It's easy to dismiss PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale as Super Smash Bros. with PlayStation characters. That is what it is, after all. Even Chan Park, executive producer of the game, admitted to us that SuperBot Entertainment was solely founded for the creation of a PlayStation mash-up action game.
However, while it may be inspired by Nintendo's brawler, and may look very much like its progenitor, it plays very differently from the original mascot fighter.
For example, there is no "health" per se in Battle Royale. While Smash replaced the traditional HP mechanic with a percentage meter that represented someone's likelihood of losing a life, it still adhered to the rather standard notion that getting hit gets you closer to death. Battle Royale turns that on its head. You could get continuously pummeled without fear of death--because there is one primary way of scoring kills in the game. (Update: Sony has clarified that there is no way of dying other than through special KOs; an earlier update suggested this was not the case. Shacknews apologizes for this error.)
While you have a variety of moves at your disposal, you're ultimately trying to land a super attack. You attack with square, triangle, and circle. Landing these standard attacks will slowly build up a meter at the bottom of the screen. Once filled, pressing R2 allows you to activate a special attack. If it connects, it will instantly KO the character.
The special meter is the currency of the game, and players will be wise to collect it in whatever way they can. While you can always punch it out of opponents, there will oftentimes be random drops of blue orbs that fill the meter. Characters also have specialized ways of getting their hands on more special energy. Sly Cooper, for example, is able to turn invisible and sneak behind enemies and steal their power.
While players can unleash their R2 attack once the meter is full, players are encouraged to save up for flashier and more effective level 2 and 3 attacks. The thinking behind the tiered special attacks is simple: a properly-executed level 1 attack should kill one opponent, a level 2 attack two, and a level 3 attack should clear the stage. In many ways, this tiered system evokes Marvel vs Capcom more than Smash Bros. Some of the level 3 attacks seem spectacularly overpowered. For example, PaRappa's ultimate attack transforms the screen into his iconic follow-the-rap gameplay. Once the song is done, every opponent on the screen is instantly (and unavoidably) KO'd. Other characters demand a bit more skill, such as Sweet Tooth. Players will have to command his truck-turned-mech and stomp on enemies, as they try to flee from the hulking menace.
PlayStation fans are going to love playing as such varied gaming icons, but what I found most novel were the levels. Whereas levels in Smash Bros. pays strict homage to their source material, Battle Royale remixes two properties in each level. God of War's Hades level begins the way you'd expect--but halfway through battle, the Patapon will attack, drastically changing the look and feel of the level. Midway through the LittleBigPlanet stage, Buzz will appear and quiz everyone. Players will have to run to the appropriate corner to answer the question--or risk blowing up.
The imaginative level design coupled with SuperBot's ability to transform such an odd assortment of characters (like the Fat Princess) into enjoyable and fully-playable fighters has me confident that Battle Royale will be a smash. And with the promise of many more characters--including third-party characters--PlayStation fans have a lot of reason to keep their eye on All-Stars.