The basic conceit of the game is that Sony decided to clone the concepts behind Nintendo's Smash Bros. series or Capcom's Power Stone. PlayStation All-Stars fits that characterization almost exactly: characters from various video game worlds battle in arenas, environments are pulled from recognizable franchises, and everything boils into an evolving bucket of crazy.
But that doesn't discount that PlayStation All-Stars was a fun game to play, with some unique ideas that turn it into the video game equivalent of the instant-classic PlayStation television ad "Michael." Sure, it's Smash Bros. with PlayStation characters, but given the choice between Waluigi and Kratos, I'll gladly go with the God of War.
What makes Smash Bros. such a perfect experience to clone is that it reaches out to our nostalgia while melding it with a full scoop of fan service. PlayStation All-Stars hits a similar beat, mixing seemingly random franchises together into one game world.
Only six characters were available during the demo, each with their own fighting style that pulls from their respective universes. There's God of War's Kratos with familiar weapons like the Blades of Chaos; Sly Cooper eschews the ability to block in order to become invisible; Twisted Metal's Sweet Tooth viciously lays down mines and fires a devastating shotgun; Killzone 2's Colonel Radec relies on his trusty sniper rifle for long-ranged attacks; Parappa the Rapper battles with the karate skills learned from Chop Chop Master Onion; and Fat Princess, well ... for her the team was forced to be a little creative.
PlayStation All-Stars is a 3D brawler on a single plane, much in the same vein as Smash Bros. As players battle in four-player multiplayer matches, they collect Action Points (AP) and increase a Special Meter. There are three levels of specials for each character, each increasing in duration and devastation, while nodding to their respective franchises. For his level three special, Sweet Tooth jumps into the Sweet Bot mech suit, laying waste to enemies with a chain gun. Kratos' outfit is transformed into his godly garb from God of War 2 while he wields the lethal Blade of Olympus.
Some characters were more difficult to extract from their worlds and throw into an arena, Glaze explained. Citing Sly Cooper as "the most interesting" character and "hardest technically" to include, Glaze said that the team thought it best to remove blocking entirely from the stealthy thief and give him the ability to become invisible instead. "He doesn't have a defense, he's all about invisibility, and he can steal AP from other players," the producer told me. My matches as Sly all ended in success, with my standard strategy revolving around jumping into crowds and getting multiple shots in before disappearing into the background.
Fan service continues into the settings on display in PlayStation All-Stars. Each environment is based on a particular franchise within the PlayStation history books, much like Smash Bros. nods to its own popular franchises. But SuperBot has taken this one step further, mashing up multiple franchises within each level.
In a level inspired by the underworld from God of War, the devilish god Hades smashes the ground, creating tidal waves that players must avoid while still focusing on each other. Halfway through the level, however, Patapon warriors attack the underworld and the god turns his attention on the rhythm-based rabble-rousers. On a Ratchet & Clank-inspired map, Captain Qwark runs around in a panic in the background as the weather shifts and a Hydra King and its two babies burst through the ground, attacking the deluded superhero. A random Buzz! quiz invades a LittleBigPlanet level, which is being built using that title's in-game level editor as players fight it out. And yes, you do have to answer the question or your character will be damaged. Even item pick-ups are inspired by other franchises, such as the shield from Wipeout. The mash-ups are all absurd, but they're also completely fantastic.
What works surprisingly well is the game's graphical style. In the case of Kratos and Sweet Tooth, both characters are presented in a slightly softer fashion, yet still look menacing. Characters and environments mesh together cleanly in the proprietary game engine from developer Bluepoint Games – the company responsible for 2009's God of War Collection. According to Glaze, each roster inclusion underwent careful recreation with constant discussion between SuperBot and the team behind each character to ensure the look and feel was authentic to their respective franchises.
Glaze couldn't reveal all of PlayStation All-Stars secrets, however, remaining tight-lipped on additional characters. PlayStation reps at the event hinted that, while first- and second-party characters were featured at the event, the game's roster will be broader in scope than that. No examples were given. Of course, on the Sony front, some PlayStation characters look like obvious inclusions, such as Infamous' Cole MacGrath and Nathan Drake from Uncharted. More details are expected at E3 2012.
Despite it being a clone of another series, PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale was a lot of fun to play. It may have been one of Sony's worst kept secrets in recent memory, but it's certainly shaping up to be a surprising title for the PlayStation 3's 2012 release calendar.