We seem to hold all journalism, whether it be related to video games or any given topic, to an impossible standard on biases. Every writer must approach their subject with the cold, calculating objective rationality of a robot, even though it is often the writer’s unique viewpoint and experiences that cause us to even seek out and read the works of a particular author. It’s a paradox, but it’s become ingrained in our society’s understanding of writing.
Even though it’s something of a masochistic endeavor, I’ve tried to face the Fustian Game Challenge with that ideal in mind: approach every game on its own terms, and don’t force some tangentially related element from my life into the narrative. That said, when ROB rolled up with PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, I was already considering my weekend plans and exactly how to negotiate this article. See, I knew I was purchasing another cache of Amiibo on Friday, which would necessitate playing Super Smash Bros 4 WiiU, so here was the idea: it’s way too easy to just claim PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is just a lousy copy of Smash Bros, so I’d play the games back to back, and outline all the ways PASBR outshines its spiritual ancestor. Later, I played Smash Bros 4 for an hour or so, trained an Amiibo or six, leeched some prizes off Ganondorf, and then switched over to the Playstation 3 to check in on a game I hadn’t played since its release almost three years ago. I had my laptop at my side with notepad open and ready to delineate all the hidden pearls in this oyster bed of a game. Without any editing, I now reproduce the list I created yesterday:
- Stages Mix Themes
And that’s it. “Final Boss isn’t just hands” almost made the list, but I figured that was a bit subjective. Some people like hands!
I really did put some effort into trying to find the good in this one, too. I played one player mode as a character I have enjoyed in his solo games, Jak (and Daxter, I suppose). It was an uphill battle from the start, though, as this game makes no attempt to build a first-class first impression: the game always starts with a one on one match. One on one matches in this game are boring. For those of you that have never had the pleasure of playing PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, every character has a special attack gauge that builds through three levels as the combatants score hits on their opponents. Level one offers a special attack like a gun blast or flip kick or some short range, immediate attack that is likely to defeat one enemy. Level two leads to an attack that usually has a greater area of effect, like more of a full circle around the attacker, allowing for the possibility of exploding everyone in the immediate area. Level three, which is only ever used by the extremely patient, unleashes an attack that somehow affects everyone, like Big Daddy’s level three special attack, which floods the whole battlefield, leaving everyone but the guy in the diving suit drowning and ripe for death. Special attacks are, traditionally, the only way to score points in this game, so a one on one match either becomes very one-sided, very fast (the more experienced fighter building and using his special gauge repeatedly while his opponent flails and falls faster into life-debt), or it becomes a stupidly even race to see who can score a point the fastest (Player One gets a full special stock, uses it, and gains a point, Player Two respawns at 95% special stock, fills it up to 100%, gains the point, and now you’re both at 0% special stock with a tied score, repeat for three minutes, hope you score the final point at the buzzer). So, without fail, the absolute first match in one player mode is unnecessarily boring.
Then we’ve got the second match, which is a three-way battle, and it’s just moderately better. Again, it’s a race to fill that special gauge, which isn’t that different from filling your opponent’s damage percentage in Smash Bros, but the system is just detached enough to make it seem like your participation is not mandatory. As an easy example, during the three-way fight, Opponent B and Opponent C can fight amongst themselves, knock a few orbs into your corner, and then you can clinch an easy victory by obliterating both of the idiots with one move. You’re +2, they’re both -1, and it’s unlikely they’ll ever recover. Unearned victory! Yay!
