What would it be like if all of our favorite video game characters, as well as some we may have forgotten about, met up one day and decided to just start kicking the crap out of one another? That's the question posed by PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale and, for the past few weeks, I've been getting the answer in a beta pitting six of the game's initial cast members against one another in a no holds barred brawl.

Let's just get this out of the way: Yes, Battle Royale is very similar to Nintendo's Smash Bros. series. While there are a number of unique tweaks that help establish All-Stars as its own game, the side view, four-player combat on dynamic, multi-tiered maps has pretty much been on lockdown by the Big N for over a decade. But who cares, really? Do you know how many 2D fighters other than Street Fighter are on the market? Or how about military first-person shooters? The development team at SuperBot Entertainment have worn their influences proudly on their sleeves from the get-go and, let's face it: If you're going to borrow, why not borrow from the best?

At its core All-Stars is similar to all arena style fighters. Players try to pulverize one another while avoiding being hit. Items occasionally drop that will help you in battle, and the map you're playing on occasionally does something unexpected (like send a paralyzing shock wave across the ground) to keep you on your toes. The games title, PlayStation All-Stars says it all. Despite the limited sampling of content afforded by the beta, it becomes quickly apparent that this is a celebration of all things PlayStation has accomplished over the past 15 years, as well as a quick nod to some titles that haven't even come out yet.

For the beta, my options for combatants included God of War's Kratos, Fat Princess', um, Fat Princess, Killzone's Colonel Radec, Twisted Metal's Sweet Tooth, the Sly series' Sly Cooper and Parappa the Rapper. Kratos is a walking armory, utilizing many of his series' trademark weapons to pummel his opponents from close to mid-range. Fat Princess is surprisingly agile, frequently summoning her knights and wizards to do the dirty work on her behalf. Radec is a master of firearms, meaning he's most comfortable from mid to long-range, controlling his enemies with explosive firepower. Sweet Tooth is a slower bruiser, made for getting up close and personal. Sly is a decent utility character, using trickery and misdirection to outsmart his foes. Finally, there's Parappa. I'm terrible with Parappa, and that really bums me out.

If you've seen videos of the game in motion, you know what the combat has to offer: fast-paced, sometimes too hectic to keep up with, action that should put a grin on any fighting fan's face. The initial characters offer a nice variety, giving a nice sampling of the types of combatants, moves and finishers we can expect from the final produce.

And what about those finishers? Unlike most fighting games, players don't have a health bar in Battle Royale. Instead, dishing out damage fills a meter for your own character called AP. The AP meter can fill up three times, with each tier offering your character more and more powerful finishing moves. Defeating other characters with these finishers will net you two points while getting nixed yourself will deduct one point. Whoever has the most points at the end of the round wins. Simple, right?

I've heard a lot of complaints that the system sounds flawed on paper, but I can assure you that this is not the case. Hitting opponents may not move them closer to a death in the traditional sense, but it does fill up your AP meter, moving you closer and closer to dishing out those finishing moves. That means the object of the game is just like any other fighter: Hit your opponents as much as possible while avoiding being hit yourself.

The inclusion of finishers adds a level of strategy not seen in other fighting games. Knowing how each character's finishers works and utilizing them properly is half of the fun. While it's true that absolutely botching a level two finisher and getting zero kills can be heartbreaking, it's equally invigorating to draw in your opponents and score a big three kills with a level one. You have to earn those kills, and I absolutely love it as a mechanic.

This being an extremely early beta, I'm not going to harp on the technicalities. I've seen videos that prove some of my concerns have already been addressed. The HUD in the current beta, for instance, does not show a character's score. The videos coming out of PAX, though, have them displayed prominently.

The camera sometimes has trouble figuring out where it should be focused and, while I like the effect of the shake when someone pulls off a big move, that sudden jolt can make it hard to relocate your own character when the angle is too wide. Some minor glitches, teleportations and the like tend to pop up but, for the most part, I've been pretty impressed with how solid the gameplay has been. The beta also lacks a bit in the presentation department, but since this is basically a frill-free portal into online free-for-all fights, I assume the final product will take care of those issues.

I take part in a lot of betas, which often leads to me being burnt out on a game well before it ever hits store shelves. Playing as the same characters on the same maps can only hold my attention for so long. That hasn't been the case for Battle Royale. Despite only having six characters to choose from and four maps to fight on, every showdown plays out differently. I've absolutely dominated the competition in one round while going on to be utterly trounced the next. I've also been in a fair amount of overtime battles in which AP gain and loss is incrementally increased. It's ridiculously exciting to hit the 3X overtime, where every half-decent combo fills your AP meter a full level and players start playing a hectic game of cat and mouse to try and earn the most kills in just 60 seconds.

At this point, I'm impressed with what SuperBot has to offer in PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. It's familiar enough to pick up and play with ease, yet offers a level of depth other arena brawlers have never come close to.

A public beta should be launching sometime in the coming weeks, so get ready to try it out for yourself. After that, look for the game to hit store shelves on Nov. 20.

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