Imagine Kratos mercilessly battering his opponent to the ground while simultaneously dodging attacks from a gigantic Hades who lurks in the backdrop. To Kratos’ dismay, he is suplex slammed from behind onto an electric pad and stunned by a curious, little sack creature. Before Kratos can recover, a giant pink hippopotamus on two legs, spawned by a giant raccoon, smashes into him sending him into oblivion. Welcome to PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, the most chaos you will ever find in a fighting game without it actually being one.
The game consists of 20 fighters from all genres of the Playstation universe battling it out in 2-4 player matches to be the top scorer. Scoring depends on the kills and deaths of each player and in all battles, except 1-on-1 rival battles, and is hidden till the match ends, thus keeping each fighter a hopeful contender for the crown till the very end.
What truly distinguishes Playstation All-Stars from serious fighting games and the Nintendo Brawl series is its unique gameplay. Normal attacks are simply mapped to combination of three face buttons – square, triangle and circle, and a direction chosen on the left analog stick/D-Pad, making them very easy to perform. Throws, blocks, rolling and aerial dodges are also available.
However, the real meat of the gameplay comes from the three-level powered AP bar, which fills up on performing attacks on opponents. Each level of the bar enables the fighter to perform a Super kill move, which, if connected successfully, is the only way of actually killing an opponent. This earns the player two score points, whereas getting killed decreases the score by 1. This unique scoring mechanism translates to chaotic button spamming to increase the AP bar with the aim to connect the Super attack while dodging to survive those of others. Each powered-up level translates to a stronger Super kill move, with level 3 Supers being the strongest, and in some cases, unavoidable.
The 20-fighter roster brings a lot of variety into the gameplay, with each fighter having its unique Super and plenty of normal attacks. Melee fighters like Kratos, Raiden, Dante and Nariko are incredibly fast and deadly at close range, whereas Nathan Drake and Radec probably do more damage from a strategic distance. There are also fighters like Sly Cooper and Sackboy, who are simply unpredictable and perhaps the most fun to master.
Of course, maintaining balance in such a varied roster is almost impossible and it, unfortunately, shows. Kratos can be a good starting fighter since he earns AP rapidly by just repeating his fastest, easiest move. However, an experienced player will most probably depend more heavily on Sackboy for his level 3 Super, which can get 6-8 kills at once. Hence, the choice of character and when to perform the Super move form part of the game’s core strategy.
The single player mode tries to spin a story to explain this absurd high-profile mash-up through static image cutscenes, with some rival battles thrown in for good measure. Playing through it helps level up a character, which opens up icons, one alternate costume, titles and other such minor items irrelevant to gameplay. Even though the final Arcade boss battle is fairly disappointing, the tutorial, practice modes and challenges do a good job in prolonging the single-player experience.
The real madness of the game, however, shines in the multiplayer modes, either in local competitive Versus mode or online with up to three other players. The online mode also offers seasonal Tournaments with ranked matches and leaderboards. However, online is where the balancing of the fighters truly comes undone. Sackboy is perhaps one of the most powerful characters online due to his previously mentioned ludicrous level 3 Super, with Kratos, Raiden and Dante closely followed in the popularity charts. Here’s hoping some of these fighter tiers are tweaked soon enough.
Apart from the characters, the background levels are also inspired by various games from the Playstation universe and provide incredible backdrops for the battles. Each of the 14 stages is an amalgamation of two themes, such as the Hades (God of War) stage with aspects of Patapon, and the bizarre PaRappa the Rapper stage with a gigantic Chop Chop Master Onion battling a Helghast MAWLR. Certain interactive actions in the background can cause damage and loss of AP if not dodged in time.
Worth special mention is the Buzz! Stage, where a trivia question is asked in the background with areas in the arena marked with colours representing the answers, and stepping on the wrong answers causes damage. The stages do a fantastic job in setting an environment that isn’t meant to be taken too seriously, which probably is the USP of the game. The sound effects and soundtracks add to that casual yet immersive setting as well.
Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale is to fighting games what kart games are to the racing genre – it’s a casual, easy to pick up, competitive approach to the genre that leaves aside the high skill prerequisite, thereby making it instantly accessible. It might have a limited offering, but it works well in short bursts and for casual gaming get-togethers with friends.