How do you like your fighting games? Personally, I like mine with a sizable dose of pop culture references and eye-melting color palettes infused with a healthy dose of humor that's hilariously self-aware. That's what you get with JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: All-Star Battle, the most gleefully insane anime-inspired fighter the genre has seen in some time.
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: All-Star Battle (PS3)
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Release Date: April 29, 2014
If you've never read a single volume of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure or watched an episode of the anime, you've probably at least seen a meme or two inspired by the classic series here and there online - does "ZA WARUDOOOO!" ring any bells? It's an influential part of otaku culture with flamboyant leads, strong female characters, and droves of references to classic rock and pop singers peppered all the way throughout. If you ever wondered what it would be like to squeeze your favorite pop culture icons from the '80s and '90s into one enormous media property, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure would be the product. With vampires. And epic showdowns.
All-Star Battle is an excellent companion to the franchise and the definitive JoJo game, rising above even that of the self-titled Dreamcast fighter. But if you're not up on the tale so far, you'll want to dig into Story mode (different from Campaign mode) and educate yourself on the world of JoJo. Unfortunately blocks of text are used in place of what could have been gorgeous cutscenes to advance the plot. These tidbits are at least informative enough to pull you into the fold, so you don't feel completely lost on JoJo lore. It's lacking, but not any more so than most fighters that attempt to include some sort of narrative mode.
Story mode sets the stage for each battle with special conditions you must work against in order to move on. For instance, your enemy's health may regenerate, or you take a hit as far as your strength goes. You can either deal with them or spend in-game currency to bolster your chances of succeeding. You can hit up the store between battles to purchase stat-boosting aids that will up your attack power, reduce the enemy's health bar, or one of many other boons that allow you to quickly run your foe's face into the dirt and land a K.O. where you may not have been able to in another fighter. This handicap allows players of all skill levels to flourish, and even if you're not struggling it's fun to spend earned capital on making yourself so overpowered the next match is absolutely laughable.
Campaign mode is a bit more confusing, especially since it should seem that Campaign and Story would be one and the same. Rather than progressing naturally through the JoJo story arcs, you must defeat opponents to maintain blocks of energy assigned to you. You're afforded ten blocks to start with, and when you run out of energy, you'll have to purchase more with your in-game currency or it's game over. Of course, it's not as if the game wants you to fail, as it will hand out energy to ensure you can stay in the game. You can unlock additional taunts for characters as well as poses (and JoJo characters love their poses) in Campaign mode, but overall it felt less like a viable companion option to playing through the story and more like a tacked-on addition.
No matter which mode you choose to engage in, the actual brawls themselves are what you came for, no doubt. There's a wide assortment of characters and specific play styles that run the gamut from "dude on a horse" to "dude with a creepy spirit looming over his shoulder." You've got three core attacks to choose from, ranging from weak blows to powerful moves that you can chain together as a combo. Tap the light attack button repeatedly for an automatic combo that ends up in a super move, or dodge to save your precious health.
Out of all the standard fighting maneuvers, however, Style is your best friend. Depending on the character you've chosen as your avatar, you can summon Stand fighters to aid in combat, pull off special moves via Vampirism or while mounted, and pummel your opponent into oblivion. There's a good bit of differentiation between each Style, and it offers an interesting balance between fighters to keep things feeling fresh, even if you bounce from Jolene Cujoh to Wamuu in the blink of an eye.
But that's all information you might end up having to glean from the internet or via trial and error. Sadly, All-Star Battle just isn't very forthcoming about how you pull off specific moves or some of the more complex combos, instead opting for move lists via the menu with the buttons required instead of running down how you need to pull each thing off. And while it's fun to hammer off combos once you've figured them out and can unleash them with little trouble, sometimes combatants take a while to finish their specials or complete moves because of all the posing and the flourishes. It's awesome to watch, but believe it or not, that can get a little old in the heat of battle. Still, it's fun where it counts, especially given the colorful scenes and impeccable attention to detail.
Online play leaves a lot to be desired, sadly, with player matches offering only two slots for each battle. You can't spectate or save replays, and significant lag will plague lesser connections. It's fun for a few matches, but nowhere near as robust as offerings like Street Fighter or even BlazBlue. You'll get the most enjoyment out of 1 on 1 couch matches, but for two JoJo fans that wouldn't be out of place as a supplement to a weekend-long Stardust Crusaders viewing session.
There's a meaty roster of 40 combatants from all eight current story arcs from the Phantom Blood arc to Diamond Is Unbreakable, all the way up to JoJolion. When applicable, some characters have Stands (think "spirit" guardians -- it just works) or mounts like horses. You can actually fight on or off said horses, but fighting on horseback is a lot more fun sometimes, especially when the horse is as lithe as your fighter. Jonathan Joestar, Jotaro Kujo, Lisa Lisa, Gyro Zeppeli...they're all on-board, and half the fun is seeing who you'll unlock next.
Unfortunately, due to copyright law, a good portion of familiar names have been changed, some in hilariously strange ways. For instance, Killer Queen is now Deadly Queen, and J. Geils becomes Centrefold. The name changes are slightly amusing in a tongue-in-cheek manner since they're still intriguing nods to the original subject matter, but it's a little disappointing to see the altered text.
Overall, despite its shortcomings, Jojo's Bizarre Adventure: All-Star Battle is a colorful spectacle that both fans of the anime and future fans of the anime will want to pick up and experience, even if just to watch a man use only his upper body strength after hopping off his horse to hold his own in combat. It's funky, gorgeous, and oozing with style. And where it comes up short, it simultaneously delivers in terms of fanservice and content. You won't be putting it down for quite some time, unless, you know, you need some time to eat a few more breads in your life.
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