Playstation All-Stars: Battle Royale is a case of “could’ve been.” Sony and SuperBot’s answer to Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. is a brawler for PlayStation fans that, while frantic, makes some missteps along the way. Despite mediocre reception and fading fan enthusiasm over time, the game is still a glimmer in the PlayStation library. PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale is a series that should continue…but now is not the time.
There’s no way around it: PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale tries to be Smash Bros. A mascot-driven fighting game focusing on frantic multiplayer battles? Not subtle. But despite comparisons, PS All-Stars has some original ideas in its arsenal. In contrast to the “ring-out” points in Smash Bros., PS All-Stars focuses on Super moves to defeat opponents, which can be leveled up and banked for best effect. It offers a risk-reward element where saving up your energy for a stage-clearing Level 3 Super or taking out enemies quickly with a Level 1 Super are both fair game. Sony’s online infrastructure is also miles ahead of Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s, while introducing new DLC characters and tournaments along the way. And with iconic Sony characters like Parappa the Rapper, Uncharted’s Nathan Drake, and Twisted Metal’s Sweet Tooth, Sony had the potential to stand toe-to-toe with Nintendo during its time.
But Playstation All-Stars is flawed, so flawed that the comparison to Smash Bros. is more a term of endearment than a copycat claim. The Super system makes basic attacks near useless, since repeated damage against an enemy can be easily reversed if they attack you back. The tug-o-war damage system makes overtime matches a routine annoyance. Many Super moves are also unbalanced (heaven help you if you face someone playing as Kratos), with little defense against even the basic moves. But the biggest problem with PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale is how it treats the PlayStation name. Compared to the fan service avalanche of Super Smash Bros., PS All-Stars’ roster is mostly composed of characters that don’t represent PlayStation well. Sure, the iconic Parappa and popular Nathan Drake are great, but without any of the early Sony icons like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, or Lara Croft, the PlayStation name feels hollow. And while you can blame licensing for those omissions, that still doesn’t excuse the third-party characters, who do nothing but act as product placement. DmC Dante and Metal Gear Rising Raiden only serve to represent their own games, not PlayStation, and Bioshock’s Big Daddy represents a series that originally debuted exclusively on Microsoft platforms.
But PlayStation All-Stars is still a series worth continuing…just not right now. The problems that stand with PS All-Stars are twofold: a flawed combat system and status as a tribute to PlayStation. The combat system is the easiest to fix of the two, but in order to eliminate the issues of the original, PS All-Stars would need a heavy revision. Character balancing would be important to avoid mass spamming of Colonel Radec’s projectile attacks and Kratos’ overpowered combos. Two characters attacking each other back and forth shouldn’t be a see-saw situation; the damage dealt should have lasting effect. A fatigue system could remedy the back-and-forth tedium of combat, giving skillful attackers an advantage, even after being attacked in return. It’s a simple way to give basic attacks a true purpose.
But representation of PlayStation is another story. As said before, Sony’s first mascots are usually the ones that people think of when they think of PlayStation. Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot, Lara Croft, etc. The problem is that, at the moment, these characters don’t belong to Sony. Spyro and Crash belong to Activision, while Tomb Raider belongs to Square Enix. These two companies produce the series’ games for multiple platforms today, but these characters wouldn’t be where they are today without their PlayStation debuts. Due to licensing, these characters are in the hands of their respective publishers, but as characters to represent PlayStation, you really have no better examples. However, in order for the character to be used in PS All-Stars, Sony would need to do one of two things: license the character’s likeness or buy the character’s franchise entirely. Both are expensive propositions, and while there have been efforts to get Crash Bandicoot back in Sony’s hands, it’s not looking likely. Sony cannot make another tribute to PlayStation until they have the biggest icons in their roster. Otherwise, the series’ role as a representation of all things PlayStation is incomplete.
I hope that someday Sony is able to give us a real tribute to PlayStation, with all of the characters that have made the brand so iconic and a combat system that provide meaning to the basic moves. It’s not impossible, and while SuperBot has been confirmed to be working on a new IP, it’d be nice to see PlayStation All-Stars return for another round, this time in its true form: a love letter to PlayStation fans that doesn’t skimp on the gameplay polish.