As we make our way into 2017, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about games like Hitman and DOOM, which were really big surprises for me, because they somehow managed to capture the memory I had of the older games in their series, while not necessarily playing like them. This has made me think of other games that tried to capture the feel of another which made me remember that PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale was a real thing and that someone actually thought that title was a good idea. That game is a wonderful example of what happens when you take a winning formula but make awkward, questionable changes to it in a desperate bid to seem original. I remembered that I still had a copy of the game so I decided to go back to it to see what went so fundamentally wrong in a product that should have been a slam dunk.
So let’s get this out of the way right now, I’m going to compare this game to Super Smash Bros a lot here. There’s no helping it since this is pretty much Sony’s attempt to ape that series which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; when someone creates a winning formula it’s totally okay to try to replicate it. The issue here is that you’re supposed to copy and improve upon that foundation so that your competition sees how you improved their formula and then improves their own; this breeds positive competition. What SuperBot did was copy the formula and then take twenty steps backwards. Nintendo had the cure to cancer and SuperBot took out all the bits related to cancer and turned it into a generic pain reliever.
So of course I’m going to compare this to the Smash series because it’s clear this game is supposed to be Sony’s answer to it. And it’s not like Sony isn’t allowed to make a game in the same style as Smash Bros, it’s the fact that everything is so lazily copied that rubs me the wrong way. If you’re going to ape a competitor’s game at the very least do it right.
A Lack of Tension
The main thing SuperBot missed the mark on was the appeal of ring outs. Not only did they remove ring outs completely but in doing so they also removed any sort of tension and excitement from their game as well. In case you forgot, or just didn’t know, in All-Stars there are walls blocking the sides of each arena and the only way to kill another player is to hit them with your super move which is acquired by hitting other players with a variety of attacks that will build up your meter up to three levels, each with increasing lethality.
All of the thrill and pressure from a Smash Bros match revolved around managing your health percentage and knowing that the longer you stick around the closer you’ll be to death. You know that you’ll eventually get thrown out of the ring, but it makes the thrill of beating out a few more players while pushing 120% all the more satisfying. It also adds the rush of seeing a player with a high health percentage and knowing every player there, yourself included, is going to charge that guy to score a kill off him; you get an even bigger rush being that single player who’s fighting off everyone trying to take you out. Knocking someone off the stage just feels so damn good too, especially if they try to jump back into the arena only to meet your foot in their face sending them right back out. In All-Stars I felt no such rush of adrenaline since the best way to play is to pick a character whose meter you could quickly build up and just pop your super. I mainly played PaRappa and learned a fairly simple combo that could quickly net me a level 3 super which is an immediate screen clearing attack; I’d consistently pull this off without much trouble and easily win online matches. Superbot removed the excitement from a game whose genre is known for oozing hype at an event like EVO or with your friends on a couch.
A Half-Measure of Celebration
The other underlying issue is how uninterested the game seems to be with the PlayStation brand itself. It’s filled with characters that either shouldn’t be there or are clearly there for marketing purposes; looking right at you DmC Dante. Did we really need an evil Cole, Zeus, or the Big Daddy? Where are the classic Sony characters like Spyro, Crash, or Lara Croft? I’d take a Patapon or even the guy from Echochrome over Isaac Clarke. I understand deals have to be made to get some of these third party characters, but I’m kind of surprised they weren’t able to and wonder if they even tried for some. This game is supposed to be celebrating the PlayStation’s rich history of characters and even fails horribly with its Polygon Man fight, something that should have been a standout moment. Fighting The Hand in Smash Bros is a fun, hectic fight but instead of trying to mimic it we’re given a few polygonal skinned characters to fight while Polygon Man talks shit in the background. The items themselves are fairly uninteresting despite featuring weapons from various PlayStation franchises and I never found myself eagerly waiting for my favorite item to spawn. The entire presentation of the game is a massive mess as well. Every menu screen I go to leaves me feeling like I’m looking at placeholder art; it’s just so damn ugly that calling it generic is too high praise. The characters all clash together as well since they’re not given a unified art style; the annoying part is that there was originally an idea for doing this which was scrapped for some mind boggling reason. The levels themselves are decent at best, with only one or two standing out. The idea of having two franchises smash together into a level is cool, but they just don’t take the concept as far as they needed to. For a game that’s supposed to be about PlayStation icons duking it out in celebration of the console’s history, there sure isn’t much celebrating.
