Sony and Superbot Entertainment’s manic crossover fighter provides some great fast-paced fighting fun on Vita despite some issues with presentation and content.

 

World-building & Story

Light on plot compared to traditional fighting games, PlayStation All-Stars never really makes the most of its source material featuring characters from a wide range of story-driven titles. The roster is made up of Dante; Kratos and Raiden etc. from some incredibly narrative-heavy series yet they’re all thrown together with a flimsy amount of story tying together their appearance.

2017-05-02-234806Effectively, each character has one scene at the beginning of the story mode explaining their motives for entering the fighting (which normally boils down to “I sense a great power brewing”); followed by an encounter with their ‘rival’ about halfway through the arcade mode then a final scene after finishing the story explaining what they did after beating the final boss. It’s woefully under-developed to the point I’d question whether this was simply a last-minute addition to the game as every story feels incredibly rushed.

It’s a decent slice of fanservice, but even then it’s not really enough to recommend seeing if you’re just a fan of a few of these series. And as a standalone story it’s basically nothing – just a series of graphics designed to tie things together in the loosest way possible.

World-building is a slightly better affair, however, thanks to some fantastically designed stages based on their source material. Whether its the colourful whimsy of LittleBigPlanet‘s stage or the dusk and explosions of Resistance‘s, everything keeps the tone of its original IP, which was something I really appreciated.

 

Presentation & Sound

Mixing 3D character models and environments but presenting it all on a 2D plane, PlayStation All-Stars is often a stylish, attractive game. Yet a few rough edges and rushed elements serve to drag the overall experience down, although the porting job here from Bluepoint overall is top notch.

2017-05-02-231628To start with the positives , the character models are some of my favourite on Vita. They’re cleanly drawn and although from franchises with very different artstyles seem to mix extremely well together – whether it’s Sackboy’s mischievous grin or Kratos’ intimidating fighting stance. Similarly, their animations are all fantastic too – the cartoony characters have exaggerated movements like Ratchet’s Omniwrench swings, while more normal characters like Isaac move more deliberately and realistically.

This extends to the cast’s attacks which are all based on their respective franchises and are genuinely a sight to behold. In normal combat you’ll see Spike summoning Apes; Drake taking cover behind a waist-high wall and Sackboy creating objects out of thin air – all of this is fantastic to discover for the first time and is still fun to see after 20 hours. The star of the show are the super moves, flashy special attacks that see Jak turning into his dark and light alter egos or Parappa creating the ultimate screen-clearing rap.

2017-05-02-233546Continuing with the flashy and impressive parts of the presentation, environments are top notch and remain a joy to duke it out in. All are a combination of two different franchises, which generally works fantastically well (Resistance vs. Ratchet and Clank being a particular highlight) while others don’t quite hit the mark (I wasn’t such a fan of Metal Gear invading LocoRoco‘s world). In spite of this, they do all manage to nail the look and feel of their source material and features tonnes of interactive elements to keep things interesting – whether this is moving up the tower from InFAMOUS or dodging spears from the Patapon which have invaded God of War‘s level. It’s always a visual treat.

Not everything lives up to this high bar unfortunately. For example, the cutscenes used to tell the story are merely static scenes which – although beautifully drawn – feel pretty dull and lifeless in an otherwise interactive game. Similarly menus have absolutely no flair to them, appearing to merely be stock choices that aren’t tailored to the game they’re in at all.

2017-05-02-234656.jpgSound is also a mixed bag – voice acting is decent getting most of the original VA’s from their respective games, while sound effects are pretty spot on with plenty of familiar noises at play. Yet it’s music that lets the package down – aside from a couple of tracks its just background noise and I would’ve appreciated a few more catchy songs in the mix.

 

Gameplay & Content

Drawing massively from genre heavyweight Super Smash Bros., PlayStation All-Stars does put its own spin on things due to the introduction of the ‘super’ mechanic – which drew a lot of ire from forum commentators, yet overall I found the package a fantastic one that provided a nice alternative to Smash.

2017-05-02-234558Upon booting up (after watching the enjoyably flashy opening cutscene) and choosing your character, you’ll enter a series of battles with any combination of 2-4 players on screen (i.e. 1v1v1; 2v2 etc.). All combat takes place on a 2D plane allowing you to move left, right, up and down but there’s no 3D movement. For the most part characters feel zippy and responsive (although this varies depending on who you’re playing) meaning moving around the arenas works well.

