Super Smash Bros. has a very firm grasp on its genre. We struggle to call it a fighting game, as it doesn't really follow the technical structure of one. That's not to say that Smash can't be technical. One trip to the Super Smash Bros. subreddit would shoot down that notion. But Smash's unique objective, knocking an opponent off-stage instead of depleting a life bar, puts it in a class all its own. Traditional fighters are content to keep to the life bar structure, letting Smash carve out a deeper and deeper niche with each installment. Now, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate became the most attended game at EVO, solidifying its dominance.
Once upon a time, however, there was a game that attempted to challenge Smash's singular combination of iconic characters and objective-based fighting. PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale brought the likes of Nathan Drake and PaRappa the Rapper together for a battle that demanded special move KOs. It had genuine fun, but it never quite became the Smash-killer Sony probably hoped it would be. Nothing is permanent in gaming, though, and sequels happen no matter how ill-advised. So does PS All-Stars 2 have a shot? Probably not, and we're going to tell you why.
The Little Game That Could
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale had a fascinating development, one that could have added up to a great product. Reports say that Naughty Dog was originally tapped to develop it, but was too busy with The Last of Us. Instead, Sony formed a team specifically for the game. It was dubbed SuperBot, and it seems it was always meant to make a mascot crossover game. However, as Youtuber Yuriofwind discovered, the original idea was for a Capture the Flag sort of game. Stages were suitably expansive, and were all based on various PlayStation game locations.
It didn't take long for the project to be refocused into a fighting game, and footage of the concept was shown at San Diego Comic-Con under the name "Title Fight." Yuriofwind has some of the footage in his coverage of PS All-Stars. It shows Kratos from God of War and PaRappa battling it out. Again, very expansive stages are teased. Think the moving stages of Super Smash Bros.
Things changed in development, as they do, but core aspects remained the same. The game became a crossover fighter starring various PlayStation icons. The stages shrunk to single-screen affairs. They were still a selling point, however, as they would transform mid battle, becoming a mash-up of two wildly different PlayStation worlds (this concept would later be borrowed by Smash Ultimate and turned into the Stage Shift mechanic). Betas were held, leaks unveiled secret characters, and the hype built. Then the game released.
PS All-Stars launched to middling reviews, but we all know that reviews don't mean everything. The PlayStation brand is strong, and loyal fans were there to support the game. They still support it to this day, with a subreddit that somehow is still active, despite the game's online features being shut down earlier this year. Just the idea of having iconic characters come together is enough of a draw.
To be fair, the game was actually quite good at what it set out to do. A true love letter to PlayStation, it had expected references like Chop Chop Master Onion and Ape Escape's island, as well as deep cuts like Polygon Man. The transforming stages were a novel idea, and the fighting system of needing to KO opponents via a special move was different even if it wasn't widely loved.
It also had some flaws that couldn't be ignored. The art style never became as cohesive or appealing as it should have been. Super Smash Bros. is a masterclass in taking cute characters like Kirby and realistic ones like Snake and making the coexist. PS All-Stars never quite bridged that gap and ended up with rather bland visuals all around. And it was the characters who suffered most.
Gee Nintendo, Why Do You Get Cloud AND Snake?
There are many characters who come to mind when you hear the word "PlayStation." We already mentioned Nathan Drake of Uncharted, PaRappa the Rapper, and Kratos. Those three naturally made it into the roster, as did rising characters from the time like Fat Princess and Cole from Infamous. Problems only started to arise when Sony faced the challenge of getting iconic PlayStation characters it didn't own.
Cloud from Final Fantasy VII is a PlayStation legend. So is Solid Snake of Metal Gear fame. Neither made it into PS All-Stars. Instead, players got a Big Daddy from BioShock and Raiden in his cyber ninja Revengeance outfit. Final Fantasy didn't even make the cut. Some theorize that Square Enix and the other third-party companies asked for too much money for these characters' usage, or that they didn't trust Sony's untested new game. Instead, some offered budget alternatives, such as Capcom giving Sony use of rebooted Dante instead of his classic white-haired version.
DLC was eventually released for PS All-Stars, but even that failed to excite. Characters like Kat from Gravity Rush and Isaac from Dead Space were not who fans were clamoring for. DLC production was cancelled early due to low sales. It seems Sony gave up on PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale after that. Meanwhile, in 2019, Nintendo made this happen:
For Super Smash Bros., money or rights appear to be no obstacle. Some stories even say Hideo Kojima himself approached Nintendo asking for Snake to be in Smash. Faced to that level of clout, can you really blame Sony for throwing in the towel?
Super Smash Bros. is simply too much of a juggernaut to take head-on. Crossover fighters can still do alright if they cater to different audiences. Take Jump Force. Despite its horrible lack of balance, the game sold fairly well because people want to see their favorite anime fighters clash. In the gaming world, however, Smash is king. Sony has been wise to not throw out a low effort PS All-Stars sequel. If it wants to try again, it absolutely must bring a polished game with actual iconic characters. The thing is, Nintendo kind of took them all. PlayStation fans are better off putting their hopes in Crash Team Racing.