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by Angelo M. D’Argenio
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale was one of the games that the fighting game community was really looking forward to at E3 this year. Billed as a sort of hardcore friendly Smash Bros., PS All-Stars was supposedly going to redefine the party fighter genre. It was going to be appealing to the casual fanbase for all the reasons that Smash Bros. is while still making a game come down to skill above everything else. There was a lot of buzz surrounding the title, but only so much information that could be gathered simply by watching gameplay videos. Luckily, E3 gave me my first chance to go hands-on with the title.
First of all, I hate to say it, but I need to criticize the Sony booth creators for their decision regarding the monitors they used for the demo. Fighting game developers should know that button lag absolutely kills the fighting game experience, and these monitors were so laggy it was hard to tell when a button input actually registered. As a result, I couldn't actually tell what speed the game was supposed to run at, or how quickly battle was supposed to take place. Instead, the game boiled down to mashing half the time, and I have a feeling that's how the game is supposed to play.
You see, you don't actually deal damage by attacking your foes, you just build up a super meter. Obviously, longer combos build up super meter quicker, but light attacks are so short ranged that they are practically worthless. Instead, it seems safe to simply spam heavy attacks the entire game, occasionally blocking if the opponent has one which is better than yours. To throw, you flick the right stick, and this was incredibly awkward, but since blocking is pretty much a guaranteed defense, throws are necessary against anyone who decides to turtle up. However, throwing actually takes meter away from the thrower, and this is such a drastic penalty that most players at E3 didn't even bother.
The only way you can score kills is by using super attacks and some supers are simply much better than others. In the previous build, Parappa's skateboard level 2 was much better than anything else in the game. This time around, Big Daddy from Bioshock (one of the two new characters) was the star of the show. Using his level 2 made him faster and made any attack count as a kill. Simply spamming his forward + triangle shoulder ram and using this super when it became available routinely made me the winner of any match I played to the tune of 16 kills or more.
Characters can use special moves with the O button, but for the most part it just isn't worth it. Every special move in the game, even those that are part of dedicated special move characters, are either too slow or too situational to be worth using. In fact, only Parappa's specials felt like they had any use whatsoever. His down special allows him to just place a boom box that gives him meter for free, and I would very frequently run away to a corner and build meter up to level 2 before skateboarding all over my opponent's faces.
PS All-Stars was supposed to remove the crappy elements of multi-player Smash Bros, but instead it just augments them. Sure, you can't get robbed of kills and the stage can't actually cause you to die, but the process of running away until you are able to stab someone in the back is alive and well, even more so because there is no threat of death outside of getting hit by a super. When you use one of your supers it turns into a run-away game where everyone simply stays away from the dangerous character.
In fact, the very nature of the game makes the time oriented nature of the game's matches frustrating. If the game ticks down to 30 or so seconds and your meter is out, there's no way you'll be able to build another one to score a kill. So if you are already losing at that point, there's no reason to keep playing. If you are winning, on the other hand, it behooves you to bury yourself into a corner and do nothing.