is a fairly straight-forward beat ‘em up with a traditional control scheme. It works.
If there is a downside to a game like this, it’s that it really needs to be played with friends. The developers have done a good job of trying to keep the single-player modes fun, with different challenges for every character, a leveling system and literally hundreds of unlockable icons, minions, costumes and other goodies. But eventually that will wear off, and with only the vaguest attempts at anything resembling a story mode (usually a series of still shots featuring a character’s voiceover), after a certain time period the game will fall into one of two categories: either a momentarily fun idea, or the party game in the same mold as Super Smash Bros. with depth and longevity that eventually becomes known as a classic. It certainly has that potential, and playing against a group of people is fun, manic and very satisfying.
PS All-Stars Battle Royale is fun. There’s not a lot more you can ask for from a game that mainly revolves around you killing everything that moves, except that it’s even more fun when you’re not playing alone. If you’re the type of gamer who prefers single-player campaigns and getting involved in a story, perhaps this isn’t your thing. But if you don’t mind a bit of mindless violence every now and again, or you just want a good game to play with some friends while you have a few beers, this wouldn’t be a bad purchase to make. And if you’re an old-school Sony fan-boy this is a fitting tribute to a growing legacy, and well worth the price.