Playstation All Stars Battle Royale is heading our way in November of this year, but the developers have elected to release a limited beta to test their server load and give us a first taste of the action coming our way this fall. There's many a fan eager to get their hands on the software, as it's Sony's answer to Nintendo's hugely successful Super Smash Bros series. The similarities can't be ignored, but it will be up to Sony to try and capture the same charm that Nintendo did over a decade ago. The focus of this beta is expressly for network testing, so we'll be working under the assumption that changes can and will be made. I've discussed the Super Smash Bros Brawl mod Project M extensively here, so that will be a point of reference for many aspects of the gameplay I've experienced.
The bulk of the interest for the game is of course in how the gameplay feels. It follows a similar attack input system to Jump Super/Ultimate Stars, the import-only Battle Stadium D.O.N. and of course, the Super Smash series, but with the addition of a jump button. X will send your characters skyward and allow the game-type standard of an air jump. Square, Triangle and O are attack 1, 2 and 3 respectively. Each attack button can be used with the dpad/analog in a neutral state, as well as a forward, down and up variant which significantly change your attack. For instance, Sweet Tooth will plant a land mine with Down+O, but neutral O is a molotov cocktail to be tossed as a projectile and Up+O will result in him crashing two molotovs above his head for a fiery burst. For the most part, your Up+ attacks will aim either straight up or an upward angle, even occasionally giving a boost from the ground or in the air. Down+ attacks often place something on the ground or aim at a downward angle. With some exceptions, it's relatively intuitive, again like Smash Bros. Some moves naturally combo into each other, like Kratos' square attacks with the Blades of Athena, but there isn't a lot of natural comboing via switching from square to triangle. If you're coming from something like Marvel Vs Capcom 3 and expecting magic combos, you'll be in for quite the surprise.
Those attacks pale in comparison to your Supers. Supers are 100% the name of the game with PSASBR. With the version of the beta available to test, the only way to score points is to land a hit with your Super moves. As you strike with your normal moves, a meter at the bottom of your screen will build, indicating if your level 1, 2 or 3 Supers are available. Level 1s have a tendency to be short range melee attacks; Level 2s are usually controllable, whether it be Sweet Tooth's remote missile, Fat Princess' riding chicken or Parappa's skateboard; Level 3s are enormous area effects or transformations, like Kratos donning the Ares Armor, holding the Blade of Olympus and growing to god size for huge sweeping attacks. Level 3s are the endgame for a lot of characters, since with some good timing and skill, you can rack up 4-6 kills in one go, as opposed to one or two with a level 1 or level 2. There are of course exceptions, like with Sly Cooper's level 2 which should net you a few kills across the screen as you jetpack around freely.
|Land hits, build those supers and strike! Or lose.|
Movement on the ground feels solid enough. When you push a direction, you go that direction. A key facet that's lacking is the ability to dash. Your walk speed is your only speed and it feels very limiting; most games that let you move about on the ground allot some kind of dash, whether it be a quick boost forward or an all out run. A handful of moves give boosts in the air and the ground, but that's not a fitting replacement. Speaking of aerial movement, it feels a bit stunted since air recovery is moderately automatic. When you're sent flying, you'll eventually come out of the free fall state and be able to act again, but there's no way to act on this manually. If you hit a wall or are "spiked" into the floor, you're at the mercy of the game, since there's no way to tech cancel off of a wall or floor (I hate to keep going back to that "like in Smash Bros" comparison, but it does make the game feel much faster). If spiked onto the floor, you have the option to roll as you get up, but there's essentially no On The Ground (OTG) angle in this game. If your opponent hits the ground or is knocked down by your attack, you'll have to wait until they get up to continue any combo. This leads to a lot of prowling to time an attack on someone just as they get to their feet, which can be annoying. For aerial combat, keep in mind that you can't air-block. You can dodge, but blocking is a no-go. Also, you can't activate Supers in mid-air which is puzzling, as the entire crux of this game is tagging opponents with Supers. Even transformation Supers must be done from the ground. You also won't be naturally cancelling any kind of attack into Supers, so learn those hitboxes...when the more public beta comes this fall.
