For the last two weeks, I’ve been enjoying the beta for Sony’s answer to Super Smash Bros., PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale and while the game does do some innovating things on its own, the whole game is still pretty hit and miss for me. As a long time Smash player, I can’t help but compare it to the Nintendo mash-up fighter, and even going in I was pretty skeptical about how the whole game was even suppose to work. Afterall, instead of using a normal heath system, the game instead decided to use that supers system, where AP gain and pulling off supers is the key to victory instead of just beating up your opponents. I suspected that this would lead to some rather unfair situations, where a person good at dodging them would ultimately be the winner, similar to how in older Naruto Storm games, the winner was person who could substitute out of attacks better.
I am glad to say that the super system not only works, but it pretty fun. None of the supers are “easy” to dodge, and to hit with one or avoid one feels pretty darn satisfying. The only thing I’m not sure about is the reasoning behind using a lot of level 1′s or saving up for a level 3, since lots of level 1′s can net you more kills, while a level 3 is almost a guaranteed number of kills. At this point, it seems less situational, and more whatever you feel like doing from the start. I can definitely see more competitive matches being just a flurry of level 1′s (though, that makes sense since level 3′s or 2′s don’t seem worth it in a one-on-one).
But despite having a overall good time with the beta, when comparing it to Smash Bros. I’m not so sure about well the game is. I think it will sell, and will gain a huge following, but there are a lot of little things that just bug me. These are things that both games have in common, and to me it feel like an effort by the developers to remain different from Smash Bros, despite them being really good ideas.
The first is grabbing. In both games, grabbing is used to counter blocking but in this game without a traditional health system, grabs have the added effect of knocking AP out of the people, rather than gaining it for yourself. This adds an interesting element to grabs where you can prevent a person from using their supers, or even better, prevent someone from getting their treasured level 3. Now I think to many people who are also annoyed at grabs, that annoyance stems from grabs taking priority from dodge rolling. In Smash Bros. rolling away and rolling past opponents both had strategic importance, but rolling to your opponent’s opposite side was a good way to punish players for an ill-timed smash attack or a grab. This game doesn’t allow that though, and in the case of fighting a Kratos, doesn’t even allow punishing improperly timed attacks since he can change the direction of his combo.
But I think that is a minor problem, since afterall, you can train yourself to realize when its proper to roll away or past enemies just like how you can train yourself about all the other difference between PSASBR and Smash. Still, what really gets me though about grabbing is throwing directions. As any Smash player can tell you, a grab offers you five options: A button to deal more damage, and then a throw up, down, forward, or behind. I’ve this seen grabs used to set up some nice combo attacks and plus, being able to choose a throwing direction gave you some amount over the space control of the game, but more on that aspect later.
In PSASBR, grabs are done with the right analogue stick, and the direction you choose to push it is the direction your throw your opponent. While up and down remain the same, this does change one important factor: forward and back. To me, this makes me feel like I’m in less control of the fight when I can throw someone based on what side of theirs I’m on and especially hard to set up attacks on multiple people or combos. While the grab has important gameplay elements, it feels like they only have one purpose: to knock out AP, rather than being what I like to use grabs for, control.
This second issue it a bit more nitpicky, but it does make it harder for both Smash players and newbie gamers to enter a game of PSASBR and that is he relationship between directional input, and attacks. While this isn’t an overall problem since forward attacks and neutrals feel natural, up and down attacks can feel a little weird. For a lot of character, their 3 down attacks don’t feel like down attacks but instead like another forward attack. Radec for example has a grenade launcher, a flamethrower, and a back moving teleport all mapped to a down plus attack buttons.
Again, while not so much of an issue since people can retrain themselves, it just feels slightly unnatural to have moves not attack in the direction you put in, unlike Smash where up attacks protect your top space and down attacks protect your bottom space.
There are more tiny details that irk me about what I’ve seen in the PSASBR beta (different character colors for example are hardly noticeable), but the biggest aspect of PSASBR vs Smash Bros. for me though is space control. In Smash Bros. controlling space is vital and many of the characters are balanced to either control a lot of space weakly or a bit of space strongly (this breaks when items are removed, but whatever that’s a different discussion). This is of course important since you are trying to knock opponents off the stage so in that regards, doesn’t mean as much in PSASBR, but space control also determine your overall damage output. That is to say, if you are controlling more space then the more damage is going to be dealt to your opponent, and in PSASBR that means more AP.
I’m not sure if this was intentional or just by accident, but the developers don’t seem to care about space control. Quite a few characters like Radec with his sniper and Sly with his counter, basically control the whole map. Actually, in Sly’s case its more like he controls whatever space his opponents are, but my point is, that I think some characters are just better and dealing damage and getting out their supers when going up against others. This might change in the full game, but of all the characters I’ve played (beta and GameStop Demo), Big Daddy, Sweet Tooth, and Fat Princess seem to have the hardest times from having somewhat limited range and being the slower characters when compared to Jak, Radec, Sly, Kratos and at least Parappa is fast and has alternate ways to gain AP.
I want to stress again how much fun this game is, and I think it the developers have done a really good job at giving people another option for a competitive Smash-like game. I just don’t think it is as much comparing apples to oranges as some people want to believe and while I know the accusations that Superbot is just copying Smash Bros. (which I now know they aren’t, as their own twist on things are pretty novel), perhaps it would have been best for them to be a bit more “inspired” by Smash Bros. rather than try to be different at everything.