The funny thing about rumors on the internet is that sometimes they’re totally, completely true. Earlier this week we got a chance to go hands-on with PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, the Super Smash Bros.-inspired brawler from Superbot Studios and Sony Santa Monica.
Six characters and four different stages were on display, showing off a tiny sampler of the full game. We were able to wield the Blades of Chaos as Kratos, who fought using his signature weapons as well as other mythical gear he amassed throughout the series; Fat Princess, who threw soldiers at her enemies; Sly Cooper, who eschews the ability to block in favor of invisibility; Parappa the Rapper, who uses kung-fu to launch barrages of melee attacks; Radec, who has access to a number of ranged weapons for precision strikes; and Sweet Tooth, who uses chainsaws, shotguns, mines, and other weapons to slaughter his foes.
Above: Check out our PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale video preview
It controlled well, and each character played completely differently, instantly propelling PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale ahead of other Super Smash Bros. clones like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Cartoon Network brawlers to come out in years past. Radec’s ranged attacks made him ideal for hiding across the map and firing, whereas Kratos played exactly as Kratos should. The oddballs – Fat Princess and Parappa – both felt adequately weird, and we’re sure they’ll find fans in those interested in unique characters.
The stages, too, were both conceptually and visually impressive. Superbot didn’t stop at making themed levels for each PlayStation IP – it decided to treat even the arenas as mash-ups, with every arena being a mix of two different Sony brands. The Little Big Planet level, for instance, is interrupted at the half-way point by Buzz, who asks a trivia question and throws pies at everyone who gets it wrong. The Hades level looks like it was ripped straight out of God of War… until Patapons show up and start throwing spears at the level. PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is fan service done as well as we’ve ever seen.
But as we played we noticed something was off. We’d enjoy beating each other senseless, but it didn’t seem to have any effect. There wasn’t a health bar, and there was no way to knock someone out of the stage. Eventually, we realized that there was only one way to score points: Super Attacks.
As we brawled, a bar at the bottom of the screen filled up. This “Super Meter” had three levels, each giving us access to a more powerful Super Attack – a game-changing super-move that’s a one-shot kill for anyone caught within its range. Each level of Super Attack essentially represents how many kills it should earn the player, though it’s possible to score more than the expected number with proper use.
Since there’s no health bar or ring-out, the only way to score was to use our Super Attack on our enemies, which actually felt like it created a large imbalance. Some characters we played as had incredibly powerful low-level Super Attacks, which made it easy to take out two or three fighters whenever it was up, while others were so hard to use that it was often difficult to even score on one enemy.
Kratos’s level one attack is a powerful dash that obliterates anyone he contacts with his blade, and his level two has him stabbing that very same sword into the ground and creating a whirlwind. Merely touching it means a death. Meanwhile, Sweet Tooth’s first-level ability requires him to be within range of a grab. Radec? His ability is almost useless within melee range.
There’s a chance this mechanic might grow on us, but as of now this element is sort of a wall that we don’t see ourselves being able to get past. No matter how fun the combat is before a player unleashes a Super attack, the existence of easily accessible instant-kills that differ from character-to-character creates an imbalance – plain and simple. The existence of this isn’t actually a game breaker, but having it be literally the only way to score points seems like a bad call from where we’re sitting.
We’re hoping we’re wrong, or that the developer plans on tightening it up before release, but as of now we’re not expecting the game to be played at any competitive level – or even by any big fans of others games in the genre. Even if it remains as is, however, we’re sure that plenty of people will enjoy it for silly, fun times – we just have hopes that it can rise above that when it releases later this year. We're also hoping for a Vita version. Like, seriously, how awesome would that be?