So come all ye Sony faithful and see the six characters that we have been given to try out. When you go into the beta, you'll be greeted by the face of Kratos, the God of War. Kratos has all the weapons you love to use on hand amongst his various attacks, including Medusa's head to stun enemies with a blinding light and a long distance, chargeable bow. Parappa the Rapper makes his return and brings with him a skateboard, a boombox and kicks and punches of fury. His level 1 Super is a flash kick style move as he recites the iconic "Kick, Punch, It's all in the mind" lyric. Fat Princess, who I admittedly know nothing about as far as her original game, is available with an army of minions who will drop bombs, use flamethrowers, as well as being a melee force to be reckoned with. Sweet Tooth shows up with brutal attacks using chainsaws, molotov cocktails and land mines, not to mention a level 3 that has him transforming (or equipping) the Mecha Tooth. If you can activate this from an isolated corner, you're guaranteed some effective killing. Radec brings a Killzone arsenal befitting any fan. His ability to disappear as he drops mines, shoot foes from clear across the stage and attach explosives from afar makes him a force to be reckoned with, but he's less than stellar up close. If you can keep your distance (and stay above) from your opponents, he can be annoying in the best way, littering the field with explosives. Last but not least is Sly Cooper, who becomes invisible when blocking. This can be a detriment with everything going on, as it's easy to lose yourself in the chaos. Sly has all the sneakiness you'd expect, leaving traps all over, throwing stun grenades and zipping around with respectable speed, leaving paralyzing electricity in his wake. I do have a sincere gripe with Sly's level 3 Super: When activated, it brings up a viewfinder that causes some players to not be able to see themselves. It's bad enough that a simple point and click means a kill, but not being able to see yourself because someone activated an attack is a terrible mechanic in any video game. If one thing needs a sincere tweak, it's this. Many more characters are in store come the official release and it stands to be seen who will be present in the fall's public beta. If you have a favorite, be sure to let us know! Personally, I'm surprised that we didn't see either Jak or Ratchet in the beta.
Only four stages are present in this beta and each is a combination of two Sony franchises. You have combos of Jak and Daxter plus Hot Shots Golf; God of War and Patapon, Little Big Planet plus Buzz; and finally Ratchet and Clank mixed with a God of War Hydra situation. There is a ton of stuff going on in these stages. I'm ok with levels giving you a bit of push back, but it is a tad annoying to have to answer quiz questions by standing on a particular platform when an angry evil ice cream man is trying to malatov cocktail you off of it. The Hades level is probably the best balanced, as you can easily tell what's coming and dodge it if you pay attention. While on the subject of game changers, let's talk items. For the beta, there were only a handful - Spear of Destiny from God of War, as well as the Hermes Boots. The rocket launcher can be aimed in directions and fired rapidly, as long as you have ammo. The Hedgehog Grenade, unfortunately, can't be directed. Up or down options on that one would have been a big help and there's no logical reason why you can't. The items are interesting enough and a kind of necessity in a game like this to keep it from being too stale. Yes, someone who wrote about Project:M's character balance is saying "items are a good thing" - I like fun too.
|Hot Shots Golf is a stretch...|
The network load was the focus of the beta on the backend, so let's touch on that. Once connected to a match, I had few troubles staying connected and keeping up with the action. Once in a while, I would get an "Opponents found, connecting" message and end up back at the character select screen, but that's to be expected at this point. Less often than the above issue, I would get matches that would see my character teleporting all over the place, getting hit by attacks that were nowhere near me. Again, this is a case of the network acting funny and not something to criticize yet, just something to be aware of. Things I do have to complain about as far as the network goes have to do with characters, namely some of the level 3 Supers. For Sly, when you activate the level 3 Super, you aim at enemies through a view finder, and if you can just "click" on the enemy, you get a kill. Once this ends, you should normally be back to fighting; sometimes the viewfinder stays up and you're stuck with a crosshair moving the focus of the screen about, leaving people out of view to hope for the best. Sweet Tooth's transformation would occasionally not work. You would see the transformation animation, but not be in the Mecha Tooth, which essentially leaves you unable to gain points via kills. Parappa's just seems to kill everyone on the screen, but I'm quite honestly not entirely sure what the mechanic behind this was.
So yes, a public beta will be coming in the fall and hopefully a huge cross section of players will have access to play this and give feedback. The game does come out in November, so I can't imagine a ton of changes will be present in any kind of day-one patch. When the public beta goes live, we'll aim to be involved and give an update of things that may have changed (or on things that should have but didn't). Join us moving forward as we celebrate Sony's character heritage. If you played the beta, please let us know what you think. If you have a question, post it here or contact me @sbfantom on Twitter and I'll answer to the best of my ability. Thoughts? Complaints? Did I miss something? Let us know here in the comment section.