A little while ago I was reading a thread on Reddit asking why PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale didn’t take off at all, whereas Smash Bros. continues to succeed. My gut response was “Well, because the game sucked, that’s why.”
And that’s really the best TL;DR I can come up with, it just wasn’t a good game, not even conceptually. It was a blatant attempt on Sony’s part to make a counter to Smash Bros., going for a slice of that pie with their own characters and franchises. But come on, Sony’s first party characters vs. Nintendo’s? Are you stupid? It just wasn’t going to happen, and it didn’t.
The characters are my first issue with the game. They couldn’t even fill out a full roster of Sony’s own people, relying on third-party fighters like Raiden from Metal Gear Rising and Dante from DmC to lure people in. Sure you had must-haves like Kratos from God of War and Ratchet from Ratchet & Clank, but then you started stretching it with the guy from Killzone and Fat Princess. Even Drake and Parappa couldn’t drum up the feeling of “Holy shit I gotta play as these guys!”
Balance across all these characters was laughable as well. I talked about Heroes of the Storm being all over the place, but this was far more blatant. Kratos was just insane at all points of the game, leveling crowds without breaking a sweat and becoming what I saw as the “noob” character. The one you pick and everyone else you’re playing with just groans because they know you’re about to smoke them without trying. Sure it wasn’t an instant-win, but he was frustratingly strong.
Mix that with other characters who could barely get a point on the board and you were left with what felt like a handful of viable people to choose from. Even in the “fun is the most important part of games” school of thinking this sucked, because you don’t have much fun when you’re getting your ass handed to you because you picked the wrong character.
Let’s end with the main issue with the game, and the one I think hurt it the most when trying to break out: the gameplay itself. The whole point of the game was your normal attacks built up a super meter that had 3 different levels, and once you reached at least level 1 you could use a super move. Naturally the higher the meter, the better the super move, or so you’d think. Generally the level 3s were by far the best, but in some cases they weren’t as good as their lower versions, and some characters had clearly better supers than others.
Why does this matter so much? Because the only way to defeat another player and gain a point for yourself is by hitting them with a super move. Your other attacks don’t actually do anything to them except maybe stagger them or knock them away, but they don’t cause any direct damage, instead only charging your super bar.
This made no sense to me when I first played it, and still doesn’t today. In ANY other fighting game, Smash Bros. or Street Fighter or hell, even Fighters Megamix, all of your attacks cause some sort of damage or at least provide some progress to you winning the match. PS All-Stars just lets you build up the ability to launch an attack that has a chance of hitting someone and giving you a point per person defeated. Emphasis on the word “chance”, since you still have to go hit the person, and they can all see what level your super bar is at, so they know when to avoid you.
This is why some people having clearly better super moves than others is such a big deal. People like Ratchet can live all day with his level 1 super move (and really it’s his only good one), while others are just fodder for others until they hit level 3. Then you have asshole Kratos who is great with all 3 levels, but screw that guy.
In other fighters even the weakest attack makes some sort of progress toward victory, however small. PS All-Stars allows you to spend half the match building up a super bar just to end up missing and wasting all of what you thought was progress, then you lose the match by 6 points because you can’t build your bar back up fast enough to be useful. It’s a lack of feedback to the player and frustrating, like if you gave your opponent a full life bar on Street Fighter if you whiffed your Ultra. Not cool man.
So yeah, PS All-Stars has issues, and there shouldn’t be any surprise that it never made so much as a dent against Smash Bros., much like it was following its own rules of fighting. There was talk of a sequel but that ended up dying before it even hit the drawing board, and that’s probably a good thing. It was a sort of failed experiment, but in the end it was probably one no one wanted to begin with.