Beating up Kratos with Sackboy: How PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royal is its own Smash bro
You can't look at PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale and not make immediate comparisons to Nintendo's flagship fighting series, Super Smash Bros.. Up to four players control characters across PlayStation history and fight across dynamic arenas using items. The menu, controls, and aesthetics are all so blatantly drawn from that inspiration that game director Omar Kendall has had a difficult time explaining what sets All-Stars apart. “I'll be honest, we kind of took it for granted. I don't think we were quite prepared. I think that because our game looks so much like Smash that people were like, 'Oh, it's Smash.' So they wanted to play it like Smash,” Kendall told the Penny Arcade Report. There are no indications of health, no deaths from falling off a level, no ledge hang. “We've almost had to un-learn or un-teach people some of the lessons they picked up in Smash and say we are trying to do something new while fully acknowledging that obviously we take inspiration not just from Smash but a lot of fighting games.” Instead of health bars, or damage indicators, All-Stars gameplay centers around the use of super attacks, which characters can perform after generating enough AP, or action points. AP is earned by successful combos and item use. Kendall compared the cycle of play to real-world sports. “The way I think about it is a traditional sport like basketball or soccer, where you're kind of playing to get the ball into scoring position,” Kendall said. “In our game that's fighting to get your energy. Once you have that energy, once you're in scoring position, it's about using those super attacks to score those points.”It's a different sort of design, but it feels natural if you can leave behind the lessons Smash Bros. has taught for 13 years. For example, that game tends to focus on quick hits and single attacks, while if you want to succeed in All-Stars, you need to chain together combos with regular success so you can build up AP. These combos feel like something more out of a fighting game or the character's source material than a simplified party game, as I could feel with every swing of Heavenly Sword's Nariko. “If you play Kratos in half a dozen games, you have very specific expectations,” Kendall told the Penny Arcade Report. “I know when I do square, square, triangle, I better see that very familiar combo. So there's an obligation on our part to meet that expectation. In a lot of cases, the goal is to recreate the character as accurately as we possibly can, while making sure he doesn't completely destroy our experience.” I was a big fan of both Heavenly Sword and Nariko, and the feel of playing her in this game feels like I'm right back to the original game. It's akin to seeing an old friend you were afraid would never get their chance to say hello again. As I focused more on chaining together combos and built up my AP, I was eager to see what kind of super attack Nariko would have. Every character in All-Stars has three levels of super attack, with each level being slightly more powerful. For Nariko's level 1 super, she calls in Kai, who fires projectiles for a short time at enemies. Her level 2 super summons an immense cannon, while her level 3 super turns her into the avatar of the Goddess as she was at the end of Heavenly Sword. The fact you have to earn these super attacks instead of being granted them via item as in Super Smash Bros. Brawl makes them all the more satisfying to pull off. I only laughed maniacally a little as Nariko's cannon rained death upon my enemies, or Jak's light form cleared the battlefield, or Heihachi launched a missile into space with his enemies chained to the top.
All-Stars is equal parts fan service, fighting game, and silly party
That last description may sound familiar to Tekken fans; it's Heihachi's ending in Tekken 5. Kendall said that, while he and the team are fans of fighting games and they are taking “a traditional fighting game approach,” they understand not everyone will come for the combat. Some may just want that dose of nostalgia. For me, that's seeing Nariko. For others, it could be a reminder of Tekken 5. “It's a fan service type of game,” Kendall said. “We look at it very much like a celebration.” The characters aren't the only examples, Kendall told me. The levels of All-Stars are mash-ups of two PlayStation games, such as God of War and Patapon or Uncharted 3 and Bioshock Infinite. In the former, Hades smashes the level while Patapon appear in the background to attack him. In the latter, players begin in the hold of the cargo plane from Uncharted 3, which eventually soars higher into the clouds, revealing a background view of Colombia and Songbird. The PAX demo didn't show score as the match progressed, but Kendall said that was to encourage a more frenzied playstyle. “We feel it adds to the tension when you don't really know who's in the lead. All you can do is play as hard as you can and hope you're winning,” Kendall said. There will be an option to toggle score display on, as well as other customization such as item spawns, teams, and character appearance. All-Stars will also feature online tournaments and a single-player campaign that will explain, for instance, “why Kratos is fighting in this crazy, wacky battle.” “The idea for this game is has been around for a really long time,” Kendall told the Penny Arcade Report. “We just finally got around to making it.”