When Super Smash Bros. released back in 1999 its initial appeal lay in the novelty of pitching Nintendo's typically wholesome mascots against each other in four-way combat. It was an anarchic concept, but more than just an example of mischievous fan service, it was great fun to play. Easy to learn, but hard to truly master, SSB's a manic, yet precise beat ‘em up that’s perfect for local multiplayer.
Taking heavy inspiration from SSB, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is a riot for similar reasons. Its only glaring problem is a lack of iconic characters, or at least ones you want to see knock seven shades out of each other. Ever wondered what a fight between Sir Daniel Fortesque from MediEvil, Mael Radec from Killzone and Cole MacGrath from inFamous would look like? No, neither have we. That we felt the need to name-check the games they’re from also speaks volumes. In acknowledgment of this, first-time developers Superbot go some way to addressing the problem by borrowing characters, such as Raiden, Dante and Big Daddy (and if you don’t know who they are, perhaps this isn't the game for you).
That’s not to say there's no fun to be had with PSABR's line-up, especially when combining the realistic(ish) characters with some of Sony's more bizarre creations. Nathan Drake versus Fat Princess, for example, is a match-up completely at odds with their respective universes, and all the better for it. In Arcade mode each character has introductory and ending scenes that highlight the ridiculousness of the whole concept. Something the writers are clearly aware of, as demonstrated by this choice line from Raiden's intro: 'I'm being sent on a mission. Someone's bringing a bunch of people together. No-one knows why, but it doesn't sound good.' Now, that's what we call context! Of course, it’s pointless getting bogged down with trifling things like context for a game that plonks a bunch of characters together from disparate universes to scrap it out.
What PSABR's actually about is building up All-Star Power (AP), accrued by landing hits on opponents. Once enough AP has been collected Super attacks can be busted out - the only way of taking foes out and getting points - with the tap of a shoulder button. Each kill awards two points, while a single point is lost when on the receiving end. Supers have three levels of power and you’ll need to decide whether to save AP to perform more powerful Super attacks or use them at the earliest opportunity.
This differentiates PSABR from most other brawlers in that it doesn’t really matter if you get hit. Sure, it helps opponents build up their own Super attacks and some environmental hazards and weapons make you lose AP, but getting smashed across the width of the screen, for example, has no immediate consequence, going against everything the genre has previously taught us.
That’s not to say PSABR’s gameplay is just a case of mindless button-bashing. Like most fighting games the best offence is often a careful defence, using blocks and dodges to stop others from building their AP bar while cheekily countering to fill your own. To keep defensive games flowing, throws break blocks and are also the only moves that actually cause characters to lose AP.