If you’ve never delved into the manga backgrounds of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, you’re going to have a tiny issue understanding pretty much anything that comes your way in All Star Battle. With manga still being a fairly niche market in the western hemisphere, it’s a bold move from Namco Bandai to release CyberConnect2’s fighting extravaganza over here in Europe. Can it find its calling and garner a whole new set of fans or will it forever circle the bargain bucket, attempting to deflect the puzzled mainstream comments of its genre?
As a 2D fighting game masquerading as a 3D brawler with training wheels, All Star Battle might well feel familiar to some. It possesses the sometimes favourable light, medium and heavy attacks, a dodge feature, more specials than you can waggle a stick at, and eventually, a huge roster of unique, playable characters. All sounds great and well above board so far, yet it can actually take a while to find this basic information out.
As is the trend, it seems, in fighting games, there is no tutorial whatsoever; whilst this might please the elitists and the hardcore out there, to me, it’s a further way of alienating players and potential fans. The practice mode is sufficient enough to improve your techniques with the characters, yet the move list available for each fighter consists of around 10+ attacks, spread across several tabs; to practice each one, you must manually select it from the list each time. Despite the initial lack of available combos on offer, you’ll find it to be a surprisingly competent brawler. You can perform most of the advanced techniques available in other 2D fighters such as empowering attacks, cancels, ultimates and many others. The problem, once more, is that it doesn’t tell you.
Anyone who’s a fan of both CyberConnect2’s large health bar fights of the Naruto persuasion should find themselves welcome here; with a little more fidelity in the mechanics, it shapes up to be an interesting crossover between that and Street Fighter. Whilst it may not house the hallmarks of a competitive fighting game, the larger than usual life bars will ensure a healthy contest; battles between friends will be a screen filling explosion of Hirohiko Araki’s fantastic work.
With the smorgasbord of characters available, there are bound to be some fighters that appeal more than others; due to the different special stands available, many perform differently. Some characters can refill their special gauge, some can summon an offensive ethereal spirit and some can even mount steeds. Of course it wouldn’t be complete without special stage related trigger attacks such as being run over by a squad of chariots or precariously teetering chandeliers falling on your head. Needless to say, this isn’t your average fighting game!
The modes available are mostly your standard affair, there’s the classic arcade mode, where the goal is usually hankering after a high score, versus and practice modes beef it up a little too along with an odd online campaign section serving to unlock goodies. Of course a story mode that looks as convoluted as it feels, mainly in part due to the story making little to no sense if you are unfamiliar with the source material is also ever present. There is also the slightly intimidating online mode should you wish to take on people that are undoubtedly better than you! Whilst the connection remained strong and matchmaking seemed to function well enough, there were already several instances of people using the ‘better’ characters. Some characters moves flow so well into another’s, that it can feel a little exasperating being hit by the same combo repeatedly, but that’s no real surprise!
Despite there being generally not a huge amount of content for the single player oriented players besides collecting the usual costumes, taunts and other little customisable tweaks, it’s these devout players that will undoubtedly get the most out of the game. As, in essence, this is a game aimed squarely at fans of the original manga. Every stance, quip and special attack are ripped with great accuracy and love from the source material, giving fans something to gush over. Fighting purists will berate it for being a little simplified and newcomers will get lost without guidance, but those lucky few in-between are in for a real treat. The menus are awash with obscure characters and quotes, the story mode, although nonsensical to some, will be a fantastic treat to the fans and the gloriously over the top special moves can’t help but bring a smile.
Difficulty in fighting games is often a subjective matter; All Star’s is no real exception, the first few story mode battles can be swept under the rug with simple mashings of the light attack button. To clear the game and subsequently test your mettle online however, will require dextrous use of the game’s mechanics and as always, plenty of practice. Play it for an hour and you’ll nonplussed at the lack of depth, delving into the intricacies of the combat however will quickly relieve any doubts.
Despite the main menu being a little bogged down with the occasional overly long quote, All Star Battles is all about the presentation. Love them or hate them, it would be difficult to be unimpressed by the quality and scale of the effects; I don’t think I’ve ever seen my screen so inundated with colour before, making a nice change from the usual olive drab.
For fans of the series and manga in general, its presentation, over the top special moves and character mannerisms would easily grant this game a perfect score. For the rest of us however, it can be almost intentionally vague, it doesn’t explain how to physically play the game, but will instead offer helpful hints regarding what the ‘options’ screen entails. Unfortunately, traits such as this could well confuse and frustrate the casual gamer to a point where these complications over balance the great things it can offer to the right person.