PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale

A warning: I will be mentioning Nintendo's Smash Bros series at least once during this review.

That's not because I'm looking to stir up bile from PlayStation gamers, but rather because PS All-Stars Battle Royale is hugely inspired by the Nintendo classic. Sony even admitted as much in the briefing notes it sent out to journalists recently.

And let's be honest - it's a wise move. Huge portions of PS All-Stars Battle Royale, from the general battling to the loose Arcade mode, are based firmly on its Nintendo counterpart.

However, PS All-Stars Battle Royale also brings some new ideas to the table that distinguish it as a separate game. Unfortunately, it messes around with the formula in negative ways as well, resulting in an experience that's great, but not essential.

Starry night

The basic premise of PS All-Stars Battle Royale is that a string of high-to-medium profile PlayStation characters are engaged in violence, side-scrolling platformer style.

Each character, from Drake to Ratchet, has its own unique abilities, ranging from simple beat-downs to laser pistols to gigantic sword-swipes. There's a huge amount of variety in both characters and abilities, and it's all balanced well.

As you run, jump, and toss your opponents around a selection of PlayStation-themed arenas, your Super meter fills up to the point that you evolve, first to Level 1, then to Level 2, and finally - after a huge amount of battling - to Level 3.

This is where PS All-Stars Battle Royale attempts to set itself apart from its inspiration, and it's also the key to beating other players. Rather than knocking them off the world, you're looking to hit them with a Super move.

Level 1 Supers are pretty weak and slow, while Level 2s are a bit more powerful and thus deadly. Level 3 Supers, meanwhile, are certain to destroy every player several times over, usually filling the screen with death or making you invincible for a small amount of time while you charge around bashing players into submission.

This levelling system is what makes PS All-Stars Battle Royale interesting. Do you simply save up for Level 1 over and over and take the risk that you may not hit anyone? Or do you keep saving for Level 3 and hope you make it before the time runs out? The risk factor behind making those kills is hugely entertaining and adds real tension to play.

Take to the online stage

PS All-Stars Battle Royale attempts to set itself apart from Smash Bros in other areas, too.

The various arenas and stages, for example, are taken from popular PlayStation games, but then mashed-up with other PlayStation games, with characters like Buzz and the Patapon invading stages from other games.

It's a really good idea, and helps to enliven what is otherwise pretty dull, forgettable level design. We can remember several of the mash-ups pretty well, but trying to picture the layout of a single level in particular is difficult since they're all so flat and plain.

Where PS All-Stars Battle Royale really tries to take the side-scrolling battle throne is through its online play. There are online 'seasons' every few weeks or so, and you're awarded belts and so on based on how you did during each season.

There are also Street Fighter-esque ranks and titles given out to players who dominate online, so you can show everyone just how good you are - a great idea that will no doubt get us jumping online often in the future.

The online play itself is rather different to playing solo or with friends, as it's all a bit more furious and tactical. It takes a while to get into, but once you do it's pretty addictive stuff.

Bow out

But then PS All-Stars Battle Royale stumbles and smacks its face against the cold, hard floor.

The solo play, in which you blast your way through numerous battles using each separate character, is dull as ditchwater. There's not enough variety, and you're essentially just playing what appear to be random matches over and over again.

There's a little bit of story at the start and end, with voice acting and static images, but overall it's poorly designed. The only slightly different bit is the final boss, which introduces polygon model versions of other characters that attack you. Sound familiar at all?

But here's the real killer - the controls in PS All-Stars Battle Royale just aren't tight or fluid enough, and feel faintly robotic. It's far more button-mashy that Smash Bros, because trying to pull off tight combo sequences is next to impossible.

The training levels and levelling-up system encourage you to learn the craft of each character, but the real test is whether they work in full flow against other players. And, quite honestly, they're far from perfect.

To top it all off, the items are terrible, providing players with more power, or faster speed, or other equally uninteresting attributes. Remember in Smash Bros when you'd all rush excitedly to grab the latest drop? In all the games of All-Stars I played online, whenever an item appeared, everyone just ignored it.

PS All-Stars Battle Royale isn't going to be on anyone's Game of the Year list, but nor will anyone who picks it up feel disappointed. It's not a knockout, but just about scrapes a points victory.

PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale

PS All-Stars Battle Royale plays around with the Smash Bros formula, and comes away with a multiplayer experience that's enjoyable, but not essential
Mike Rose
Mike Rose
An expert in the indie games scene, Mike comes to Pocket Gamer as our handheld gaming correspondent. He is the author of 250 Indie Games You Must Play.