Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is the latest addition to the growing library of platform fighting games. This newly released video game features characters from some of the biggest and most beloved Nicktoons, like Spongebob Squarepants, Ren & Stimpy, Invader Zim, Avatar: the Last Airbender, and much more, duking it out to determine the ultimate champion. It’s the crossover party-fighting game many of us have wanted for a very long time. Does it live up to everything we always dreamt about, or does it deserve to be buried in slime and forgotten? Now that the game has been out with ample time for people to get their hands on it, let’s take a look at how this brawler truly is.
The gameplay is very fast-paced and intense. Not only does it handle well, but the gameplay’s speed allows every match to make your blood pump and your heart race. Smashing your opponent off the stage is extremely satisfying. The tight controls allow for insane combos to be strung together and for players to get creative with what moves they want to use for those combos. The rock-paper-scissors mechanic for clashing strong attacks, the ability to catch and deflect projectiles, and the ability to air dash and wavedash cause the game’s meta to feel very different from most other platform fighters.
In addition to the incredible gameplay mechanics, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl uses rollback netcode for its online play. What this means is that there’s almost no delay between each hit when playing online. Because of this, playing with others online feels like you’re playing with someone else locally on the same console, which is perfect for those who want to play competitively and need every button input to count. Surprisingly, this is a feature that most other fighting games don’t offer, so Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl definitely stands out because of it. Just keep in mind that you and your opponent will still need to be on solid-enough Internet connections to feel the benefits of the rollback netcode.
For the first game in what will hopefully be a long-lasting series of games, the roster size is pretty respectable. There are twenty characters playable at launch, with two releasing afterward, and more DLC characters will follow that. When compared to the twenty five base characters in Mortal Kombat 11, the twenty four playable characters in PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, the original Super Smash Bros. roster of twelve fighters, Slap City’s nine current characters, and the roster sizes of other fighting games and platform fighters, twenty base characters with more on the way isn’t bad by any means. The amount of unique playable characters allows for gamers to play their own way and to get more play out of the game by selecting different ones.
There’s definitely a fun lineup of characters to choose from. Spongebob, Reptar, CatDog, Helga Pataki, Danny Phantom, and even a couple of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles being playable shows how much of a crossover the game feels like. Fans of these iconic cartoons can play as a character they may have grown up with, which is always exciting. There’s something truly wacky about Nigel Thornberry battling Aang. There may be some key Nicktoons absent, but there are undoubtedly fantastic choices to choose from.
Each character’s moveset is cleverly chosen to best represent them. When playing as Toph, you truly feel like you’re playing as Toph. Every move is a reference to something in the characters’ shows, like Patrick performing his ice cream dive from the Fry Cook Games or Ren and Stimpy throwing a Log by Blammo. It allows for each character to have unique attacks while also celebrating what that character is known for.
There are quite a few gamemodes to play, offering a variety of ways to play the game. Standard matches can be played on and offline. Matches can go up to four players and can be played as a free-for-all or with teams. There’s a well-detailed training mode to help hone your skills. There is a single player arcade mode similar to many classic fighting games in which the player battles their way through various CPU fighters. The Sports mode is especially interesting, as instead of duking it out in epic combat, players score points by throwing or hitting one of five different types of balls into their opponents’ goal. Being able to switch up what mode you play on and what rules you play with allows for a lot of replayability.
Like the variety of characters and play styles, there’s a large variety of stages to play on as well. There are just as many stages as there are characters, and they’re all unique from each other. There are stages that are perfect for competitive play while others are great for goofy fun. There’s a Ren and Stimpy stage that’s a bit difficult to move around on, but the rest are well-designed and add their own flavor to each match. What’s even more fun about the stages is that there are some cameo appearances of characters from the respective series, like Grandpa Lou sleeping in the background of a Rugrats stage and Foot Soldiers lurking in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stage. It’s entertaining to see who you can spot during a match.
