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Review: Battle Of The All-Stars

Two games released last week that at first glance might appear to be very different, but actually have quite a bit in common.  Both pay loving tribute to their respective brands, offering a ton of fan service to anyone who has followed the companies.  Both feature characters from various franchises owned by each company competing against one another.  And both have ridiculous titles that contain the word “All-Stars”.  Unfortunately, there is one key difference – one of these games knocks it out of the park, and the other one strikes out.  Today, I’m going to talk a bit about Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.  I haven’t played either of these games online (tho I have played a few rounds of each with my wife), and many would say the online is the bread and butter of these games – especially Battle Royale.  Be that as it may, I feel like I’ve played enough of each to offer my opinions of them.

Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale

Sweet Tooth goes super

Battle Royale is a Smash Bros.-alike fighting game.  That’s the broad overview, at any rate.  There has always been a push from Sony’s camp against comparing it to Smash Bros., even tho it’s plain to anyone that it’s heavily inspired by Nintendo’s brawler.  It includes a decently selected cast of both Sony exclusive characters and 3rd party characters who duke it out in up to 4 player matches.  The character selection is interesting.  It includes many you would expect – Kratos, Nathan Drake, Ratchet and Sly – as well as some more unusual choices (Fat Princess and Toro Inoue – Sony’s Japan-only mascott).  The third-party choices are the strangest, and many seem to be there only to promote recent & upcoming games – for example, the new Dante is included instead of his classic incarnation.  Don’t get me wrong, the demo to the upcoming DMC is outstanding, but in a game that’s basically paying homage to all things Sony the classic Dante would have been a much better fit.  Ditto with including Raiden (from the upcoming Revengeance) instead of Snake.  Also, no Cloud from Final Fantasy 7 or Crash Bandicoot are both disappointments, but probably due more to licensing issues than anything else.  Still, these two characters defined the early Playstation and their absence stands out here.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

By land,

Racing Transformed is, as the title implies, a racing game – a kart racer, to be exact.  So yes, while Battle Royale is cribbing from Smash Bros., Racing Transformed is taking notes from Mario Kart.  The Sega cast is a little stronger, partially due to the fact that Sega has a bigger cast of characters suitable for this type of game to draw from.  They cover the range, from the expected Sonic crew all the way to Skies of Arcadia, Shinobi and Alex Kid.  There are only two non-Sega characters found here, and of them one fits pretty well while the other is just strange.  Ralph from Wreck It Ralph is right at home here, although I admit I would have rather seen Vanellope Von Schweetz.  The other non-Sega character is real-life race car driver Danica Patrick.  The “real life” part of that should clue you in to why she’s such an odd choice for a game such as this, but one racer out of 27 I can let slide.

Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale

Kick, punch, it’s all in the mind

Where the games really differentiate themselves is in the quality of their respective gameplay.  Battle Royale attempts to make itself stand out as more than a Smash Bros. clone by changing up the battle system.  Smash Bros., as I suspect everyone reading this already knows, is all about knocking the other characters off of the level.  The more you hit the other player, the weaker they become and therefore the further they fly when you knock them off the level.  Weaken them enough, and they won’t be able to make it back onto the level, and you score a point.  In Battle Royale, there are no edges to the majority of the levels.  Every character has a Super meter that can be filled up 3 times.  You fill up your meter by striking the other player.  For each level you will do a progressively harder-to-dodge move that will kill the other player.  Hitting a player with one of these super moves is the only way to score.  The problem here may not be obvious at first glance.  But once you start playing you realize, the ONLY benefit to hitting someone else is to raise your meter.  There are no health bars, and you are in no way damaging the other person.  If you hit someone with a weapon, or if they take environmental damage from the level then they will lose a little bit of their meter, but otherwise you can’t even lower that (even killing someone does not lower their meter).  This makes every match a race to get your meter filled up, and that becomes dull fast.  Where in Smash Bros. every minute counts, you feel like the majority of play here simply does not.  To make matters worse, the levels are often too big and if you get separated far enough the camera pulls back to the point that it’s very hard to tell where you are or what’s going on.  There is some good here, and most of it shines through when you’re playing one on one – control is great and you have some very impressive moves with most characters.  But then you remember that those moves, as flashy as they are, aren’t really doing much for you and it all falls apart again.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

By sea,

So what about our Mario Kart clone?  Am I really going to tell you that a budget title (Racing Transformed retails for $39.99 for the PS3/360/Wii U) is better than a full-priced Sony first party title?  I am indeed.  I’ll go further than that – Racing Transformed is better than any Mario Kart I’ve played, and is most likely the best kart racer I’ve ever played full stop.  The controls are spot-on, the sense of speed is blistering and the levels are gorgeous, fun and inventive.  The standout for me so far is the After Burner course, tho I always have a soft spot for the roulette levels and that one certainly doesn’t disappoint here either.  But what really puts this over the top is the “Transformed” part of the title.  During the course of a race your kart will change into a plane or boat depending on the situation (this is fully automatic and not a decision you have to make).  When it does, your controls change to fit the new vehicle – it doesn’t feel like you’re still driving a kart that happens to be flying or on water, each new form feels like it should.  Wave physics come into play with the boat, you have full range of flight with the plane.  All forms are very easy to drive, but it’s the feel of them that really makes the game something special.  Even more, courses will change from one lap to the next so that while you didn’t change into a boat the first time (or maybe even the second), by the third lap the course may collapse to make the boat or plane form necessary.  This really keeps you on your toes and keeps the races fresh and fun.

Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale

God of War, meet Son of Sparda

So all that’s left is presentation, and I’m going to tackle both of those in one go.  Battle Royale feels like a cookie cutter product.  There isn’t any heart in its design – menus are dull and lifeless, the story modes for each character consist of static shots with voice overs, and the character models themselves leave something to be desired.  They look ok far off, but when the camera zooms in the rough edges really start to show.  The levels are probably the most interesting parts of the game – they will start off as a background from one game and change mid-way through to a completely different game.  But overall, this feel like a game made by committee – very soulless.  In contrast, it is obvious that Racing Transformed was made by a team that knows and loves all things Sega.  Tons of care was put into every little detail, from the character models & the types of karts they drive to what they change into and what music plays when they go into “Superstar Mode”.  Courses look like they were ripped straight out of the worlds that these characters inhabit.  But it goes beyond looks.   In Battle Royale, your character levels up the more you play but from what I can see this only serves to unlock cosmetic changes and artwork.  In Racing Transformed your characters level up as well, but doing so unlocks vehicle mods that you can use to tweak your kart for the coming racing.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

Or by air…Sonic still comes out on top

Sega would have been the underdogs in this fight, if you had been taking bets beforehand.  They’ve been financially on the ropes this year, and one would suspect they have fewer resources to devote to a project like this.  But if that’s truly the case, it doesn’t show here. What they’ve done is put out a game that simultaneously celebrates all things Sega and brings the kart racing genre to new heights.  It’s a fantastic game that anyone can pick up and play but will truly take time & skill to master.  And it’s something that deserves to be in the library of any fan of the genre.  Sadly, this is not something I can say about Battle Royale – so skip the overpriced clunker and go with the value priced hot rod.  You’ll thank me for it.

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