Games of 2012: Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.

Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale

I come before you tonight to disappoint you. Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale is not the sleeper hit of the century, nor is it a bomb that would deserve a Guy Fieri-style takedown. I can’t remember the last time I felt so middle of the road about a game. (Most of this post will compare the game to the Super Smash Brothers series, which PASBR is widely accused of ripping off.)

The roster? It’s fine. There are some logical choices (Kratos, Nathan Drake, PaRappa, Ratchet); some fun outside choices (Noriko from Heavenly Sword, Spike from Ape Escape, and the feline majesty of Toro); some strange outside choices (Sir Daniel from MediEvil, Colonel Radec from Killzone); and some terrible choices (Dante from DMC, but the new one, not the traditional one; Big Daddy from Bioshock, hardly a Playstation classic). Thing is, if you’re comparing this to Smash Brothers, it’s not significantly different, as that roster follows that same range. There’s this weird belief that Smash is immune to bad characters, but the roster there has plenty of hot garbage. (R.O.B.? Wolf? Pokemon Trainer? Meta Knight? Lucario?)

If you are used to Smash play mechanics, the gameplay will probably feel wrong to you. Rather than piling damage onto your enemies and then smacking them off the level, you build your own energy meter – and then smack enemies off the level. This can feel very backwards, but that passes and eventually feels like a reasonable design decision. The game hinges on the risk/reward decision of triggering your super early or waiting for a later (and better) level. It’s not a better or worse decision, it’s just different.

The title does feel pretty skimpy in terms of content, not helped by a poor menu interface. Story mode, challenges, offline/online play – and that’s about it. Story mode are just straight up fights and no “adventure” levels (which suits me fine, as I didn’t really dig them in Smash); the challenges are in the Street Fighter style of executing on your move list. You can customize characters (via a weird per-character experience point unlocking system), but there’s no sense of history to Playstation past as the capsule toys provide in Smash.

There is one unique feature that PASBR does very well, and that is save syncing. Buying the PS3 copy of the game gets you a downloadable Vita copy for free; the games are identical, save some minor control differences to accomodate the Vita. Given the dual-platform nature, this could have easily become obnoxious, but through some very seamless network syncing of the saves, you can bash through challenges on the Vita version and have all your unlocks on the PS3 side. It just works, and works very well at that. It does help fulfill the promise of “console gaming on the go” that seems to be the only pitch of Sony’s that rings true.

Should PASBR exist? It’s hard to say. Sony has never been a company that’s developed any true mascots of its own, something Nintendo never had a problem with. But there are plenty of recognizable characters, and there’s nothing really wrong with pushing them into a strange fighting game. (I shudder to think what a roster would look like if Microsoft tried to do the same style of game.) PABSR sometimes feels like it’s trying too hard – the battlegrounds mash games up, which is fine until a Metal Gear breaks through on the Locoroco stage for no reason at all. Other times, it feels like it’s not trying hard enough – a game with so many fighting game experts in the credits shouldn’t feel so weirdly unbalanced.

It’s a few steps from being an easy recommendation to buy, but also far enough removed from being something I couldn’t recommend at all. It’s fine. Pick it up when it goes Greatest Hits? Or don’t. It’s cool either way.

Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale is available for PS3 and Vita.