Licensed games have a story that is a bit of a pant for the most part. There are notable exceptions, of course, but for everyone Goldeneye 007 or SpongeBob SquarePants: Fight for Bikini Bottom there are tons of them like M & Ms Kart Racing, Superman 64, and the Wii version of Ironman. Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl tries to resist this trend by telling the developers of Slap City to create a game that is one of the few contenders Super Smash Bros., and we promise this will be the last time we will mention this series. Big names from Nickelodeon, a competent developer, that looks promising at first glance – but is it worth it in practice?
In case you didn’t know, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is classified as a “platform fighter,” a genre where you deal damage to your opponents to make it easier for them to bump into death planes on all four sides of the screen. Popularized (damn) by the Super Smash Bros. series. Each of the 20 fighters has about 18 movements that they can perform, as well as rudimentary grasping, blocking and jumping mechanics. 18 moves may sound like a lot at first, but many of them are often semi-duplicates that easily change because they are performed in the air instead of on the ground, a particular hero in a particular Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Bloody hell).
All moves are easy to perform and each character’s movesets are unique. However, the movesets offered are not as varied or original as we would like them to be. For example, Aang from the excellent Avatar: The Last Airbender features movements that are only suitable for hand-to-hand combat, which feels clearly strange given his preferred fighting techniques in his own media. There was definitely some serious consideration for characters to represent their source media, a personal highlight of ours was Ren & Stimpy, the log from Blammo!
Many of the moves shown are rather simple attacks, but some have deeper mechanics in the game, all of which are well executed and satisfactory to master. What isn’t so satisfying, however, is the explanations of these moves in the game, or more precisely the lack of them. Most of the moves are self explanatory, others have a brief explanation that is useful, others don’t explain things well enough, but the worst part is that some are not listed at all. Toph, for example, has a down special which is a front flip with a heavy iron boot, but when she’s in the air she creates a floating platform of earth; the latter is not listed at all in their moveset list.
Presentation is also a mixed bag. For the most part, the game looks fine on Switch and runs at a fairly stable 60fps on most stages. However, for some, the frame rate seems to be really suffering, and it’s not entirely clear why. That being said, a lot of characters had to make the transition from 2D to 3D, which can be a daunting task, but the artists made this jump very well, especially for Nigel Thornberry, who just looks as terrifying as you want it to be.
Other areas are less well implemented, especially when it comes to the soundtrack. Some melodies are perfectly fine, but others, like the theme for the Western Air Temple stage, are just plain awkward, and most have an obvious cut when trying to loop. Artwork rewards for completing Single Player Arcade Mode do not fill the screen properly and there is no speech at all; the whole package feels like it is missing a lot Polish in several areas.
But you’ll notice that we haven’t talked about the actual gameplay beyond the actual movesets yet, and that’s mainly because we wanted to fix some grievances first. In short, if you are actually fighting, the game is excellent; the mechanics are tight, the combo potential is huge and each character has different strengths and weaknesses. We won’t comment too much on the bottom line as this will evolve throughout the life of such a game, but we will say that while some characters actually feel “higher up” than others, it is just as likely to be down to our personality play styles.
The game shines brightest in classic one-on-one battles against another player, and it’s just as fun online as it is offline. The target audience will likely be primarily interested in playing as SpongeBob and beating up Patrick, but there is clearly an urge to target an entirely different group of gamers. You know, the guy who knows what DACUS stands for. Care was taken to ensure that this subgroup of fight fans is properly served without, however, overwhelming the casual audience. Things can get a little hectic at times, but that’s part of the fun, and the deliberate inclusion of fan-favorite bug-come features like wavashing really helps give the fight a really unique and smooth feel.
Of course you can play with a total of four players, but it has to be said that the rush of a good fight in this game makes it a little difficult to properly analyze everything that is going on. You can also choose between stock and timed battles, as well as a few sports game modes that unsurprisingly allow you to perform sports-like goals, such as: B. attacking a ball to land in the opponent’s goal.
Online offers custom lobbies, Quick Play to throw you right into the fray with someone else, and Competitive Play, which limits the stages to choose from and uses a simple ranking system. All but the custom lobbies seem limited to one-on-one battles, but as we think we’ve made it very clear here, the game is easily the best place; it allows for more stable connections, and we can’t think of many instances where we’d want to play four people with everyone but friends, so let’s not complain. Online matches are also pleasantly smooth with very low latency. We experienced a single game that appeared to run at around 15 frames per second and removed virtually all particle effects, but that was absolutely the exception to an otherwise happy online experience.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is a solid platform fighter with a ton of hidden depth and an unfortunate lack of polish outside of the fights too. If hardcore gameplay is your primary concern, you’ll have plenty here to bite into, but expect to be overwhelmed by the various elements that surround it. There’s a great old time around, but it’s not Super Smash Bros. (damn it).