Review – Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl
A Super Smash Bros. clone featuring Nickelodeon characters from our childhood. We’ve all been bizarrely looking forward to Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl for a while, thanks to its outrageous premise. Come think of it, that was the natural progression after Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2, making a Smash clone after making a Mario Kart. I just never thought any studio would end up making it. Now it’s time to find out if the months of anticipation leading to this game’s release were worth the unusual hype for a low-budget game like this.
To expect the same kind of polish and overwhelming amount of content seen in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate would be downright ludicrous. I know what GameMill’s titles can offer, so all I wanted was something in the range of Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2: janky, but functional; limited, but nostalgic, keeping my expectations in check. Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is basically that. It made me smile like very few games do, but I cannot ignore its series of flaws.
Let’s start off with the obvious: the content. We have a serviceable roster size, being larger than the first Super Smash Bros., but smaller than Melee. Besides the obvious inclusions, like Spongebob, Patrick, Danny Phantom, and Korra, we have some more, let’s say, “esoteric” choices, like Powdered Toast Man from Ren & Stimpy, Helga from Hey Arnold (Arnold himself isn’t present), and the meme king himself, Nigel “Smashing” Thornberry. The lack of Fairly OddParents characters is the one that hurts the most, as the Crimson Chin would have been a perfect inclusion. All in all, I expected a bit more from it in terms of franchise variety, but it’s still pretty cool to have all of these characters in a brawler. I also expect more to show up later as DLC.
I didn’t like the game’s stages, though. There’s nothing wrong with their design, as they resemble their sources of inspiration, but they’re a bit… bland. Given how Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is more centered on competitive play than Smash, its stages are more “balanced”, with less gimmicks and traps. They aren’t very interesting when it comes to their backgrounds or overall level of detail, although there are some standouts, such as the Wild Thornberrys stage, which does feature character cameos and gimmicks.
With the focus on competitive play, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl ditches items altogether as well, although I didn’t mind that omission that much. The developers did make up for it with one element that actually makes the game stand out when compared to Smash itself: online play. Despite the simplicity of its online modes, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl features rollback netcode, resulting in a much smoother online experience than Super Smash Bros.. Even though the game doesn’t feature crossplay support as of now, I did not have issues finding matches on PC. That probably means things are even smoother on console, as I doubt Steam will be its most popular platform.
The game is a bit lacking on its single-player content. It has a simplistic arcade mode (the equivalent to Super Smash Bros.‘ Classic Mode) and your go-to brawl mode, with options for stock and timed battles, as well as a training mode and a tutorial. There is one mode not seen in similar titles, however, the “Sports Ball” mode, which resembles the football mode included in Rayman Legends. It’s a fun distraction, since the focus is to throw a ball into the opponent’s goal and not just beat fighters senselessly, but it’s not the game’s highlight.
Just like with GameMill’s previous Nickelodeon games, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl‘s presentation is just… average at best, which is a bit disappointing. It mainly depends on who’s your favorite character, because some of them are well-designed and well-animated, while others look hideous. Zim looks absolutely perfect, and Powdered Toast Man even features missing frames of animation, just like in the original Ren & Stimpy show. One the other hand, Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender looks gross, especially when performing his taunt.
The biggest disappointment in this game, just like in Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2, is its sound design. Its soundtrack isn’t bad per se, but it’s not comprised of licensed Nickelodeon music. Not a single voice actor reprieses their role, with the only voice in the entire game being a narrator doing his worst impression of the Super Smash Bros Ultimate narrator. Not having Zim shouting like the alien from Destroy All Humans, or Nigel Thornberry saying “Smaaaaaaaaaaashing!”, is heartbreaking, to say the least.
Finally, let’s talk about the gameplay. The core gameplay is identical to Smash: keep beating the living crap out of your opponent to raise their damage meter, then blast your foe off the arena with a big smash attack. Don’t worry, no PlayStation All-Stars convoluted rules in here. For the most part, characters are balanced, with most of them having moves that are either reminiscent of their shows, or reminiscent of Smash itself, with Nigel having a move identical to Jigglypuff’s Rest, for instance.
The difference lies in the control scheme, which is where the problems begin. Sure, the game is responsive and all that, running well on a PC, but its button placement is bizarre. There is a button for light attacks and another button for strong attacks. Although this sounds a bit unnecessary in theory, each character’s moveset is varied enough to make the usage of light attacks worth your while. There is also a button dedicated to your special moves, just as you would expect. The weird part, however, is the inclusion of a jump button.
Against all logic, and following PlayStation All-Stars‘ (failed) structure, you do have a jump button, which is really confusing if you’re jumping into this game with a Smash mindset. Furthermore, the initial control placement maps the Y button as the jump button, adding even more confusion to the mix. It is not a good layout, even if you can get used to it. Be humble and spend some time on the game’s tutorial and training modes. You will need to re-educate yourself with a completely new control scheme that never feels ideal.
The weird thing about Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is that, despite being janky, low-budget, and lacking in content, it’s a lot of fun. It all boils down to its ludicrous concept and the fact that at the end of the day, it’s functional. It’s a power trip for anyone who grew up watching cartoons in the late 90s to early 2000s. Its online multiplayer also works surprisingly well, even better than Smash, to be honest. It might be pricey for what it offers, but if Nickelodeon is nostalgic to you, you will love Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl.
Some characters look great, others look janky as hell. Some are well-animated, others aren’t. Thankfully, most stages look quite nice, albeit lacking in background detail.
The gameplay is pretty similar to the one from Super Smash Bros, but with a completely different control scheme that takes a long time to get used to. We don’t need jump buttons in 2D fighting games.
Even if there are some bangers in the soundtrack, the lack of voice acting and licensed music is depressing.
The weird thing about Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is that, even though it is plastered with issues stemming from questionable design choices and a low budget, it is still stupidly entertaining thanks to its really strong premise. It is impossible not to smile while playing it.
Final Verdict: 7.0
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl was provided by the publisher.