As flat as the 2D cells these characters were drawn on
Once in a blue moon a developer thinks to themselves: “I can make a Super Smash Bros. game.” Honestly, it's actually kind of surprising how few of these ring out fighting games there are, compared to 2D 1v1 fighting games. There’s been some outliers over the years, most notably for me the excellent Rivals of Aether, with the sole aim of replicating the professional techniques and style that made Super Smash Bros. Melee so popular in the competitive scene. Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, unfortunately, does not fall on this side of the spectrum. See, while there’s a large and varied roster on display here that does try to include as many of the network’s most famous animated shows, it just lacks the hook that has kept me engaged elsewhere. Much like Nick’s infamous slime, the surprise is there for a few minutes, but in the end you are stuck with a sticky goop that is just really annoying.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl does have a few good things going for it. Most notable at first is its large and varied selection of fighters. Shows from all ages are represented. From icons like Spongebob Squarepants, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ren and Stimpy, and both Aang and Korra, to cult classics and favorites like Invader Zim, Powdered-Toast Man, Helga, Nigel Thornberry and CatDog. Each fighter definitely has their own unique moveset. Similar to Super Smash Bros., characters have normal attacks, heavy attacks and special moves to bounce each other across a variety of stages. Some are more tricky to learn than others. For example, I really wanted to play a lot with Korra, but her moveset felt kind of different from how I’d imagine her fighting as a fully-powered Avatar. In the end, I enjoyed April O’Neal the most, using camera and photographic equipment to push Lincoln Loud off the edge of a cliff.
The fighting in and of itself is probably what will attract most people to the game, and honestly that feels not too shabby. It’s definitely more simplistic and harkens back to the Super Smash Bros. Melee type matches that feel a tad more floaty than Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for example. But the sheer number of moves you can pull off with the different fighters allow for a lot of creative combos and ways to deal damage. Most characters get another power-boost after they’ve received more than 100% damage, which adds some cool additional tricks to fighters like Aang, who can suddenly do an area of effect attack as their neutral special. While the base roster is currently at 20 fighters, I do feel that each one brings their own strengths to the table and allows for quite a few creative matches. I’m personally nowhere near competent enough to compete in ranked matches online, but what I did play online worked fluidly on Switch and gave me the competition I was looking for. That said, I’m sure this game will shine most when played locally with others because the image of Nigel Thornberry whacking Spongebob in the back of the head invited a lot of laughter with a group.
But this is also where the game quickly and abruptly ended for me. Because outside of that main fighting, there really isn’t much meat to the bones of All-Star Brawl. When ignoring the multiplayer battles, there’s only an arcade mode that doesn’t reward the player with anything noteworthy outside of icons for their profile. There’s a sports mode in which you need to shoot a ball through a hoop, but that felt dragged out and just too long. It really feels like the game lacks the sheer variety and creativity that a Nickelodeon battle game would bring to the table. See, as much as I absolutely enjoy Super Smash Bros. as a (competitive) fighting game, the classic mode, break the targets, spirit battles, stage builder and all the other side-additions truly make the game feel polished. There’s always something to play in Smash Bros. where the mechanics are used in a variety of creative ways. The lack of items also becomes noticeable in All-Stars Brawl, because it boils down every match in arcade or multiplayer mode to skill instead of the luck and surprise that items bring to the table. Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is definitely serving a different crowd here, but it does make the entire experience feel cheap and slapped together. The fighters have no voices and are only introduced to one another with copy-pasted text blocks. There’s no alternate colors or costumes, making mirror-matches pretty annoying and confusing. It seems like a lot of corners were cut just to get the base game out there. But that polish, that attention to detail, would’ve brought so much of the game to life. Even if the voicelines had been copied straight from the show, it would’ve added something here. Now you just hear a couple of whacks and don’t experience the thrill of what a match between Toph and Korra could’ve been on screen.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl almost feels as if it was sold on the sheer premise of reviving Melee with Nickelodeon characters. On the fighting end, it mostly succeeds, but due to a lack of polish, cut corners and just a cheap feel, I’m skeptical how long this game can keep your attention. Yes, the sheer hilarity of seeing Patrick Star beat up CatDog is still funny, but I don’t think the lifespan of this game will increase over time. Watching all these fighters silently duke it out makes it feel like we’re watching storyboards for a singular crossover episode. While that may entice you into watching the commercials, the final product just leaves all these popular properties feel compromised.