My roommate and I are huge Smash Bros. fans, so we like exploring similar games. Thus, we decided to give Sony's derivative a try.
Before trying anything else, we booted up the game's tutorial to get a quick understanding of how it's played and what the rules are. The first part instructed me to use the left thumbstick to move my character to the indicated zone. So, I quit out of the tutorial. I'm sure there were some useful lessons in the later parts of the tutorial, but they really should have just given me a list of things to learn that I could select from at will. Even a single two minute video explaining the rules and a screen showing a gamepad mapped to game controls would have been more acceptable.
So, without knowing how to play, we set up a Versus match and dove in. The game seemed to make sense until we started comparing it directly to Smash. The two big things we noticed were: 1) there's no damage meter, and 2) moves are wildly different between characters. In our first match, we ended up in quadruple overtime, unsure what the win condition was. Then by accident, one of us finally killed the other, and the match finally ended. You can only kill other players with a Super move. As you hit your opponents, you collect points (AP) toward building up a meter by your character's portrait. It goes through three levels, and when it levels up the game announces your level in a voice that pales in comparison to the Unreal or Halo announcers.
It's not obvious how to add AI characters in Versus mode. We even started to believe it just wasn't possible. We gave up trying but later read that the host player can select the AI combatants after choosing his own character by simply pressing right to the next empty character slot and then selecting a character. You can select the random portrait for AI players as well as yourself. But, when we finished that match and returned to the character select screen, the AI players were gone, and I had to button over and select new ones. There is a setting to "remember AI", but that does not remember the random option, so you are forced to button over anyway if you want to change who you're fighting against. It was also disappointing to find that the game does not remember some Versus settings like increased AP generation from match to match.
In Story mode, you select a difficulty level. Then you choose a character and get a unique cinematic explaining his or her back story, which is the same story you'd see in each of the character's individual titles. It is a series of still images with a narrator telling the story. Then you face off against one AI opponent for no apparent reason, and the story is never mentioned again. Playing As Kratos, I reached the final boss, Sweet Tooth, in a battle that took place in a special PlayStation themed level that reminded me of the Master Hand boss fight in SSB (N64). Sweet Tooth killed me, so I didn't get to see the ending of Story mode, but I just watched a video, and it looks like that boss character is random, and other AI-driven characters jump into the fight before it ends. What's more, there is a giant purple head that empowers your opponents and attacks you itself, so the boss fight is special.
The following are characters I sorely missed (read: not in the game): Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, Lara Croft (by herself, not as a single Super assistant for Nariko), Solid Snake (probably missing because he was in SSB Brawl), anyone from Resident Evil, anyone from Final Fantasy, Rayman, and Gex. Notice that I left out Abe (Oddworld) and Ico; I'd rather not see them with lots of super abilities.
Overall, the game is a fun playground with some of your favorite characters. The limited roster and balance issues though, keep this from being a more than average game.