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February 2023

Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Fighting
Publisher: GameMill Entertainment
Developer: Ludosity (EU), Fair Play Labs (US)
Release Date: Oct. 5, 2021


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PS5 Review - 'Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl'

by Cody Medellin on Dec. 1, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is a platform fighting game that features a variety of fan-favorite Nickelodeon characters.

Buy Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl

When it comes to the platform fighter, Super Smash Bros. is still the king. Its name is synonymous with the genre, and even when one of the entries is considered the worst in the series, it still comes through as a highly enjoyable game that even its harshest critics will appreciate. The combination of its exclusivity with Nintendo platforms and dodgy online performance has left room for others to try their hand at it, and the latest to do so is Ludosity, creator of one of the better games in this genre for the PC, Slap City. It's combining that know-how with an uber-popular brand to create Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, a title that nails the basics but struggles in other areas.

If you're familiar with Nintendo's fighting game, you'll know how Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl plays out. In a 2D arena, you and three other people must knock each other out by any means necessary. Instead of an energy meter, your health is represented by damage percentages. Every hit increases that percentage which, in turn, causes you to get knocked higher and further from where you were standing. You can block attacks, but your best defensive moves are jumps, double-jumps, and grabbing an edge. Going on the offensive means using regular and strong attacks, both of which can be modified with directions to unleash completely different moves. None of these moves require anything as complicated as a quarter-circle on the analog stick or a full-stick rotation, so anyone can pick up the game and easily bust out devastating attacks.

There are a few elements that make this feel different from other platform fighter attempts. For one, there's an extra action button to dish out projectile attacks and an attack that can be considered a third jump. The game pace is also faster in attacks and basic movements, and dashing techniques are here, with more opportunities for air-dashing. The feeling that this was made for pro players in mind is underscored when you discover the lack of items and the ability to use combos like a normal fighting game. This becomes rather interesting for those who want to see a merger between platform fighters and more traditional ones. Throws are more mobile, so you can grab a character and move around the stage with them before deciding on a tossing direction.

The game features 20 fighters from the get-go, and the selection provides a good representation of Nickelodeon eras. Being the most recognizable franchise in Nickelodeon's history, "SpongeBob SquarePants" features the titular character and his friends, Sandy and Patrick. "Avatar" fans will be pleased to see Aang and Toph appear alongside Korra. Those who loved the Klasky Csupo era of cartoons at the network will appreciate Reptar from "Rugrats," Oblina from "Aaahh!!! Real Monsters," and Nigel Thornberry from "The Wild Thornberrys." Fans of the Butch Hartman era only get Danny Phantom, but some other series get characters like CatDog, Helga from "Hey Arnold!," Powdered Toast Man, Ren and Stimpy, and Zim from "Invader Zim." Modern representation comes from both Lincoln and Lucy Loud from "The Loud House." The oddity is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. On one hand, using the models from the 1980s series provides a good hit of nostalgia, and it's cool to see April O'Neil as a playable fighter. On the other hand, having Leonardo and Michelangelo but omitting Raphael and Donatello seems way off, as the turtles are usually an all-or-nothing deal.

There are also 20 different stages, and all of them are full of references and a few cameos, like Winslow from "CatDog" and the various Loud siblings, which make for some neat Easter eggs for series fans. Unlike the combat, the stage designs lean more toward the variety seen in most other platform fighters. There are some gimmick stages, like one where you're fighting atop a bus in traffic and one inspired by the classic Ren & Stimpy episode, "Space Madness," where all the platforms sink when you land on them.

The fighting mechanics are strong, but the rest of the game does not fare so well. One of the more obvious mistakes comes when players choose the same character for a fight. Despite having indicators above the character, there's no option for alternate costumes or a different color scheme so each character can be distinct. That seems like a big oversight, considering how chaotic games like this can get.

When it comes to modes, the game feels bare bones. For offline multiplayer, you have the option to play in timed or stock mode. You can also play a sports mode, where you're trying to hit various balls into star goals, but the effort needed to make a single goal isn't enough to make the mode enjoyable. For those wanting solo modes, the outlook is worse, as there's only an arcade mode with no overarching story, character-specific endings, or even a generic vignette. Beating the mode with various characters gets you a profile avatar, a song from the level the character represents, and a few static images, but those are useless since you're not given context or information to accompany them. A good example is with the two images that are immediately unlocked in the gallery; some people may figure out that the snail is SpongeBob's pet Garry, but only diehard TMNT fans will figure out that the character in the next image is Mondo Gecko. Even much older platform fighters like Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion provide blurbs for characters, so the omission here is a mystery.

The one area where the game fails is in a category that benefits the most from the various licenses: presentation. Graphically, the backgrounds can sometimes be so indistinct that it's difficult to identify the platform you're meant to land on and a pit. The characters all have a 3D modeled look that makes them homogeneous, and that feels wrong considering the array of cartoon styles. There's not much detail, except for the few moments when moves and hits are overly exaggerated. Worse yet is the lack of scale between the fighters; despite Reptar being portrayed as a giant Godzilla-like being, he is the same height as Danny Phantom, robbing the game of any authenticity.

The homogeneous look for characters would be forgivable if it weren't for the game's sound, or lack thereof. The music that accompanies the stages fits well enough but is rather bland and generic overall. It seems like an easy way to drum up nostalgia would've been to include tracks that appeared in the series or remixes, but that didn't happen. The real crime is that there are no voices for any of the characters. At no point will you hear Powdered Toast Man belting out a quip while landing an attack. SpongeBob will only respond with text when fighting Aang, and even those blurbs are generic sayings. If you've played the previous Nickelodeon Kart Racers games from GameMill, you know to expect this, but for folks trying this for the first time, the absence of voices makes the whole endeavor feel soulless.

If there's one bright spot, it's the online performance. Thanks to the inclusion of rollback netcode, matches feel smooth and responsive online unless you run into someone with massive ping. It never feels like any inputs are lost, and you'll never catch a situation where people are warping around all the time.

That would be considered praise if it weren't for some apparent issues. Disconnection issues can happen quite often, and while it only occurs during the loading screen for a match, it remains annoying. The more pressing issue in the online space is the lack of a community. It's been over a month since the game has been released, and finding a match on the PS5 online has been a rarity. There are reports that those on the Nintendo Switch have better luck finding opponents, but with the number of available platforms and no built-in cross-play, the whole thing feels hamstrung. This is especially damning when you consider that despite its age and wonky netcode, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate players can easily find a match whenever they want.

There's a good skeleton to Nickelodeon All-Stars Brawl. The fighting is fast and extremely deep, despite having only one more attack button over the Super Smash Bros. series. For pro-type players who always play without items and can quickly master the game's nuances, this is excellent. However, the presentation is as basic as the game's modes, and the lack of anything that provides more of a Nickelodeon "feel" (e.g., voices and music) makes the whole thing feel rather cheap. While the online performance can be good, it doesn't matter much if there's no community behind it. The game is a contender, but some serious effort in more than a few areas needs to be done if Nickelodeon All-Stars Brawl or a potential sequel wants to be taken more seriously.

Score: 6.0/10

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