PlayStation All-Star Battle Royale is set for a 2012 release on the PS3.
"It's the equivalent of a car geek getting the keys to Jay Leno's garage ... break anything and you're toast," says Chan Park, the President of Superbot Entertainment.
He's referencing the tremendous responsibility that comes with making PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, a four-player arena fighting game that pits the company's most iconic characters against one another. Kratos, Parappa, Sly Cooper, Fat Princess, Col. Radec and Sweet Tooth bounced across the screen beside him, pulverizing each other with a litany of comical attacks.
"You probably have a lot of questions about why we've been entrusted [with the project]," says Park. Superbot Entertainment isn't a known studio, yet. They've been quietly groomed by Sony Santa Monica, their staff assembled to make this particular game.
The team includes fighting designers with experience on games as new as UFC Undisputed and as old as X-men Next Dimension. Even Ed Ma, a preeminent Street Fighter IV player, is on the combat team.
Game Director Omar Kendall tells me that though the game has a casual appeal, they want it to serve doubly as a competitive fighting experience.
The aforementioned six characters were shown across four stages. "Each level in our game is a combination of multiple IPs. In the case of Metropolis, a city from Ratchet & Clank, we've combined that with a little God of War." In the demo, a fight begins in the center of a busy futuristic city scape. Halfway through the match, a storm swoops in and a three headed hydra bursts out, snapping at the combatants.
In a LittleBigPlanet arena, the world is built like a user-generated level, platforms and traps appearing and disappearing. Midway through the brawl, the announcer from BUZZ asks a four choice question, and the combatants freeze to select an answer. Those who answered wrong are penalized by a pie that stuns them, the filling covering the battlefield.
The game and its developers aren't shy about similarities to Super Smash Bros. Before the match, a Ready, Fight introduction splash on the screen. Characters are followed by red, yellow, blue, and green arrows, that match their power gauges at the bottom of the screen. After a match, the losers are shown posing in disappointment, while the winners take a celebratory stance.
Says Kendall, "We don't shy away from the fact that we as huge fans and as developers have borrowed from the great history fighting games have."
Kendall says bringing something new is key. For example, there is no health bar. Players beat AP (attack power) out of one another. Collecting AP fills a bar that has three thresholds. The first launches a close range move that kills 1 person, the second is a burst move that can take out two or three nearby opponents, and the third generally cleans the screen.
"If you look at the core mechanic of our game, it brings something new and interesting," says Kendall.
The other differentiating factor is the roster. This is the first game to let these particular characters go head to head. They feel surprisingly different. Parappa is close range, and has the ability to produce AP from his boom box. Col. Radec is a range fighter, keeping rivals at a distance with his sniper rifle. Kratos and Sweet Tooth are all-around strong fighters, mixing up range and close combat attacks.
Each fighter has dozens of moves, deployed by combining a direction on the directional pad or left joystick with the square, triangle or circle buttons. There are throws and blocks -- unless you play as Sly Cooper, who can't block, but can disappear. Kendall believes the choice better captures the character's essence.
The team is mum on what first and third-party characters will show up, though Kendall did provide some insight to how characters are chosen.
"What character would make a good character in a fighting game isn't the question we ask," says Kendall. "[We ask] what character has a really strong personality, a distinct characterization, with a strong fan following, that we can put into this game and express interesting gameplay with?"
In Superbot's hands, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is on track, but there's plenty of road left before its release later this year. Kendall doesn't seem too worried. "It's just a relief to finally talk about it," he says.