PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale Review
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PlayStation All-Stars is a deeply engaging fighter and love letter to PlayStation fans that ultimately triumphs over shallow single-player content and a few design quirks.
- PlayStation's best, together at last
- Tremendous fun and impressive mechanical depth
- Sophisticated networking
- Inconsistent narrative quality
- Boring presentation
- Disorganized progression system
(continued from previous page) ...for this reason, but the game's bread-and-butter is its three-minute timed mode with four players. This particular setup places emphasis on a risk-reward relationship that sets the relative difficulty of landing a Level 1 Super against the time and effort needed to build AP for a Level 2 or Level 3. It's a fascinating dynamic that never plays out in the same way twice, ensuring that – even over hundreds of hours of gameplay – every single match feels fresh, exciting, and unpredictable.
Less inspired is the game's single-player Arcade Mode, which is astoundingly unambitious, even for the genre. Every member of the game's 20-character roster has a campaign of several matches against CPU opponents, book-ended by “cutscenes” that don't extend beyond voiced dialogue lain over competent artwork stills. The biggest problem with Arcade Mode isn't its relative simplicity, or even that each story is disappointingly brief, but that each character's context for participation in this brawl is wildly hit-or-miss. I can buy that Good Cole is seeking out people with special powers and believes the All-Stars cast might be Conduits, but Raiden's insistence on protecting his fellow fighters (wait, what?), who he admits might not want or need his help, is patently ridiculous. The same inconsistencies extend to the game's rivalries, which pit two specific characters against each other in a mano y mano battle near the end of their respective campaigns. It's honestly heart-warming to see Sackboy win over the love of a Little Sister (as Big Daddy rages with jealousy), and the mischievous bickering of Nathan Drake and Sly Cooper is thematically appropriate and funny. Other moments, like the ice cream incident between Sweet Tooth and Kratos, are groan-worthy misfires that fail to treat either character with due respect.
Arcade Mode's narrative shortcomings are remedied somewhat by how faithfully each character plays in a given match. Movement speed, momentum, quips, and signature moves turn each fighter into a near-perfect facsimile of the hero (or villain) you remember from games past; Ratchet and Clank employ a wide variety of galactic weaponry, Nathan Drake is suitably aloof, and Sir Daniel Fortesque is a comically inept coward-turned-hero. The personality of each character shines through his or her attitude, unique characteristics, moveset, and vivacious voice talent (including the return of fan favorites like Nolan North, Eric Ladin, and LittleBigPlanet narrator Stephen Fry). Phenomenal stage design ties the whole gameplay experience together, meshing dynamic platforming elements with more easter eggs and fan service than you can shake a Time Net at.
Thankfully, the twenty roster selections are mostly worthwhile, but some fans will no doubt feel jilted by a few questionable oversights. For some missing characters, this may simply be a matter of too many years and business deals between the height of their popularity and 2012. We may never know why some characters weren't included, and I may end up eating my words as DLC hits PlayStation Network in the coming months, but I personally feel that any game of this nature without the likes of Crash Bandicoot, Solid Snake, Lara Croft, and Spyro the Dragon is missing a crucial part of PlayStation history. These (and many others) are characters that have left indelible marks on the legacy of the brand, and it's strange to think that relative unknowns like Toro or Nariko were given precedence over the aforementioned.
Setting aside all questions of legitimacy, the cast on hand is very well-balanced, bringing a diverse array of strengths and weaknesses to the fighting table. You'll need those strengths, because CPU opponents put up an impressive challenge at the highest difficulty level. In fact, studying CPU characters is a valid way to learn advanced techniques and strategies, which you'll employ over a great many hours spent through Arcade Mode, Combat Trials, and multiplayer matches. A progression system unifies the experience, and your performance and accomplishments across all modes will net you rank-ups that unlock new costumes, taunts, victory music, titles and icons for your custom playercard, and more. It's a great selection of rewards that will resonate with the PlayStation faithful, but the ubiquity of progression devalues the level of your character, which is prominently displayed at the beginning of every match. You'll earn more experience for completing harder tasks and playing on higher difficulties, but new ranks are ... (continued on next page)