Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is another swing at the Super Smash Bros. party fighter formula by western developers that obviously really admire the many prestigious works of Masahiro Sakurai. Unfortunately, it ends up not raising the bar and ultimately feeling more like a “BrawlOut 2” than a unique game in it’s own right.
There’s no real story mode (or even a single CG cutscene) to tie everything together, so everything rests purely on it’s presentation and gameplay to sell the experience to the player. Sadly … I’m not sure it does.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl gameplay
While I don’t think that party fighters should all be beholden to exclusively what Super Smash Bros. has done, I don’t think that I’m being cruel when I say that Nintendo’s take on the genre should serve as the bar to hit for the fundamentals.
One of the first things I noticed about Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is that the controls are “wrong” for a Smash style game. It’s weird to do a fighter-clone and then distinctly not clone the controls. 20 years of Smash design conventions were thrown out of the window, and everything upon an initial boot up felt like it was on the wrong button. It felt a bit like if you went on a shooter, and shoot was on the left trigger while looking down sights was on the right one.
Thankfully I could remap things, as Attack should be A, Specials should be B … and I could ignore that heavy attack was mapped to a button at all and just use the right stick. Strangely, there’s no way to set these inputs on an options menu, so you have to do it on the character select. NASB saves your preferences, but it was a setting that you’d have to make each time in multiplayer mode for Player 2, 3, and 4.
There’s also a strange lack of grab hits, air dodges and dodge rolls, but Ludosity have still added wavedashing and dashdancing mechanics that feel basically lifted from Super Smash Bros. Melee because that’s the way the fighting game community likes them. A lot of character’s recovery skills just seem to be … bad. A lot of them either don’t have the reach you’d want them to, or just sort of snap to the edge of the stages and feel unsatisfying.
All Star Brawl’s heavy ‘kill confirm’ attacks feel like they are lacking in collision impact, and the only one who feels like there is any “Smash” to his right stick finishers is Catdog. It’s better realised than something like 2017’s BrawlOut, but it still often feels lacking and stiff.
I will say that the game’s battle stage designs are mostly good, with the exception of a Ren & Stimpy one that is frankly, terrible. I’m not sure who decided that putting sinking platforms and an auto-scrolling camera into one level was a good idea, but they were wrong.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl’s lack of polish
Sadly, what largely lets Nick All-Star Brawl down is that it often just seems unfinished, with things you’d expect to be there either missing or feeling half-baked. One of the biggest let downs is that there’s voice acting at all. Even if they couldn’t get expensive voice acting names like Tom Kenny or Tim Curry, I’d have taken soundalikes over silence.
A silent fighting game is weird and that’s one of the biggest things that makes the game feel like a cheap cash grab. This weirdness is only compounded with an odd choice where characters will say things out of context. At one point I fought April O’Neil and she said “This is April O’Neil on the top floor” with no punctuation …despite the fact she was standing on top of a pirate ship at the time.
These quotes are odd, because they’re just lines from the show, despite the fact no voice lines are playing alongside them. The text doesn’t actually reference the other character or provide any sort of meaningful context at all —surely another flaw in this crossover fighting game— so it’s just kind of an annoying time waster. Ultimately, the ‘interactions’ make no sense and the game would be better off without them. Honestly they even sort of fill me with existential dread, because it makes it feel a little bit like the characters have been plucked from their own realities and don’t even see what I’m seeing.
I do consider Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl’s roster to be a good (if nostalgic) one, but a lot of the characters’ movesets seem ill-conceived or half-baked, lacking in the sort of flow I would prefer to see from a fighting game character. I also have to address the giant mutant half-man-half-elephant in the room — only including two of the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles feels like it should be illegal somehow. They could’ve even sort-of solved this issue with alternate color schemes, but there are no alternate colors or costumes at all. It’s a weird omission which makes multiplayer matches more confusing than they need to be whenever two people choose the same character.
Everyone in Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is unlocked by default, which would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that there’s such a little amount of content already. There are only Stock, Time and ‘Sports’ match types and none of the modes have item variants at all, presumably because the developers are pandering to the FGC that don’t like them.
There is a bare bones training mode that does what you’d expect from an older fighting game, but if you aren’t familiar with Super Smash Bros. then it is unlikely to make you a master without some help from a friend.
Perhaps the most glaring omission is that in Arcade Mode there’s no final boss like Master Hand to cap off an arcade run. This sucks, as you’ll basically do a few matches and then it just kind of ends. Surely Nickelodeon has at least one character that could rival PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale’s Polygon Man. Perhaps Face, who is bitter about having been taken off Nick Jr. back in 2004?
There’s also no screenshot or photo mode, which is something that Super Smash Bros. has had since it was on GameCube — you do unlock renders of stages and characters for beating Arcade Mode, but that doesn’t really have the same amount of fun to it.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl music
The music in Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is very generic, and is strangely actually licensed stuff from any of the shows. Again, it feels cheap, but worse than that it feels a bit “poor imitation”-y. It would be like if you booted up the Super Mario Bros stage on Super Smash Bros and it was off-key and ‘inspired by’, rather than being the iconic song by Koji Kondo. You wouldn’t be pleased, to say the least.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl performance
Action and inputs are obviously paramount in a fighting game, so I commend Ludosity and Fair Play Labs for their commitment to that instead of graphics. Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl manages to run at a smooth 60FPS on all platforms — even on Nintendo Switch. I wouldn’t say the game is ugly either, although sometimes character sizes feel … off.
There’s been a lot of focus on making sure the netcode is good, and it largely is. That is, as long as both players have a decent and consistent (and usually wired) web connection. Still, better than Super Smash Bros. but only in that regard.
If this review feels like it often stops-and-starts, like it might’ve been bullet points stitched together into sentences, it’s just because the content in the game has genuinely made it really difficult to find something that I can build any real positivity around.
I’m certain that the competitive Super Smash Bros. community will really like Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, thanks to its focus on high-level FGC mechanics like wavedashing and dashdancing that will make the game feel right at home at EVO, but I’m unsure about that being the direction of a fighting game based around characters largely aimed at little kids.
While we’re talking about the target audience, the roster, while cool to me and my generation, also feels a little bit stuck in the past. Most of the characters are from the glory days of the 1980s and 1990’s Nicktoons lineup. The newest characters are from The Loud House, a show from 2016. Has Nickelodeon not had a new popular show in the last five years they could’ve grabbed someone from?
While I appreciate the good online play and rollback netcode, it doesn’t really carry the game enough to help us get over it’s lack of attention to the little things, like the strange movesets, the lack of voice acting, or the terrible music.
I do see the potential in the game and I will say that I even hope that there’s a sequel or a substantial post-launch support plan that can improve the game. It’s just that overall, I found this release very disappointing, even though I loved Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2: Grand Prix and it’s similar presentation flaws.