Yes, it’s like Super Smash Bros. Well observed.
PlayStation All-Stars was always going to criticised for being a clone of Nintendo’s chaotic brawl’um up series, and rightfully so, but why people think that is a bad thing is somewhat beyond me. Cast your mind back to time of the original PlayStation, in the late ’90s Matrix Software developed a Sony exclusive game called Alundra, a Zelda game in all but name. It was great and best of all it was on a platform that obviously had no chance of ever getting an official Zelda game. The same is true for PlayStation All-Stars, Smash Bros. games are great fun and to have one on the PlayStation 3 and Vita is nothing but a good thing.
The real question is whether it’s actually any good, so lets take a look at the core of any pseudo-fighting game, the fighting engine. Arena based fighting games – that is ones where you are not forced to face your opponent – have one serious issue when working in a complex fighting engine. The issue is that you are not always facing your opponent, this means that traditional direction dependent Street Fighter commands are no longer feasible. This is where the apparent simplicity of All-Stars hides its complexities. Your face buttons give you access to three attacks and a jump button. Each attack is then modified into a different type of attack when pressed along with up, down and left or right (the same attack, no facing direction remember!). Attacks are also different when executed while your character is airborne and they will be airborne quite a lot of the time. The oddness kicks in when you realise that your characters do not have tradition life bars. Instead we see a familiar super meter that is filling as you land attacks on your opponent. This is the key to scoring a win. Once your super meter is stocked to one of three levels you can unleash a super attack simply by pulling R2. Any opponent hit by a super will be killed, you will score a point and they will respawn. The trick is knowing when to try for a kill and deciding what level to use in what situation. Generally speaking lower level supers are harder to land but obviously charge up quicker, whereas higher level supers can easily land you multiple kills in one go. Matches are played with up to four players in a free for all or 2 vs 2 setup so thing can get pretty hectic when the supers start flying.
It’s worth noting that by default the current score is not displayed during a battle, while this is extremely confusing at the start it does add some tension to a frantic match where you’ve not kept up with everyone’s kills and adds some drama to the post match scoreboard.
The the mechanics are simple, albeit unfamiliar at first and it’s a huge amount of fun to smash your friends around the morphing multi-platform stages. I’m not sure it really has enough there to be adopted by the fighting game community as a serious title but that’s fine. There is still a place for this game and its place, despite full online multiplayer support, is at home with friends.
There is a lot to like about All-Stars but at the same time it does feel a little lacking. Quite frankly Sony hasn’t capitalised on the right opportunities. They’ve seen that their perspective roster is a little thin and pulled in some favours from other companies to beef things up. This is where it all feels a little off to me. Why have two versions of Cole from inFamous but keep Jak & Daxter as a single character? The same mistake is made with Ratchet & Clank. Both Daxter and Clank have had their own games and are easily iconic enough to stand up by themselves especially when you consider the inclusion of Spike from Ape Escape. It’s a real misfire. The addition of borrowed characters such as the Big Daddy, Heihachi Mishima & Dante are fun but they scream of a company not being confident in their own properties. If you’re going to make a game like this go the whole hog and commit to it.
One point that I cannot stress enough is that if you own both a PlayStation 3 and a Vita then this is an absolute steal. The package sports two new Sony buzz words that I hope we see a lot more of. Firstly the game has been released under the Cross-Buy banner. Simply put this means if you buy the PlayStation 3 game you will get the downloadable version of the Vita game for free. A nice bonus but even more important when you consider the next buzz word! Cross-Play, this means that you can play the the home and portable versions of the game against each other on multiplayer matches. While the setup is a little fiddly the actual gameplay is flawless. While playing a four-player free-for-all at home we ended up with three players using controller and a fourth joining via the Vita with no issues at all.