And you’ll need this movement because the stages themselves can be dangerous places. Each features very notable hazards which can stun you and siphon some of your super bar, such as a ship from Killzone bombing the arena or Dollface from Twisted Metal launching some missiles. Everything is scripted and will give you plenty of visual warning, meaning the hazards serve to make the battlegrounds feel more interactive and fun – I never felt I was being unfairly penalized, if I got hit it was always my own fault.

2017-05-02-224439.jpgYou’ll quickly discover that the game has a lot of fighting mechanics at play providing a lot more depth than there first appears to be. Central to everything is the ‘super’ mechanic, which means you cannot K.O your enemies without using one of the character’s special attacks. The bar for this is filled by attacking opponents, stealing from them or smashing open crates – promoting aggressive play to get your meter filled as quickly as possible. This gauge can be filled up to three times over, allowing you to pull off increasingly elaborate special moves depending how full it is (although the effectiveness differs between characters).

This mechanic drew a lot of ire as many people complained that normal attacks seemed ineffective as the only thing which mattered was super attacks, but this isn’t something I agree with. While Smash rewards you with seeing your opponent’s percentage increase meaning increasing chances to knock them off the stage; PlayStation All-Stars rewards you with flashy moves which still require skill to pull off effectively. Level 1 attacks can normally be dodged by foes while Level 3’s are nigh-on impossible to avoid, but a skilled played can make good use of a Level 1 with the right timing. It adds a nice skill level to everything and is rewarding to finally nail down.

2017-05-02-234231Of course, moment-to-moment gameplay is fun too – each character has a range of skills mapped to the face buttons plus a direction and they’re all based on some attack or move from their respective franchises – yet remain smartly fitting for a fighting game. You can throw opponents and block attacks alongside some nice character-specific variants such as Sly Cooper’s ability to stealth instead of block or Sackboy’s sumo throws. It all comes together to make a smooth, enjoyable experience that’s easy to pick up yet with enough depth to ensure that practice and skill is rewarded.

If there’s an issue with PlayStation All-Stars in the gameplay department, it’s one of modes. As previously mentioned, Arcade mode is a bit of a disappointment with its lack of story and there’s not much more to do beyond this. Thankfully custom battles vs. AI work well and online is also very good – I had no connection issues during my time playing. A training mode is provided alongside a few challenges but it’s nothing but fighting – while Smash provides home run challenges and target practice or Tekken provides a range of quirky modes, there’s nothing else to really do here except battle.

2017-05-02-224134The title provides longevity through its customisation options as you can unlock mascots to cheer you on in battle; new taunts and new outfits etc. through repeatedly playing. It’s a nice bonus and there were some extra things I wanted to unlock, but overall it’s not enough to make the title a compelling title to put a lot of time into. With that said, it is something I find myself revisiting every now and again to play a few new rounds so as such is worth looking into if this interests you.

 

DLC

PlayStation All-Stars is probably one of the most expansive Vita games out there in terms of downloadable content having large array of costumes; stages and extra characters to purchase.

2017-05-02-232928The cosmetic stuff includes outfits and mascots, but it’s vastly overpriced (around £1.69 per costume) and not something I’d recommend investing in. There are, however, an additional two stages (Heavenly Sword vs. WipEout and MediEvil vs. The Unfinished Swan) and these are much better, being great places to duke it out and more reasonably priced also being £1.69 per level.

However, it’s the extra characters that are the star of the show. Emmett from Starhawk; Kat from Gravity Rush; Isaac from Dead Space and Zeus from God of War are all available and bring new fighting styles to the fray. Although some of these are lesser known among Vita gamers (I would’ve killed for a game like Starhawk on the handheld), they’re worth it for the variety alone even if Emmett and Isaac add an ever-increasing presence of ranged shooters. They’re pricey on their own at £3.99 but crucially can be purchased two-a-piece bundled with a map for £7.99 which is extremely pricey but an investment worth making for the extra content it provides.

 

Conclusion

Burdened by a few issues relating to presentation and content, PlayStation All-Stars is nevertheless a great crossover fighting game with enough quirks to make it unique. The roster and focus on K.O’s by supers may have put off some people, but if you’re willing to look at the title for what it is you’ll find a fun, lively game that you’ll keep revisiting just for the enjoyment.

8.5/10

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