PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale: Where Did it Go Wrong?
Brawler PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale released to mixed reception back in November of last year. Pulling characters from some very popular franchises, it seemed that the game was primed to be a top seller. However, things do not appear to have turned out quite that way. Sales for the game reportedly leave quite a bit to be desired, and developer SuperBot has just laid off a number of its employees.
Though I’ve heard a few good things about this title, I can honestly say that I’ve yet to seriously consider picking it up. I’ve only seen one or two people on my friends list playing the game and for very short periods of time at that. Perhaps we should examine a few of the reasons many PlayStation owners and I have been sleeping on this title.
Firstly, if you haven’t been following the game, you may be in the dark about its rather alarming situation. To that end, allow me to briefly explain how I reached the conclusion that something had somehow gone wrong with the title.
Sony hasn’t mentioned official sales numbers for the game, but sources say that it hasn’t been selling very well. Although it isn’t reputed for its accuracy, video game sales tracking site VGChartz claims that the title has of yet sold around 400,000 units globally. This figure doesn’t include digital sales or Japanese sales of the game (as it hasn’t launched in Japan yet), but is still quite low nonetheless. The implementation of cross-buy between the PS3 and PS Vita may have had some impact here.
VGChartz aside, PSABR sold so poorly upon launch in the UK that it barely made it into the top 40 best-selling titles on that region’s weekly sales chart. It undersold a huge number of games, including several that had already been available for some time. I can’t say there seemed to be any lack of promotion for the game. I don’t watch TV, but I’ve heard that a television commercial promoting the game was in heavy rotation around the time of its release. I can also say without doubt that the game had a significant web presence.
Sony has stated that the game is selling as well as they expected it to and that they’re “happy” with its performance. This sounds like good news, but it could be a tactful way of saying that they didn’t have very high sales expectations for the title to begin with, which means that while it may have met their expectations it could still be selling poorly in general. Furthermore, Sony recently confirmed that they’ve amicably ended their relationship with developer SuperBot. I highly doubt they would have parted ways with the game’s developer so swiftly if it was actually performing up to snuff commercially.
The title hasn’t been fairing the best critically, either. Review aggregate site Metacritic currently places the title squarely within the ‘average’ range, with a score of 74 based on more than 60 reviews. Most of the professional reviews listed there are positive, but there are also nearly two dozen mixed reviews. This depicts the game as one with some true merits and high points as well as a considerable amount of flaws, which falls right in line with what I’ve heard from most of the fans I’ve spoken with.
In my opinion this may be the single biggest reason why there seems to be so little interest in the game. The game’s playable roster appears to consist of a variety of characters from a variety of different franchises and it shows very little cohesion. Characters like the titular Fat Princess and Twisted Metal’s Sweet Tooth just don’t get the blood pumping. Does anyone really want to see Sackboy from LittleBigPlanet fight Spike from Ape Escape? The roster feels very sloppy and thrown together to me.
Another big problem with the roster could be the inconsistent popularity of many of the franchises it draws characters from. Ape Escape isn’t relevant and hasn’t been for a long time now. I doubt many of this generation’s gamers can identify PaRappa from PaRappa the Rapper. Many younger gamers probably can’t even identify many of the characters on the roster. This is problematic because PSASBR definitely seems like the kind of game that wants to appeal to younger players. Taking characters from some more popular or currently relevant franchises probably could have done a lot to get more people excited about this game.
Finally, a problem that I personally had with the roster is that many of the characters on it are from franchises that aren’t PlayStation exclusive. Sure Kratos and Nathan Drake have become a couple of the faces of the PlayStation brand, but Devil May Cry – and by extension Dante – is also available for the Xbox 360. BioShock is multi-platform. Tekken is multi-platform. Raiden will soon be the star of his own game, which will be multi-platform. The feeling of PlayStation exclusivity gets thinner and thinner as you observe characters from multi-platform franchises.
To top this feeling off, three characters essential to the PlayStation’s history were omitted from the game entirely: Spyro from the Spyro series, Crash from the Crash Bandicoot series and leading man Snake from the Metal Gear series. If you were a PlayStation fan during the heyday of Sly Cooper and PaRappa, then you’ve definitely heard of these fellas. Maybe this is more of a personal problem than a problem most gamers had with the game, but it just seems counterproductive to me to pad the roster of a PlayStation exclusive title with characters from multi-platform franchises.
