Do you remember watching a Nickelodeon show as a kid, Ren & Stimpy or SpongeBob SquarePants for example, and knowing that a joke was going over your head? Do you remember the first time you watched that episode as an adult and then got what was so funny? Nicktoons were full of humor for children and grown-ups alike, and Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl does its best to capture that magic in video game form. Providing a roster full of iconic cartoon characters and merging it with deep mechanical gameplay, the teams at Ludosity, Fair Play Studios, and GameMill Entertainment are hoping to break into a fighting game niche that’s currently occupied by one series. Is it as thrilling as earning a piece of the Aggro Crag or as disappointing as a bucket of slime? Let’s get into the gooey details.
F is for friends who do stuff together
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is at its core a platform brawler where combatants wail on each other to raise their damage percentage like in Super Smash Bros. and knock each other off the stage when that number gets high enough. Moves are done by combining a directional input with one of three attack types — light, heavy, and special — and the key to success is skillfully weaving these into combos and finishers. There are currently 20 Nickelodeon characters to choose from, plus DLC on the way.
The game has a few different modes: Battle, Arcade, and Online. There’s also an Extras menu that features a few goodies, like an unlockable art gallery and a jukebox. Battle lets friends play in the same room, with an option for stock or timed matches. There’s also a Sports mode, where teams attempt to score goals on each other using their moves on a ball, as well as an option for training. The Arcade mode is a classic one-on-one light story mode, where you fight progressively more difficult computer opponents. In the Online mode, you can fight against other people over the net for a higher ranking or head to quick play for low-stakes tussles. You can even set up a lobby to hang out with friends.
Move it, football head!
There’s a lot that Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl gets wrong. Many of the options are counterintuitive. For instance, at the end of a match, on the results screen, pressing A immediately starts a rematch. If you want to choose a new fighter, you have to press Y. If you’re not careful, pressing B will take you to the main menu, no questions asked. This wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t take 15 to 20 seconds between loading each screen and having you reconfirm your controller between each mode. Additionally, matches get incredibly laggy if you’re in a stage where there’s a lot going on like Traffic Jam or playing a character who has a lot of visual effects like Aang or Zim.
Actions lack weight, as the screen doesn’t shake when one character smashes another for instance, and the hit angles are strange and unpredictable. Hitboxes and hurtboxes are all over the place. Some characters are clearly more developed than others, and half of them don’t even move in a way that fits their on-screen appearances. The generic sound effects and lack of voice acting also make matches feel hollow.
It’s clear the developers worked hard on the Online mode being the definitive way to play the game, but the experience left much to be desired. Every match suffers from lag, and a little number near the opponent’s icon indicates how long it takes for their Switch to talk to yours. Additionally, the netcode they used predicted my actions incredibly badly. In my most recent online match, it ran me off the stage to the right, while I was running to the left, resulting in a loss.
Changing one person’s controls affects all other players on that console because there are no individual player profiles. I can see this being a huge mess in in-person tournaments. As it was, my friends and I couldn’t agree on what played closer to what we were used to, so there were compromises, but we all agreed that the default control scheme wasn’t working for us.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that, in a weird way, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl gets it right where it counts. Many (though not nearly all) of your favorite Nick characters are together in a fighting game. I loved playing as Aang and Korra, whose move set reflected their abilities in their respective shows perfectly, and Zim’s play style is likewise absolutely perfect. The stages are lovely, and the music fits well. In fact, I found myself wishing there were more than one track per stage.
I also appreciate that there was an attempt made to cater to both casual and competitive players. Younger and less experienced gamers will love pitting SpongeBob SquarePants and Patrick Star against (two) Ninja Turtles, and it’s sure to be a favorite game for many. Likewise, there’s the aforementioned ranked online mode and characters just begging to be placed into tier lists by hardcore players. Little features like the lag indicator and some language in the menus also emphasize that the game wants you to strive for deep technical mastery. Whether a robust competitive scene will emerge is up to the players, but the seeds have certainly been sowed.
Few games have followed the Super Smash Bros. formula as closely as Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, and none until now have featured a crossover cast of characters with comparable cultural cachet. Nickelodeon cartoons are a great source of characters and nostalgia, and the developers had a monumental undertaking in developing a game that stands on its own, while also exciting audiences who care about the TV shows and their respective legacies. They’ve chosen characters who represent their series and work well in a fighting game, and the gaps leave massive room for expansion. Additionally, the relatively bare-bones options might feel like a breath of fresh air to those overwhelmed by all the options in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. However, the things Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl changes make it unintuitive and frankly inferior for fans of the original platform brawler, and ultimately, playing All-Star Brawl made me want to play Smash Bros.
I’m gonna sing the Doom Song now for Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is a great idea with some powerful nostalgia and a winning formula behind it, but the execution is lacking. With lackluster aesthetics, spotty online issues, and a host of other issues, it’s not a great experience for those accustomed to highly polished alternatives, namely, Super Smash Bros. I believe it will find its audience, but it doesn’t straddle the line between casual and competitive as effectively as the original Nick cartoons seamlessly wove adult jokes into children’s shows. Ultimately, the idea may be more exciting than playing the actual game.
A Nintendo Switch review code for Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl was provided by the publisher.