I recently deleted PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale from my PS3's harddrive. I had gotten it for free via PS Plus, and I was curious about it. Not because I have much interest in these types of games, but because this one has a lot of characters that I'm very familiar with. It's the kind of crossover that, by all means, I should get excited about. It's a game that I should love.
But I didn't love it. I didn't even like it, honestly. It gets a few things right, but way too many things wrong, on a fundamental level. I feel like the entire game misses the point, and has been missing the point since development started. From the beginning, All-Stars was doomed to fail in its attempt to bring popular franchises together, as it fails to understand what made any of these franchises popular to begin with.
Of course, it's difficult to talk about this particular game without mentioning Super Smash Bros. (which really is the core of the problem here), and the only one of those games that I've played is Brawl. While I wasn't a huge fan of that game either, it did do a lot of things right as far as crossovers go, and it showed a lot of heart and passion, which is certainly more than what can be said about All-Stars. I'll be bringing up Brawl a bunch of times, because I think it serves as an important contrast, and it helps to show how to properly do a crossover.
PlayStation All-Stars could have been a beautiful thing, but what we got was bland, confused and underwhelming. I'll list a number of things that should have changed, starting with what is by far the biggest.
It really, really should have been.
Try counting the amount of characters in All-Stars that started their careers being limited to a 2D plane. Chances are you won't end up with a very big number. It's clear that all these characters are out of their element (even Sackboy, without the three layers of movement). Sure, the PlayStation has had a couple of 2D characters, but none of them are in this fucking game, so whatever. Hell, even if they were, they would be a tiny minority.
In Smash, it makes sense. Mario, Zelda, Pokémon, Metroid and Kirby all started without a Z-axis, so putting these characters in a 2D fighter is a logical choice. It's a no-brainer, really, and it feels natural within the game itself. Again, certain characters from 3D games do appear, but it's a sensible sacrifice to make. In huge crossovers like these, you can't possible make every character feel at home, so the best you can do is going for the majority, and the majority of Nintendo's properties are from the 2D era, so there you go!
But the original PlayStation was all about pushing 3D gaming as the new norm. Many established franchises from the Snenesis era made the switch on this console, and it introduced a bunch of new ones (such as Crash Bandicoot and Tomb Raider) that helped define 3D games as we know them today. Even the logo is an arrangement of the letters P and S as polygonal models. With all this in mind, having a big celebration of the PlayStation in form of a sidescrolling fighter is absolutely bonkers, and it clearly shows how cynical this product really is. It plays like Smash because Smash is succesful, and some executive wanted a slice of the pie. What could have been a genuine declaration of love for these games is instead a hard, cold business decision made by people who couldn't care less.
All-Stars should never have been concieved as a Smash Bros. clone, especially since Smash is pretty much a "fighterized" multiplayer version of Kirby. So what we got is essentially Kirby, but with Kratos. Hilarity aside, I don't think anyone would really want that.
Still, the approach is solid: Taking one of the franchises and making the whole game play like a crossover version of that means that at least one character will feel natural to play as. So the question is, which one would it be in this case? Well, if you ask me, the answer comes in the form of an unlikely, skeletal hero...
(PICTURED: Sir Daniel Fortesque, ready to... save the day?)
I picked up MediEvil alongside All-Stars, meaning it wasn't an entirely disappointing PSN shopping trip. See, this game turned out to be really good. It has simple controls, fun levels, really good puzzles and a surprisingly compelling narrative about a man whose bad luck on the battlefield had him wrongly labeled a coward, and who gets a chance to finally prove himself a hero from beyond the grave.
Though, obviously, the plot isn't the reason I'd have wanted MediEvil to be the fundament of All-Stars. That would be the simplicity of the controls. Here's the basics:
= Basic Attack
= Strong attack
Add something like R1 for a "Special" move (in Sir Daniel's case, this could be the crossbow), and you have a really good setup for a 3D arena fighter. Another notable element is the camera angle in certain sections:
Having the camera be zoomed out with somewhat of a bird-eye view is quite common in this game, especially during boss fights, and it makes the game an even better fit. I don't think I could possibly think of a better style of game for a PlayStation themed crossover. It's such a great balance between being complex enough to be a satisfyingly deep fighter (chain combos would be possible for certain characters), yet simplistic enough the involve characters like Sackboy, Sly Cooper and Fat Princess. It would also be easy to make it so that the button layout can be manually changed to fit each individual character.
There is a game on the Dreamcast called Power Stone. I haven't played it, but from what I've seen of it, I'd say it's probably the closest thing to what I'd like All-Stars to have been. Full 3D space in any other kind of game would have been fine too though, because that at least shows an understanding of what these franchises are, that they were born in 3D, and that they work best in 3D. The result would have been a completely different game, very unlike Smash Bros., which would have felt far more like an actual celebration of the franchises involved.
With the big, interesting one out of the way, let's move on to the second change.
PlayStation All-Stars has an embarrasingly thin amount of content. It's one thing to be a cheap rip-off of something else, but why be this cheap? There is so little to unlock, and most of it is insanely boring stuff like intros/outros for characters (yes, they seriously only have one of each to begin with), unique victory music, fighter icons and backgrounds for said fighter icons. No, that was not a joke. The only thing All-Stars has in spades are these tiny little piece of shit backgrounds for your icon. They actually came up with something even more lame than Brawl's stickers.
Speaking of Brawl, however, at least that game has a shit ton of unlockables that are actually cool, such as trophies (detailed character/object models with fun information, that you can even take pictures of in a seperate photo mode), alternate stage music, new stages and new playable characters. Shiiiet, the only additional characters in All-Stars are paid DLC, which is another problem, especially since having so much stuff be DLC in an already barebones game is simply unacceptable. Even with all the DLC, there wouldn't have been much content overall, but without it, the game's dry as a desert. PlayStation All-Stars is simply a bad deal, unless you get it with Plus, or at least for very cheap.
