Sunday, November 11, 2012

In The Shadow Of Giants: The PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale Multiplayer Beta - Part IV

This is the fourth and final installment in a series of articles about PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale and its now-finished multiplayer beta. This part will focus on two of the characters, Parappa the Rapper and Sly Cooper.

Last up are the mid-tier characters from the beta, Parappa the Rapper and Sly Cooper. They don't quite pack the punch of Kratos or Colonel Radec, let's say, but at least they make up for it by being nowhere near as slow and lumbering as Sweet Tooth and Fat Princess. They're both really unique characters that play significantly differently from everyone else.

What's interesting about both of these guys is how small they are in comparison to everyone else. In fact, these are the only two characters in the beta that aren't even human. Given how poorly balanced the rest of the beta is, it's not hard to imagine that Parappa and Sly's size could be a killing blow for them as viable characters. Surprisingly enough though, SuperBot Entertainment has done a fine job giving both fighters fair ways of closing the distance and dealing real damage.

I'd even be willing to say that Parappa and Sly are the only two characters in the beta that feel balanced at all.

Parappa the Rapper is a pretty basic character, which is probably why the beta's quick tutorial has you use him. His punches and kicks are all pretty standard stuff and mapped to the square button, making him one of the most quickly accessible characters in the beta. Just mash square and that's one combo you've learned, right there. Mash square while in the air above another player and that's another combo. Very easy stuff.

His square combos are especially useful because they're extremely fast to execute, giving you the upper hand on other players using slower characters. As well, those are the ones that lock other players up in them, so if you want to set your teammate up for a more powerful attack, Parappa can hold those other players in place to buy valuable time.

Parappa can also smack other players around with his skateboard. It's good for slamming enemies into the ground to give yourself a second to think, but I personally haven't found much benefit to knocking enemies over in All-Stars. You can't attack them while they're on the ground, and they have a short period of invulnerability when they get up, so I almost always found it preferable to try to keep opponents standing or knock them up in the air so I can keep attacking and earning super. I really didn't find much use for Parappa's skateboard, especially given the long windup and recovery time that can be easily punished if you miss.

Parappa becomes really interesting with his circle attacks though. Tapping circle without a direction will actually reel other players in (think Scorpion from Mortal Kombat: "Get over here!") next to Parappa so he can start attacking them. It's a fantastic way for Parappa to deal with characters like Kratos who just inherently have a longer reach than him. I will say, though, that it took me a long time to figure out how to even pull off this move due to the game's simplified control scheme. It's still too easy to be always pressing a direction on the left analog stick and forget that there's a whole separate move waiting for you when you stop moving for a second.

He also has a basic dash attack mapped to circle that's similarly good for closing the distance. Parappa can use his boombox to blast other players away, which is a great anti-air attack, or he'll drop it on the ground to continually generate orbs to fill up the super meter. It's particularly risky because anyone can pick up those orbs, so if you've put one down, you might want to stick near it and defend it. It's also another excellent tool when in a team — if you're on a team with a Radec, let's say, who will probably be more or less stationary and holding his ground anyway, dropping a boombox to generate super meter by him will help both of you tremendously and give you an edge over the competition. In free-for-all play, though, there's no one to defend it but yourself.

Parappa and Sly end up being the only two characters
in the beta that actually feel balanced.

Parappa's fortunate in that he has a pretty good lineup of supers, too. His level one is a pretty simple move where Parappa flips forward and kicks in mid-air, killing anyone he comes in contact with. It's good for quickly getting one kill, but not especially great for landing multiple kills at once. It's also very low-cost, so if you have just below a level two super, you can perform it a couple times without having to generate more super meter.

His level two is probably his best. Parappa will hop on his skateboard and ride around the stage, killing anyone he touches. It's like Fat Princess's level two chicken super, but fast enough to actually make it worthwhile. You can often kill the same player again after he respawns if you're quick enough, so for a level two super, it's pretty great.

Parappa's level three super takes over the battle with a short cutscene of him rapping "I Gotta Believe!" and kills all other players on the field. It's good in a pinch since it's guaranteed to kill everyone else, but for my money, I vastly preferred to just use his level two super and try to get three (or more) kills for less super cost. It's especially useless in 2v2 team battles where saving up for a level three super that will only get two kills makes no sense.

The biggest difference between Sly Cooper and the other characters in the beta is that he can't block. Instead, hold the block button turns Sly invisible. It's a pretty fascinating trade-off that makes Sly the most interesting character to play, easily. It radically changed how I approached fights.

Rather than hopping right into the middle of a group fight, I'd turn invisible and pick my moment to strike, then get out again. Rather than dealing with Radec's annoying sniper rifle head-on, I'd sneak up behind him over and over and throw him to steal his super meter. Rather than trying to avoid some of the most dangerous super attacks, like Radec's shooting gallery or Kratos's divine wrath, I'd hide in a corner, unseen, and laugh as they wasted half their super attack looking for me.

Of course, it also means that Sly needs to be extra careful when he finally does fight other characters. His primary attack is his hooked cane, and like Parappa, they're all very basic attacks to understand. He can swipe, dive forward, uppercut, and do a downward smash, all depending on which direction you're pointing with the left analog stick.

Sly has a suite of useful tools that make him a really dynamic character. He has a few moves that stun enemies in place, like an alarm clock and a forward slide that leaves the ground behind him electrified. He can leave a decoy, a mine, or an explosive barrel. He can use a smoke bomb to escape and he has a parachute to slow his fall. But my favorite tool of his though is a little gas bomb that will change the controls around for whichever player it hits, making them easy prey as they panic to figure out what their new button layout is.

Sly's a bit of a mixed bag in terms of supers. His level one super has his pal Murray show up and body slam anyone in front of him. It feels a little more short range than other characters' level one supers, and weaker as a result. His level two super is worse though. He straps on Carmelita Fox's jetpack and flies around the level, dropping bombs on other players. It's a pretty useless super since the jetpack just isn't fast enough to make it a real threat, and I've seen many players come away with zero kills.

His level three is probably the best of any character in the beta. Sly's friend Bentley uses his "binocucom" to take pictures of other players, wiping them from the stage. It's similar to Radec's but can kill multiple players at once, so it can be even more dangerous. The only difference is that Radec's zooms out to the whole stage and gives him a reticle to move around while Sly's zooms in a bit and he moves the camera. It's harder to find players that way, but it's still so easy to kill people that it doesn't matter.

Parappa and Sly end up being the only two characters in the beta that actually feel balanced. They both have really unique abilities that take time to learn and have fair limitations to keep them in check. There's not really much I'd change about Parappa to balance him, but Sly could probably use a little tweaking to make his level one and level two supers better so his winning strategy doesn't always completely revolve around working up to his overpowered level three.

The only other big criticism I have of the beta is that it's way too easy to lose your character in the shuffle, either because if other people are using the same character, the alternate costumes often aren't distinctive enough, or because the game doesn't have an option to have a player indicator over your character only.

Beyond that, I was really impressed with how fun it was. I wasn't sure going in whether the supers concept could be nearly as fun as the damage percentiles in Super Smash Bros., but the beta did wonders to convince me. It's got some issues, but the beta was based on a months-old version of the game, so hopefully they'll be ironed out by the time the game releases.

PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale will be released on November 20 for PlayStation 3.


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