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale released in one of the most crowded months of the gaming year: November. In the month of its release, PSABR had to compete with the likes of Hitman: Absolution, Ratchet & Clank: Frontal Assault, the juggernaut that is Call of Duty: Black Ops II, and several other titles for gamers’ attention. A brand new IP had little more than a snowball’s chance at success within the holiday gauntlet with big names like names like those.
On top of having competition with other games in its release window, PSABR also had a great deal of competition within its genre. Other top shelf fighting games to come out last year include Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Dead or Alive 5, Persona 4: Arena and Street Fighter X Tekken. A fighting fan on a budget would be forced to choose one title out of the many available, and while they’ve probably heard any number of good things about SoulCalibur or Dead or Alive, they’ve likely heard next to nothing about PSABR.
Just picture it: you’re a fighting fan and you can only get one new title this month. You go into the game store and see the relatively huge selection of new titles. Are you going to grab a big name from a tried and true franchise like Tekken or take a chance on a new IP crammed with characters – some of which are unfamiliar – from various franchises? I can honestly say that if I was in that situation I’d go with the developer or franchise I’d already grown to love. A sure thing always beats a possibility.
Comparisons to Smash Brothers and a Muddied Vision
From the moment it was revealed, PlayStation All-Stars was doomed to be labeled a rip-off of the immensely popular Smash Brothers series. The concepts are nearly identical: characters from a variety of franchises all come together to beat the snot out of each other in hectic brawls. Unfortunately, PSABR doesn’t seem to execute the idea with as much aplomb as Smash Bros. Whether you’ve played the Legend of Zelda or not, you’re very unlikely to be completely ignorant to Link. I doubt there’s a gamer alive who can claim that they don’t recognize Mario. Furthermore, Pikachu fighting Kirby somehow seems far more appropriate than Heihachi fighting a Big Daddy. Smash Bros. works on a level that PSABR doesn’t quite seem to.
The vast majority of the characters in the SB series are perfectly exclusive to Nintendo and the franchises it draws from have been capturing the hearts of the game community for collective decades.
Despite all of the admittedly fair comparisons, PSASBR and SB are actually very different from one another. Reports say PSA puts more of a prominent focus on more technical aspects of the game’s combat, making it play very differently from SB. This, however, leads to another thing that could be turning prospective fans off: SuperBot’s uncertainty about its audience.
Smash Bros. creator Masashiro Sakurai has said from the beginning that the series was never intended to be played in any competitive extreme. The Smash Bros. series was created to be played casually with friends in an almost Mario Party kind of way. To the chagrin of the developers, though, a hardcore Smash Bros. community emerged behind the success of Super Smash Bros. Melee. Essentially, the gaming community took a game that was intended to be played casually or non-competitively and played it like a hardcore, technical and very competitive fighter. This community even went on to sponsor tournaments and competitions for said game.
Although the Smash community had other plans for it, the developers were always transparent about which audience Super Smash Bros. was intended for.
SuperBot seems a little less sure of itself when it comes to PSABR. They’ve stated that they intended for the game’s fighting system to be “accessible yet deep”. The result is a system more similar to a conventional fighting game than that found in Smash Bros. The system was actually designed with technical balance and competitive depth in mind. In this regard, our own Paul Lacen found PSABR to actually be better than Smash Bros.
However, conventional fighting games breed intense competition and intense competition is typically a turn-off for casual gamers. PSABR’s potential for depth and intense competition could make it off-putting to anyone looking for a casual brawler. Its accessibility and low learning curve could make it off-putting to the hardcore crowd of serious fighting game fans.
In its efforts to appeal to hardcore gamers and casual gamers, PSABR seems to have muddied its vision or lost its way a bit. The result of a game that tries to please everybody could be a game that fails to appear desirable to anybody.
Conclusively, PSABR is an interesting game that had several chips stacked against it when it released last November. In spite of its less than stellar sales, most reviews of the game lean towards positive and every player I’ve spoken to says it is a fun game but not without flaws. I personally will probably still pick it up when it hits a more desirable price point. I’m a huge fighting game fan, but not once did this game ever seem like a must-have for me. As a brand new IP things were bound to be tough out of the gate for it.
Hopefully, SuperBot will get a shot at making a sequel to PSABR and perhaps consider some of these criticisms the second time around.