But it didn't have to be like this. Brawl's oceans of content and clear adoration for each franchise represented is the only thing that All-Stars should have "ripped-off", yet it's one of the only things it didn't. What if we got stuff that was actually exciting to unlock, and kept us coming back for both single and multiplayer sessions, trying to catch every little loving nod to the games we adore so much? It's a hearwarming thought, isn't it? How I wish it had been the case.
More characters were certainly possible. While I'd have loved to see fighters like Crash, Spyro, Abe and Lara Croft make it in, I understand that licensing deals aren't always easy, but even without those faces, there is plenty to harvest from the licenses already obtained. Yet, strangely, it seems like the game was developed with a "one character per franchise" rule (with few exceptions, the most stupid of which being Evil Cole), meaning we didn't get to play as Big Boss, Captain Qwark or even Sly's Bentley or Murray. That's a huge waste of potential, and it annoys me quite a lot, since it makes for an unnecessarily restricted roster.
Generally, the whole game is just hollow from a lack of passion, but nowhere is that more clear than in the soundtrack.
The soundtrack of this game is unbelievably half-assed, to the point where it's actually kind of depressing. It has a nice, somewhat cathcy opening/menu theme, but that's all the praise I can give. Making a good soundtrack may not always be priority number one, but as I've constantly been reminding you, this is a crossover, and it's pretty damn important to get the music right in one of those.
Some iconic themes are present, but several are not, which is mind-boggling. Why in all that is the fuck would you not put in anything from Metal Gear? Or Tekken? Those were kinda big deals for the PlayStation brand back in the day, and not having any recognizable music from either is just fucking stupid! There is no excuse for that, it just sucks, and everyone responsible should feel bad. Ape Escape's main theme isn't in there either. I love that theme, it's unforgettable to me. It's uplifting, fun and fast paced, and it promises a fun, light-hearted adventure that the game then delivers. But hey, guess they didn't like it. Instead, when Spike pulls of his super attack, we get this soulless replacement. Eh, thanks...?
At least the game didn't take out all the iconic music. Some music is entirely unchanged, and some tunes are even remixed. This should satisfy me, right? Based on everything I just wrote, I should at least be happy to hear some new versions of the classics, right? Unfortunately, that would also be a no, since the remixes are dreadful! I'd much rather have all the music be lazily ripped than listen to that half-assed, awkward version of the Sly Cooper theme. But seeing as I'd like to bring up Ape Escape all the time, let's take a look at the one piece from that game which did make it into All-Stars (seriously, they actually did include one song from the game, just not the main theme), the Time Station music. I love this track too, in its original form, but this version is an awkward mess. Let's compare them side by side:
Why is it so slow!? It's a fighting game, if anything it should be faster paced! That's not even half of the problems with it either, it's just the most immediately noticable one. Then there's the irratating change in melodies, and the complete lack of direction. I've heard way better fan remixes. Hell, I've heard some pretty fucking solid fan remixes. By people who didn't get paid. Unlike these people, who somehow did. Lovely.
It's so painfully obvious that nobody gave a single shit about the music in this game, and by extension, that pretty much goes for the whole game. Yet, it did make one desperate attempt to be innovative.
It didn't work out...
Here we are, the final nail in the game's coffin. While it completely and utterly fails in every imaginable way to be a satisfying crossover, at least being a half decent fighter could have saved it. Unfortunately, the fighting is not much fun, since you don't actually do damage through attacks. Actually doing damage through attacks would've been nice, PlayStation All-Stars, why can't we do that? Why can't we have nice things?
Instead of winning the fight by actually being, you know, good at fighting, you now have to punch your opponents until you get a super attack that actually does something. You can get 3 levels of supers. The stronger the super, the more likely you are to wAAAARGH I'M BORED! Goddamn, even writing a few sentences about this system is a snorefest. How the fuck did anyone even survive development?
C'mon, game, just let me beat people up! I know Smash is unorthodox in its mechanics as well, but at least, in those games, every attack matters. Every move can be a finisher. Brawl even had an option to have normal health. Where was that in All-Stars? All it has is an option to build up supers at a faster pace (which you have to use, as "normal" speed is unbearable!), so you can finally get to use one of the three attacks that actually matter!
At the very, very least, the fighting feels a good deal heavier than it does in Smash. It really feels like your attacks do something to the other players, despite this not being the case at all. Unfortunately, when everything else is this bland and boring, a bit of meaty punching does little to raise the entertainment value. It takes far more than that.
Pretty much all I'd want is being able to do traditional damage. It might not be original, but it works, and it might have been enough for me to give the game another chance. But while I'm writing down wishes, why not have bosses other than the final one? Why did the bosses from the games represented only show up as stage hazards? Why let them attack me when I can't attack them? That's just frustrating!
Old fashioned health and a couple of bosses may have saved this game even in its bland 2D form, but combined with the other changes, it could have made for something magical!
TL;DR version: A 3D arena fighter with a reasonable amount of content, a passionate soundtrack and engaging gameplay is what I believe that the concept for PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale could (and should) have evolved into. What we got fell far, far short of that.
Simply ripping off Nintendo's series is stupid enough, but the lack of trying to even compete is just downright pathetic. SuperBot (the developer) was clearly not an optimal choice for a project such as this one. If they had been, they would have fought against the decision to make it a Smash-clone, and they would have tried to make something bigger and better. All-Stars sucks, but it never had to. It never needed to be a copy of something else in order to compete with it. It could have done so while being something unique, doing its own thing, and making a name for itself by leading rather than following.
You know, kinda like the PlayStation.