Background characters aren’t the only Nickelodeon references seen throughout the game. As previously stated, many of the bralwers’ moves are direct references to things they have done in their TV series. Many of the characters’ taunts are references to fan-favorite scenes, like Aang’s air disk trick or Spongebob mimicking a chicken. Even some of the balls in Sports mode are reference to Arnold, Plankton, and Tommy Pickles. Unlockable player icons can be used to show off your favorite Nickelodeon characters to those you face online. Even the loading icon resembles slime. As someone who grew up watching Nickelodeon, it’s certainly nice to experience a game that celebrates its classic shows.
The music in the game may not be straight from the TV series that are represented, but it’s all made in the spirit of them and sounds like they would fit right into the shows. Most of the music consists of tracks that are absolute “jams” or “bops” as the kids say. That is what they say, right? They’re definitely fun tunes to battle to, to say the least.
One of the most exciting aspects of the game is the promise of more to come. We already know that more characters and stages are on the way. It’s safe to assume that bug fixes and any other necessary quality of life improvements are on the way as well. The game’s development team seems to actually be listening to fans, so the game could be getting even better as time goes on.
The game was just released and it’s made by an indie team with a small budget, so there are expected bugs and glitches. So far while playing, I have seen a CPU get stuck in a platform they were trying to jump through, laggy character entry animations at the start of matches, CPU standing still during matches, and Cat and Dog (as in CatDog) using each other’s projectiles. Online matches do feel great, but they do disconnect a little too frequently. Hopefully these are all things that are cleaned up soon.
If you and an opponent choose the same character, there are currently no alternate colors or costumes so brawlers can stand out from each other. It makes it tough to tell which character you’re controlling when two of you choose the same one. It’s a chaotic mess when all four players choose the same character. If rumors are true, this is something that will hopefully be fixed soon.
As fun as the arcade mode is, there are a couple of problems with it. Before each match, there are text boxes featuring dialogue from both brawlers. These dialogue boxes are incredibly awkward, as they don’t feel like an organic interaction. They say random out-of-context phrases without actually responding to each other. Some are there to trash talk their opponent, but most aren’t. They could have put anything in these dialogue boxes, so why not have the characters actually respond, all trash talk each other, or even use it to tell somewhat of a story?
Another issue with arcade mode is that every match is a one-on-one fight even though the game features three and four player free-for-alls and team matches. They could have used different matches to change up the gameplay throughout each playthrough of arcade mode. Also, the final match of arcade mode is just another one-on-one match against a random character. It’s not a more difficult match, a boss fight, or anything different from the rest of the arcade mode. It ends on a bit of an anticlimax.
There is no voice acting of any kind in the game, which many people have pointed out as an issue with it. It doesn’t actually affect the gameplay in any way, and plenty of classics like Metroid and Super Mario Bros. prove that games can be outstanding without it. Plus, you don’t even think about it when actually playing. However, it would definitely be nice to actually have it in the game, as it would make things feel more organic and immersive. Voice acting would be a welcome addition as long as it doesn’t also mean having annoying “PK Fire” moments.
There is already an exciting roster of iconic characters to play as, but there are a large number of “Nickelodeon all-stars” who are noticeably absent. In a game that celebrates Nickelodeon, it feels a bit empty that the likes of Rocko, the Angry Beavers, Tommy Pickles, Arnold, Otto Rocket, Jimmy Neutron, Eliza Thornberry, and more aren’t here. With someone like Powdered Toast Man being in the game despite only appearing in a few episodes of Ren and Stimpy, it is truly odd that actual “all-stars” aren’t.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is definitely not without some major flaws, but it’s still incredibly fun and replayable. The controls are tight, and the gameplay is immersive. With twenty playable characters and more on the way, and with several different game modes, you can always change how you play so that it never feels stale. You can play competitively or just goof around. Some key Nicktoons are missing, but it still feels like a big celebration of IPs that many of us have grown up with. It’s a flawed but extremely fun time. Plus, the developers’ promise that improvements and more characters are on the way makes it all that much more exciting.