Now one of my biggest gripes with the game is that the supers are some of the laziest excuses for a super I’ve ever seen. The level one and two supers look exactly what I would expect out of a low tier super; it’s the level three supers that I have a problem with. These are the special moves that are supposed to have you giddy to pop out and instead you feel nothing. You can see an example of this in the Dante trailer; the super is popped and… you just walk around lazily whacking the other players.
Almost all the supers play out in the exact same way with your character going into a special cinematic, getting “powered up”, and then you run around the stage whacking the other players for one-hit kills. There is nothing super about hopping around and hitting a guy as if it was your basic attack and since the game lacks any sort of tension as discussed before, the kills give no satisfaction because it just feels cheap and easy. Remember Mario’s super in Super Smash Bros Wii-U? It was fucking awesome when a player popped one of those out and it was the same feeling with almost all the other characters. All of the characters in that game also had a completely unique super (besides a couple duplicates who shared the same one) that all behaved differently and you knew how to react and counter each character’s special move.
To further emphasize my point, let’s go through the supers of all 20 characters in the game.
- Kratos gets powered up and you run around whacking other players with your sword for one-hit kills.
- Nariko gets powered up and you run around whacking other players with your sword for one-hit kills.
- Dante gets powered up and you run around whacking other players with your sword for one-hit kills.
- Raiden gets powered up and you run around whacking other players, who are now in boxes, with your sword for one-hit kills.
- Big Daddy gets powered up and you run around charging into other players for one-hit kills.
- Nathan Drake gets powered up and you run around shooting other players with your gun for one-hit kills.
- Sweet Tooth gets powered up and you run around shooting other players with your gun for one-hit kills.
- Jak and Daxter get powered up and you fly around shooting other players with your energy blast for one-hit kills.
- Sackboy has everyone stuffed in bubbles and you run around “popping them” for one-hit kills.
- Evil Cole gets powered up and you fly around shooting other players with your energy blast for one-hit kills.
- Sir Daniel Fortesque gets powered up and you run around trying to keep other players in your ridiculously large energy circle for one-hit kills.
- Ratchet & Clank go off-screen where you go into a shooting gallery mode, shooting the other players on the stage with your ship for one-hit kills.
- Colonel Radec goes off-screen where you go into a shooting gallery mode, shooting the other players on the stage for one-hit kills.
- Sly Cooper goes off-screen where you go into a shooting gallery mode, shooting (with a camera) the other players for one-hit kills.
- Cole goes off-screen where you go into a shooting gallery mode, shooting (with a tornado) the other players for one-hit kills.
- Heihachi has a screen clearing super where the other players are tied to a space shuttle and launched to their deaths.
- Spike has a screen clearing super where he calls down a laser that kills everyone.
- Toro has a screen clearing super where he cuts to a cinematic of him attacking the other players and kills everyone on the field.
- Parappa has a screen clearing super where he summons a stage and kills everyone on the field.
- Fat Princess actually has a unique super where she summons a horde of knights to rain bombs in her area.
So out of twenty characters 11 share the exact same super, 4 share the same style (shooting gallery), 4 have unblockable screen clearing instant kill supers and only 1 has a super that actually functions uniquely from the rest of the cast. I know a few characters in Super Smash Bros Wii-U shared the same super but at least those were few and far between and they had 58 characters in their roster.
You can’t even flub a level 3 super either since they just involve you playing the same way, but now you can 1HKO other players. At least in Smash Bros when somebody had a super you knew what type they were holding and how to counter it. Another issue with these supers is that they cheapen the very idea of what a super is supposed to be; it’s something you work your ass to get and when you pop one out it’s supposed to be this really satisfying moment. In All-Stars there are supers constantly popping out all over the place and almost all of them are visually unimpressive. This just desensitizes you to the whole thing and also ruins any sort of escalation in a match. Whenever a smash ball would come into play the dynamic of the match would suddenly shift since this was how you got your super and these smash balls come out maybe once or twice in a match. It’s a frantic fight as you fight your way to getting that smash ball but the best part is that just because you snagged the ball first doesn’t mean you’re safe from any sort of beating from the other players. Once a player grabbed a smash ball the others could still punch it out of them and start the hectic chase for it all over again.
I’ve played quite a lot of PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale with friends and we just didn’t feel any sort of excitement from this game like we did from other fighting games and I really believe it’s because of its inability to instill excitement in the player, a fundamental misunderstanding of how some mechanics are meant to work in this genre and its overall presentation. I truly hope Sony goes back to the drawing board for this game at some point because it could be something genuinely special if done right.