The videogame world has not seen a large scale arena-based fighting game in quite some time. PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale enters the fray and brings with it some heavy hitters from the gaming universe. SuperBot Entertainment, a newly created developer under the banner of Sony, has created an all-out brawler. Be prepared, there are Blades of Athena, murderous crows tonic and more than a few cardboard boxes in this game.

Gameplay in Battle Royale is simplistic in nature, and the tutorial introduction runs out quite quickly. This simplicity is coupled with depth and strategy when it comes to actually winning matches. Battles are played out in different arenas, which theme themselves around most of the characters’ game universes. These battles can be made up of one to four players, and the idea is to knock each other out. There are three attack buttons: a jump, throws, a block, and super attack button. The trick to winning a battle is to annihilate as many opponents as possible within the given constraints of time, lives (stock) or kill limits. The only way to earn a kill is to successfully hit opponents with a super attack. In order to execute a super attack a meter at the bottom of the screen needs to fill up to either levels 1, 2 or 3 with each level building upon a bigger and stronger super. Building up this meter comes from hitting opponents, and multiple combo hits filling up the meter quicker.

Balancing act

It pays to spend time with each character and experiment with their abilities to determine what suits best. Some supers guarantee instant kills of all opponents, such as Heihachi’s level 3 rocket launcher, while some can potentially kill all opponents multiple times, such as Colonel Radec’s FPS super. All the staple modes of play are selectable; Arcade mode for the singles, Versus for the local multiplayer fun and Tournament for online matches.

The imbalance of characters can no longer be seen as a downfall in a battle arena game. Those who take fighters seriously should not apply their prejudices to a game like Battle Royale. The balance is fair enough that players can pick and choose from a wide array of characters. Playing online will show “common characters” such as Kratos, Dante and Raiden but there are odd occasions where players use the likes of Fat Princess, BioShock’s Big Daddy and the very odd Toro Inoue to prove their skills.

The game’s roster is made up of 20 selectable characters, and Sony has annoucned that two more are on the way in 2013. The two stand-out game universes are from the Devil May Cry and BioShock series. Both take elements from titles that are yet to be released, for example Dante is the new look Dante from the Ninja Theory title due early next year. This is clearly a promotional angle for games that are due out in the near future.

The arenas themselves are a highlight of the battles. No two main arenas are ever the same, and almost all of them are interactive. An arena will often start off looking themed one way, like a PaRappa the Rapper level, while halfway through a match a giant mech from Metal Gear Solid can burst through and wreak havoc on players and the arena itself. This kind of interactivity adds something of an interesting twist to battles, as it can subtly shift who is in the lead, or who may have the advantage. No doubt there will be further downloadable arenas in the future but what is available on the disc is already plenty of fun.

Once online and battling on a smooth connection there is little to complain about - that is, apart from the foul-mouthed kids.

Item variety is fairly limited. Items can’t kill opponents but they can tip the balance of a match in a player’s favour. Using an item may stun an opponent, or make them drop energy bubbles that fill the collector’s super meter. For example, one item that is noticeably from the upcoming BioShock Infinite title is the murderous crows tonic. Using this item will send a swarm of crows to one direction and any enemies caught in that direction will be confused, having their controls reversed for a short period of time. This is a unique item and there are more that randomly appear, however the variety seems rather restricted. With the sheer number of possibilities these gaming universes can provide, we can hope downloadable content will add to this in future.

Connecting the punch

The net coding for online battles is disappointing. The majority of online time is spent waiting to connect to players, waiting to reconnect to players or being booted out mid-battle due to server disconnections or host connection errors. Patience is required when attempting to battle online, but once online and battling on a smooth connection there is little to complain about - that is, apart from the foul-mouthed kids. Be thankful for mute options. Lag is minimal but is easily seen when opponents suddenly teleport mid battle.

Sony’s big feature for this title is the ability for cross platform play across the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita. Only a handful of titles out there provide such a feature and Battle Royale does it well. Not only does cross play exist but owners of a PlayStation 3 and a Vita can enjoy the game on both consoles for the low price of purchasing the PlayStation 3 game. The only downside here is that playing cross play with the same PlayStation Network ID over both machines together is not possible, however simultaneously playing in online matches against other opponents is possible. The slowdown and graphical differences from PlayStation 3 to Vita are negligible and are only apparent when put side by side.

Let’s forget about the game that pits favourite iconic video game characters such as plumbers and Pokemon for a minute and focus on what this is. PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale stands on its own two feet to show that it, too, has a place in this world. On the Vita it breathes some fresh air into the fighting genre, the first of its kind as a battle arena fighter, while on the PlayStation 3 it brings a close to the titles of the holiday season and ends it on a high note. Whether players will play this alone, online or with local friends fun can always be had. With future plans for downloadable characters and arenas, the game’s already solid appeal can only improve.