In the depths of Hades, Killzone's Colonel Radec fires potshots at the raccoon master-thief Sly Cooper while avoiding claw strikes from the gargantuan god of the Underworld himself. But Hades has his own problems: as the unlikeliest of PlayStation icons do battle with each other before him, an invading Patapon army stages a hostile takeover of his home turf...
It's the kind of madcap scenario that's par for the course in PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale. Speaking of "par" and "courses", combatants will also have to avoid incoming, explosive golfballs courtesy of some Hotshots Golfers in the background of Jak and Daxter's Sandover Village.
"The opportunity to take these very different characters and put them together - there's a natural sort of humour and fun that comes out of doing that," begins executive producer Chan Park. "We really want to play up the fun, play up the craziness of it all, but still have it feel like it all belongs in the same sort of world."
Iconic video-game character references permeate the entire fabric of PlayStation All-Stars.
The LittleBigPlanet arena materialises while the combat takes place, with new platforms and vantage points constantly shaking up the flow of combat. Partway through the very same match, Buzz will pose a video-game trivia question to the combatants, their answers selected by standing on one of four labelled platforms when the timer expires. Of course, players can knock opponents from their perches beforehand, preventing them from answering correctly.
Bizarre cross-overs and character match-ups have certainly been done before, but PlayStation All-Stars' approach might sound particularly familiar (there's, of course, that Nintendo series). And although SuperBot acknowledges the similarities, the company claims that PlayStation All-Stars is still something quite special. "I think we've created a pretty unique experience," contends Park. "I think there are enough unique aspects that it can stand on its own, and again, not just from [Smash Bros.] but from any kind of brawler or fighting game."
One of the main areas in which SuperBot hopes that PlayStation All-Stars will distance itself from its peers is in its depth. And to do that, it's recruited talent with some considerable fighting-game chops. For instance, lead combat designer Paul Edwards began his career putting together Brady Games strategy guides for fighting games. Over the last 10 years or so, he's worked on the development teams for such games as UFC Undisputed, Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, X-Men: Next Dimension and more. One of the SuperBot staffers is a pro Street Fighter player, and most of the rest are self-professed fighting-game fanatics
"When we first started out, we obviously wanted to hit the right notes that resonate with us as players and make sure we got the depth and the detail in there that makes it fun for us to play for hundreds of hours on end long after the game comes out," begins Edwards.
It's not necessarily Sony games alone that inform the look and feel of PlayStation All-Stars. The influences of other classic fighting games are readily apparent.
"When you've got myself and Omar [Kendall] and some of the developers that we're working with who have been playing fighting games for so long, that even subconsciously those other games have influence, says Edwards.
"Even, you know, Virtua Fighter down to Marvel vs Capcom or Tekken - whatever - we've leveraged all that experience and knowledge to build a unique, refreshing fighting experience. At times there will be things where you'll say, 'Ah, this reminds me of this from that game,' and it's there because it reminded us too. We were, like, 'this is the perfect spot to leverage Fat Princess' villagers in a Marvel-style assist, [for instance]."
Despite a control scheme that's simple to understand, PlayStation All-Stars doesn't have to dissolve into a mere button-mashing fest. Each character has roughly two dozen different attacks, each of which is useful for different scenarios. Like any fighting game worth its salt, character mastery comes from intimately familiarising yourself with the range of attacks and knowing when to use them. Landed blows generate "AP", which fills a three-level super meter. Super attacks are the only way in which combatants can dispatch their opponents and score points. But it's up to the player whether to strike early with a hard-to-land level-one attack or save for more devastating and typically wider-reaching level-two or -three attacks.
"One person's level two might be kinda poor, but their level three might be good," explains Edwards. "And another character's level two might be really good in one particular situation that doesn't happen a lot."
But depth can be an unforgiving pursuit when faced with the commercial realities of the mass-market gaming industry. "Party games" of this ilk are all about accessibility, but SuperBot's chasing a lofty goal: that breadth of appeal that will keep more experienced fighting-game fans engaged while ensuring that novices can be competitive. It took a lot of trial and error, but Edwards feels SuperBot has found a happy medium. "Where we've settled now, I think, is the perfect balance where players like myself can have a really good time playing against someone who's brand new, which I think is really unique to our game."
A release date for PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale has not yet been announced.By Chris Leggett