The following matches all feature four players, finally, just with the occasional variation on the rules, like stock instead of time matches or teams or whatever they needed to pad out the mode. At last, the game is at full tilt and… it’s still kind of boring. Maybe it’s because the matches with a smaller population so clearly featured the flaws in the battle system, but it seems like if you’ve made it to round three, you’ve already discovered at least one way to exploit your character’s moves to annihilate the competition. Have a level one special that attacks in an upward arc? Just powerup a little, and hang out right under the crowd, wait for the right moment, and boom, three point lead. It’s weird, because it’s not like you can’t formulate similar strategies for Smash Bros, but here, with so much emphasis on three moves per character, you can really account for all the actions of your opponents. Know your opponent has a level one special that attacks in an upward arc? Never, ever get above that guy when his gauge is at level one. It’s one thing to foresee Kirby using his down special, but it’s quite another to be in a game where that move accounts for 33% of his viable moveset, and that percentage is probably actually low, as you really have to be doing something wrong if someone gets up to level three. You’re limited, your opponents are limited, and it’s not hard to have “seen everything” by the end of your fifth match.
Oh, and then one player mode closes out with another one on one match (barf), followed by a boss fight against a giant head. At least the giant head has an interesting bit of Sony lore associated with it, even if the fight itself is, as usual, kind of a snoozer.
And that’s everything the game has to offer. Whether it’s against the CPU or actual people, the actual win conditions for the game are extremely narrow and predictable, which creates a weird environment where you can perform crazy combos and leap around the room expertly dodging and returning fire with available items or whatever, but if you don’t land or evade one of a grand total of three moves, it’s all for moot. When the bulk of your game doesn’t matter, it gets tiresome fast.
It’s a shame, too. PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale was never going to beat Nintendo’s pantheon. There are some companies (Capcom and Konami come immediately to mind) that could, if not thrash The Mario Dynasty on recognition, at least offer a fun and varied roster. Sony had to pull from third parties immediately for its cast, and half the characters still ended up looking like identical cousins. Hell, some of the characters barely even have names. Looking at you, Fat Princess and Sackboy. But that’s the thing: Smash Bros could be an abysmal game with an amazing cast, and it would still sell systems. PASBR had one chance for victory, and that was to rally its lackluster roster with amazing, unique gameplay that made everyone mocking the announcement of “Killzone Guy” stand up and take notice. Sony missed that mark by a mile, though, and now it’s back to the paper shredder for PaRappa.
Sorry, guys, I tried to see the light in the darkness here, but it was just a reflection of some glittering bat poop.
FGC #40 PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale
- System: Playstation 3 and Vita. Man, remember when it was a big deal that you could buy a game for one system and it would work on both? Good times.
- Number of Players: Up to four people can play as Cole or Evil Cole simultaneously.
- Favorite Character: Heihachi, surprisingly. I would have expected one of the more whacky characters, but, as Tekken’s one representative for the game, they actually chose a character that has major ties to the game’s story, and is plenty whacky himself. He summons a bear! You’d never see Sweet Tooth with that kind of self-awareness.
- R U E? Oh, right. Guess not.
- Number of times you were reminded that we haven’t seen a PaRappa game in nearly fifteen years: 2,134
- DLC for days: There were two DLC characters released shortly after the game launched, Kat of Gravity Rush and Emmet of Starhawk, that I would say added a little more variety to the game (Our second female character with a name! Wow!). The next batch included the dude from Dead Space and… Zeus “from” God of War or, ya know, three millennia of myth. There will be no further character DLC because when you have to pluck characters from Greek Mythology for your roster, you just know you don’t have any gas left in that tank.
- Medusa for Smash? Oh… yeah… I… I actually would really like that. That’d be a really cool Amiibo. Oh, wait, I mean… Shut-up.
- Did you know? People were actually looking forward to this game, once upon a time. When the demo was released, resourceful hackers pulled the entire (then unannounced) roster from the paltry data available. Speaking of Smash Bros, Nintendo learned nothing from this event. Looking forward to that next Smash update for… no particular reason.
- Would I play again? Nope. When the Kat/Emmet DLC was released, all I had to do was log in to the Playstation store to obtain the characters for free. I didn’t even bother. Why would I even boot up the game again when Smash exists in at least four other forms. My recent replay only solidified this belief.
What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Kolibri for the 32X. Now, I’m not one for hyperbole, but this might be the best hummingbird based game ever released. Please look forward to it!