Hands-On Preview: PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale

Before having a chance to play it, I was very skeptical about PSASBR. Beyond its long acronym, it’s also late to the Smash Bros-style party, and needs something special to make it stand out in a genre that’s been represented in three console generations. Thankfully, Sony taking their time with the game (if not its title) has paid off so far — the early build alone makes it clear that a lot of care went into the gameplay and delivering something that can please the button-mashing crowd as well as those craving something with a bit more depth. Sony’s implementation of Cross-Buy for the title is another very appealing part of the overall package since the transition from one version to the other is basically seamless.

The core controls revolve around using X to jump and the other face buttons, either on their own or with a directional press, to produce a variety of attacks. There’s about a dozen attacks available for each character, not counting three levels of super moves. The super meter is built up with successful attacks and activated by hitting R2 on the PS3 and the R button on the Vita. L1/L blocks (moving a direction alongside it rolls the character) with R1 used on the PS3 to grab items while touching them on the Vita’s screen picks them up there. Flicking the right stick on either platform performs throws, which I don’t recall ever being used before in such a way, but it works surprisingly well.

In the heat of battle, the controls are easy to remember on the fly which is incredibly important given just how fast-paced the gameplay is. Since the beta limits single player action to a tutorial, we don’t know just how the campaign eases you into things, but diving in head-first online makes for an intense experience. Unless you’re able to just find a game with one or two opponents, you’ll be facing three other people and everyone’s out to earn as many kills as they can in a short time. Beta matches only last three minutes, and in that time, you’ll jump around, hit, be hit, throw foes around, and hopefully be able to avoid super moves while nailing a few of your own.

The three different stages of supers add a layer of strategy to things because you can only earn higher levels by not dying — doing so resets your bar, and only having a short-range level 1 super might get a kill or two, but isn’t anywhere near as good as a longer-range level 2 one or an epic level 3 super. Those are reminiscent of the PSOne-era Final Fantasy summons since they cause a character-specific cutscene to break out before multiple ass-kickings are dealt. Beyond that kind of flash going on, there are also fairly elaborate stage changes that can turn the Ratchet and Clank area into something inhabited by a God of War hydra and a giant nail wheel coming up from the ground. Likewise, the God of War area goes from being inhabited by a giant monster to seeing Patapons marching in the background while said monster blasts lasers towards the players and headbutts the battle ground.

Despite so much going on, the action never gets too frantic. If you exclusively play one on one fighters, it may prove difficult to adapt to, but those used to the Smash Bros. style won’t take long to get used to things. Having this kind of game on an HD system helps quite a bit because you’ve got a larger 16:9 playing area instead of a comparably cramped 4:3 one. The graphics are quite good overall, although there’s some weird stuff going on with the Fat Princess’s character model during her post-match posing. There’s no slowdown despite this being an unfinished build, which bodes well for the final product and quite surprisingly, there’s no lag online. Some may say that should be expected, but given that the game is playable on either the Vita or PS3 against people using either system and the Vita Wi-Fi-only setup, it’s fairly impressive to have online games go down without a hitch.

With less than a month to go before release, PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale appears to have everything it needs to not only succeed commercially, but be a great game as well. It should please anyone who’s missed out on the Smash Bros. craze over the past decade+, while also giving fans of that fighting style something new to sink their teeth into.