Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl frustrates the hell out of me. Fighting game fans will love it.
I've never been good at fighting games, you see. During my tenure as a college student, I played a ton of Super Smash Bros. Brawl while definitely, completely sober and it was always a messy affair. Every time I played, my friends were offered an unsolicited peek into my psyche. They'd look on in horror as I threw hissy fits, not unlike the ones you see in grocery store aisles, when a four-year-old is firmly told "no" to an economy-sized bag of candy corns. Fighting games may not be my thing, but I can definitely tell a good one from a bad one – the good ones have all the features that serve as a reminder of my shortcomings.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is a good fighting game. It feels faster and more mobile than recent Super Smash Bros. titles, but is just as easy to pick up for casual gamers, meaning it slots nicely into the party game category. On the surface, it's a simple beat ‘em up full of your favorite childhood characters, but once you pop the hood you'll discover some great mechanics at play. If you love fighting games, this is definitely something you'll want to consider picking up. It's a solid entry into the genre and one that has the potential to grow bigger and better with age – I just wish there was a bit more of that Nickelodeon polish on it. For those of us who struggle with fighting games, a heavy dose of Nick nostalgia would make All-Star Brawl even more fun.
Hey now, you're an all star
It's clear that the team at Ludosity are Smash Bros. fans. The surface-level ease with which variously skilled players can enjoy Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is reminiscent of Smash titles, as are the deeper mechanics that cater to hardcore fighting fans. This is a game that can keep a party full of people entertained, but it's also a game that could be played at high-stakes tournaments.
All-Star Brawl feels quite different to Smash, however, and that's mostly thanks to its lightning-fast movement and increased mobility. This results in me tumbling off of maps far more often than I'd like to admit, but it affords skilled fighting players a level of movement absent from so many other fighting games. You can recover from air attacks with ease and speed, and can use a cool air dash mechanic for recovery, increasing your fall speed, or dashing – which you can also chain movements to for maximum results. Once I realize that, the air dash will let me diagonally wail on Spongebob Squarepants. The square jerk doesn't stand a chance.
The increased speed and mobility afforded by the air dash levels the playing field when it comes to the different characters, some of which are slower than others (looking at you, Reptar). When I played Super Smash Bros. Brawl back at college, I would groan at the idea of my friends' "GannonBattles", where we were all forced to play Gannondorf on elevated maps. I hated how slow and heavy he felt – and how often I fell to my death while playing as him. All-Star Brawl's movement and air dash are great for the Big Chongus characters who seem like they should struggle with mobility – even Reptar can make his way back to the stage after taking a big hit, and he's got pretty short arms.
All-Star Brawl certainly draws from Smash titles, but there are enough differences in its mechanics to create its own identity with its own appeal. You can't roll away from attacks – instead, you'll need to block or counter them with your own. Every character has the ability to grab and throw enemies, a mechanic I resort to repeatedly, whenever I'm especially frustrated. It's not the best-feeling move, but it's definitely something you can cheese if you're not confident in your skillset.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl has impressive in-depth fighting mechanics, and a pretty solid cast of fighters, but lacks the polish of other popular brawlers. You can't change your character's colors, for one, which makes a four-way battle between Patrick Star the stuff of nightmares. Imagine how cute a little green Patrick would have been? Why have you robbed me of this, Ludosity?
There are so many classic Nickelodeon characters from my childhood available as fighters, so I was hoping that All-Star Brawl's nostalgia play would wash over me like a wave of memories, and make my struggle with the genre a bit less frustrating. But aside from the characters, map builds, and Easter eggs tucked away on some of the maps, there's a lack of that iconic '90s Nickelodeon essence from which the game derives.
There's no voice acting of any kind, which means matches start with a little pop-up bubble for each character featuring an iconic line from their TV show. When playing Patrick Starr, "LEEDLE LEEDLE LEEDLE LEE" pops up, and I can't help but think of how much better it would be if you could hear that famous line said aloud instead. Characters don't make any sounds when fighting either, so instead of grinning at every strange grunt emanating from Helga Pataki, I'm frowning with every missed kick. Moreover, there's also no licensed Nickelodeon music in All-Star Brawl, just off-brand versions of the iconic songs. More Nick vibes would make playing this game much more fun, and, honestly, it's a strange omission that makes All-Star Brawl feel like it's not under the Nickelodeon umbrella, but standing out in the animated rain.
In fighting games like Smash Bros. and Mortal Kombat, iconic characters are expertly woven into the gameplay. The sound of Kirby sucking in huge gulps of air in an attempt to swallow Sora whole makes it feel like the pink mascot is breaking through game barriers and spending time in Smash. The Terminator in Mortal Kombat 11 has the same salt-and-pepper hairstyle as Arnold Schwarzenegger does in the latest movie. There's an effort to make these characters not just avatars who can take a punch, but fully realized in-game versions of themselves. That doesn't exist in Nickelodeon All-Stars Brawl.
But despite its lack of polish, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is a fighting game that packs a serious punch. It takes the Smash Bros. framework and dials up the speed and mobility, giving brawler fans a chance to pull off some seriously cool moves. On the surface level, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is incredibly accessible, but it offers some remarkable depths for those willing, and able, to dive down and reach them.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
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