As cool and edgy as it may seem to make a pattern-match dismissal of Playstation All Stars as a mere rip off of Super Smash Bros, the former is the best and most technical mascot brawler of the two. While the fighting in developer Superbot Entertainment’s four player mascot brawler is simplistic, the game differentiates itself from Smash Bros and more conventional fighters in interesting ways.
The attacks – mapped to three face buttons – are easy to grasp and pull off, and the game shows the influence of the professional fighting game alumni on the development staff by having a surprisingly deep combo system. This system is explained with a helpful tutorial that outlines the air-juggle heavy combos for each character, and a few hours of online play also had me witnessing some combos that players had improvised.
Unlike other fighting game players, the game doesn’t have you watching a life bar or being concerned with getting knocked out of the ring. Instead, All Stars encourages and rewards aggressiveness by having you build up an “AP” meter by doing damage so that you can power super attacks that will kill off players. This results in every match revolving around a ball of scuffling players, with all of the characters in the game being designed in ways that cater to either excelling within that ball or dealing damage to it from the edges.
The buildup of ones meter creates some interesting moments. Observant players can pick on opponents that have amassed a large amount of AP by throwing them -performed by flicking the right stick – and stealing AP. Many of the in game items that pop out at random also make AP orbs fall out of players you hit them with, leading to some great moments where you’ll take some AP from unaware players and score a kill with a super attack you’ve earned moments earlier.
The character roster is filled with oddities and great fits alike. It feels a bit cheap to have two versions of inFamous’ Cole in the game, even if they both play a bit differently. Big Daddy from the multiplatform Bioshock series is also an odd entry, but fits in quite well as a bullish brute with some interesting magic abilities. In fact, all of the characters have moves and super attacks that cleverly integrate flagships of each respective franchise with necessary fighting mechanics: Sackboy can reflect projectiles and players with his bounce pad, Nathan Drake can fall through rubble to attack enemies below, Parappa the Rapper can use his microphone as a grapple, and so on.
The super attacks follow suit with being satisfying though, at times, they can be challenging to use. By filling your super meter to one of three levels, you can unleash attacks that’ll range from a high-risk gamble to take out a few players to a cinematic flourish that’ll clear every opponent off of the screen in one shot. MediEvil’s Sir Daniel, a character built around dealing slow but wide swaths of damage to tight clumps of enemy players, has what seems like one of the weakest level one supers. However, pop that group of players into the air with one of Sir Daniel’s launching attacks and the seemingly weak upwards spurt of upwards lighting will vaporize most of them. In direct juxtaposition to such difficult to use super attacks are characters like Ratchet whose level one super has him whipping out a giant minigun to kill every player in a fairly good distance in front of him. The characters with highly advantageous and easy to use super attacks can still be beaten with skillful play or a quick interrupting attack, but it can seem unfair at times.
The levels in the game also blend references with functionality. One stage has you fighting aboard the cargo plane from Uncharted 3, moving from a close quarters scuffle inside the cargo hold to the rope-bound crates dangling miles above the desert below. Soon afterwards, the plane flies into the sky-city of Columbia from Bioshock Infinite as you dodge attacks from the airborne goliath, Songbird. Another level starts as a flat area but changes as it’s slowly built using Littlebigplanet’s creation tools. Within moments, the Buzz quiz spokesperson asks questions and throws AP-draining pies at players that choose the wrong answer. Most of the gameplay implications of these mashups can be reductively described as have players moving out of glowing targets to avoid projectiles, and it’d be better if there was a little more creativity like the previously mentioned two levels.
The gameplay, both online and through local modes, runs incredibly well with no slowdown and barely any lag, the latter of which plagues most fighting games. That is, of course, once you navigate through the menus, which take a little getting used to and, in the character customization screen where you view unlocks, have a curiously long load time.
Unfortunately, the online play suffers an odd and particularly damning glitch. Sometimes the character you choose to play as in online matches doesn’t end up being the character you get to play during the match. Heck, sometimes the character you pick won’t even be in the match you end up joining at all. In ranked online matches, your progress to the next “belt level” – the skill brackets you can advance into by winning matches – is negatively affected by losses and leaving matches, so this makes the technical issue even more grievous. The glitch isn’t unique to one version, as I’ve had it occur on both the Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita versions of the game.
The Vita functionality is also worth mentioning, as the portable version comes with every new copy of the PS3 version in addition to being available separately. Players on either version can compete against each other regardless of what system they’re using, and the game plays just as well on the portable version as it does on the console. Also, your online rank and character experience, the latter being used to unlock costumes and tidbits, carries over between each version of the game. Oddly enough, the progress in the arcade story mode doesn’t carry over, which may be because the Vita version has a list of trophies separate from the PS3 version.
If the game didn’t have such a serious bug, as occasional as it can sometimes be, I would have scored the game much higher. It’s a fantastic brawler with characters that are all fun to use, and it’s been in steady rotation during my commutes, parties, and online gaming sessions. It’s a good package to pick up as is, and will prove to be a must buy should Superbot Entertainment fix the glitch that, in a competitive online fighting game environment, is hard to forgive.
Update: Superbot Entertainment has announced an impending patch that will fix the character select glitch, among others
Note: The Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita games were played for review and were provided by the publisher.