Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl Review - Better Than Bad, It's Good!

  • First Released Oct 5, 2021
  • NS
Heidi Kemps on Google+

Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl offers a smashing competitive experience… but that's about all the substance it has.

There aren't all that many games in the sub-genre of "platform fighters," but there's a good reason for that--the genre is absolutely dominated by the 1000-pound gorilla that is Super Smash Bros. Yes, there are other games that look to put their own spin on Smash's formula, but they don't have anywhere near the same kind of reach or appeal as Nintendo's beloved brawler. Enter Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, a game with a roster of nostalgic characters that is very clearly modeling itself on Smash, from the controls to the stage and game formats all the way down to how the interface is designed--but with several elements catering to Smash's competitive sub-community.

The premise is simple: A bunch of your favorite Nickelodeon characters (from the early '90s Nicktoons era to the present day) are all, for reasons unclear, trying to blast each other off of various themed levels. This is accomplished the same way as you do in Smash Bros.: smack around an enemy a bunch to get their damage percentage higher and increase their launchability before whacking them with a power move to blow them out-of-bounds. The gameplay will be instantly familiar to Smash players, but newcomers to platform fighters shouldn't have much of a problem picking up SpongeBob, Reptar, and Korra and doing some cool moves. Every fighter has an array of normal and special attacks on the ground and in the air (including an aerial recovery attack to attempt to save your bacon when launched), along with a throw and shield.

That isn't to say it's exactly like Smash, as there are some key changes to set All-Star Brawl apart. One example is in the controls. You have three attack buttons: normal, strong attack, and special attack, along with a dedicated jump button (and no "press up to jump" option). Smash's "Tilt" moves, where you move the analog stick slightly in one direction and press the normal attack button, are instead remapped to D-pad or analog stick plus normal attack button in All-Star Brawl. This is a very clever way to implement these attacks while reducing the odds of a wrong input, and as someone who frequently overshoots the tilt threshold in Smash, I greatly appreciated it. Also welcome is a dedicated "strafe" button to keep a character facing a specific direction while moving around the arenas. Advanced mechanics familiar to Smash faithful, like wavedashing, perfect guarding, and attack priority, have been deliberately emphasized and expanded upon.

Players who want to dig deep into the game systems and compete with others will find a lot here to enhance their experience. The training mode has some unique and interesting features, including a full hitbox viewer--an extremely useful tool that very few fighting games include as a feature--and the ability to advance frame-by-frame to study move properties and interactions on a highly detailed level. All-Star Brawl also offers rollback netcode for online play. Rollback has become greatly preferred by competitive gaming enthusiasts over the more common delay-based netcode, so seeing it in All-Star Brawl shows a genuine commitment to that particular audience--though in my testing, it still proved to be a bit iffy through long-distance or Wi-Fi-based online connections. Overall, there's plenty of meat to dig into here for those who want a mechanically rich platform fighter that isn't quite a Smash game, but still close enough.

So Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is mechanically sound, which is great. But for a game that's trying very hard to put up a serious fight against Smash, it falls short in significant ways. The main reason Smash Bros. is such a runaway success is that the game works on numerous levels: as a competitive game, as a party game, and as a showcase for fan-service. You can play Smash with a strictly competitive ruleset, or you can turn on all of the items and play on the blatantly cruel stages to goof off. You can even ignore multiplayer altogether and sink hours into a variety of single-player content options while enjoying all the Nintendo fan-service and gaming references.

Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, in comparison, gets the competitive element right, but everything else is severely lacking. There are no wacky, overpowered items at all, and while a couple of the stage designs do present interesting challenges and hazards, most of them feel pretty restrained, both in terms of presentation and the dangers they provide. As a single-player experience, there's not much to chew on at all: a short arcade challenge mode, a "sports" mode (where the object is to score goals rather than launching each other), and the usual quick stock--and time-based battles against CPU fighters are all you get. You can unlock various extras like music and gallery images in these modes, but the rewards aren't particularly interesting overall.

But the fan-service element--or lack thereof--is the most disappointing thing. Much like Smash Bros., Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is packed with a star-studded cast of characters from the network's huge library of shows. These characters aren't random nobodies--they mean a lot to multiple generations of players, and having them in a crossover game like this is an exciting prospect. While developer Ludosity has done an admirable job with many of the animations and attacks, things like the lack of character voiceover during fights, no character-specific single-player stories or endings, and generic pre-fight dialogue exchanges in arcade mode are a tremendous disappointment. It's sad that a brawl between the likes of Ren and Stimpy, Toph, Patrick Star, and Michelangelo is almost completely silent--the potential for funny character interactions there is wasted.

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Ultimately, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is a solid competitive platform fighter, but it's lacking in several key elements. If you've got a group of buddies that enjoy competitive Smash and have a lot of love for Nickelodeon's catalog of cartoon characters, you'll find All-Star Brawl quite satisfying. But if you're looking for substantial single-player experiences or a fun mess-around party fighter you can play casually with friends and family, you're going to run back to the warm embrace of Nintendo's juggernaut very quickly.

Heidi Kemps on Google+
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The Good

  • Mechanically solid gameplay that controls wonderfully and is easy to pick up
  • Extensive training options and quality netcode shows a genuine interest in the game's competitive life

The Bad

  • Offers very little in terms of single-player and casual-play content
  • A lack of crossover character interactions and voicework is a tremendous missed opportunity

About the Author

Heidi's heyday with Nickelodeon was likely a lot earlier than most of the folks reading this. She's rather sad that Barth from You Can't Do That on Television wasn't considered for the primary roster. Maybe DLC will fix that? Review code was provided by the publisher.