6.0
REVIEW: Nickelodeon All Star Brawl
Image via Ludosity.
Reviews

REVIEW: Nickelodeon All Star Brawl

One could argue that 2021 has had some big surprises in terms of games announcements. A brand new 2D Metroid, a Souls-like Final Fantasy game, and somehow against all odds, Sora from the Kingdom Hearts series is getting added to the gargantuan roster of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The weirdest part? That last one isn’t even the most surprising platform fighter news of the year. That right belongs to Nickelodeon All Star Brawl.

When the game was announced back in July, I honestly didn’t know what to think. A platform fighter, consisting of all your favourite classic Nickelodeon cartoon characters? I wouldn’t describe this as a dream come true necessarily, but having watched my fair share of Spongebob Squarepants, I wasn’t exactly disinterested either. Then when I heard the game was being developed by Ludosity, developer of indie platform fighter Slap City, that feeling of “Yeah sure I guess!” turned into one of “Oh. This game might actually be good.”

If you haven’t heard of Slap City before, it’s essentially an indie take on Super Smash Bros. Melee, made up of various characters from Ludosity’s other games. Note that I specified MeleeSlap City has wavedashing (a piece of movement tech that is the main appeal of Melee), something that appeals to many a classic Smash fan. In turn, wavedashing was shown to be a part of All Star’s mechanics, and so many Melee aficionados suddenly paid more attention, and I myself was all the more curious too, even if I’m no pro.

The Rundown

Spongebob and Patrick stood on a jellyfish park themed stage in nickelodeon all star brawl.
Image via Ludosity.

Right off the bat, Nickelodeon All Star Brawl has some key differences to your typical Smash Bros. title. The biggest difference is the variety in moves you have. Whereas all Smash games have two types of attacks, normal and special, All Star however has three: light, strong, and special. These, in turn, come with the usual variations depending on whether you’re on the ground, in the air, or holding the analogue stick in a certain direction, so that’s all fairly familiar.

As stated, I’m certainly no pro when it comes to Smash Bros., particularly not Melee, a game I’ve maybe invested 30 minutes into total. But I have played a good few hours in my short time on this earth of Brawl and Ultimate, and so booting up my first match of All Star provided a strong sense of unease. My brain was hardwired to the play style of Nintendo’s classic fighter, which posed a problem for me to begin with. Thankfully, this didn’t last long, but it’s important to note if you’re more of a casual Smash player; All Star might take some getting used to at first. 

Also different is jumping. In Smash, you can do something known as “Tap Jump,” which is just tapping up on the left analogue stick to jump. Again, this is more a concern for casual players, as the pros will recommend you use the jump button in Smash anyway, but that’s your only option in All Star, which added to the time I needed to adjust to the new control scheme.

For the most part, the fighting feels pretty tight. I’ve always struggled with combos in platform fighters, but quite quickly I found myself being able to pull off, if very very simple, combos without needing too much practice. The game has a unique rock-paper-scissors eseque system, where up attacks beat down attacks, down beats mid, and mid beats up. It means that you need to be careful which moves you use and pay close attention to what your opponent is doing.

The action is fast paced, and is often mostly contained to the stages themselves. Each character of course has various recovery options, but unlike Smash—where the camera will zoom out depending on how far out a character has been blasted—the camera in All Star is fairly static. It can make the game feel a little claustrophobic, and made me feel like I don’t know how much room I have, particularly when I get knocked to the side.

Another huge problem that directly pairs with this is the sense of weight. All Star also works on a percentage system, meaning you don’t lose health, but as you take more hits, your percentage goes up and you’re more likely to be knocked further away. The problem is, the knockback feels sluggish no matter how high you get into the upper percentages, so you have no real way to gauge how far away you are from losing a stock. Because of this, some deaths felt unfair, even though I knew it was just because of my lack of skill against the player. 

As well as this, a lot of characters don’t feel distinct from one another. Projectiles often act in the same way; specials don’t always feel like they have enough variety, and the weight issue extends to how the characters play as well. I personally found Aang to be the most fun, as he was described to be quite floaty in his reveal trailer, something I find appealing in characters as I’m not always the best at recovery, but there weren’t really any other characters I felt desperate to try out as a main.

The Sacred Words: “Rollback Netcode”

Spongebob, Lucy Loud, and Lincoln Loud on the ghost ship from spongebob squarepants in nickelodeon all star brawl.
Image via Ludosity.

If you’re even somewhat aware of the goings on of the FGC, you’ll probably have heard of rollback netcode. To put it simply, it’s a form of online that somewhat predicts the input that you’re going to make, so that it can provide as lag free an experience as possible. Nickelodeon All Star Brawl does use rollback, which was another huge part of what made the game so appealing to many players, particularly when everyone is still spending so much time at home.

In my time online, I barely ran into any problems. Matches mostly felt seamless, as if I was playing with someone locally, which is the ultimate goal of rollback netcode. There were the occasional stutters, but I mostly put that down to other people’s or my own signal, as there is a little bar that indicates how strong a player’s connection is.

You’ll find three main ways to play online to boot up the game: ranked, quickplay, and lobbies. I unfortunately wasn’t able to test out the lobbies in the review process, as I couldn’t find anyone to play with on PS5. Connecting to a match was also incredibly easy, and the game is generally very fast at finding another player. I did find that playing later at night resulted in a struggle to find anyone to play with, but I’m putting that down to less people being online.

Another problem I found, which again isn’t the fault of the developers, is that whether I played quickplay or ranked, the quality of players felt the same. Which is to say, everyone was better than me. This would be fine, but I would want to warn casual players about this. I think if you genuinely want to get into fighting games, even with some of the problems I have, this might be a good starter game considering the price points, but do consider that you might be up against players considerably better than you.

Extra, Extra!

Danny Phantom and Invador Zim facing off in a match of nickelodeon all star brawl.
Image via Ludosity.

Aside from online and the local battle mode, there are a few extra bits to be found in Nickelodeon All Star Brawl. There’s an arcade mode, which I found to be incredibly lacking, and in much need of fleshing out.

The arcade mode sees you facing off against various characters in the roster on a number of the stages, each increasing in difficulty. You can set the overall difficulty before you play, but even on the easiest setting, I found the later characters to be perhaps a bit too challenging. Each match would start with a short dialogue exchange, with some kind of quote or in character line from each character.

Those moments felt cheap and like wasted potential. It’s rare we get to have characters from differing franchises interact with each other, and the dialogue doesn’t see them doing so at all; they essentially just talk at each other. I’m not looking for a story mode, but it would have been fun to see the developers experiment a little more in arcade mode to provide a bit of light entertainment when you don’t feel like playing online.

The arcade mode also unlocks things to view in the extras menu, like various character models posing, or recreating scenes from their respective properties. Again, it felt like a disappointing and almost pointless reward for getting through an already relatively boring mode, and so after a short time with it I mostly left it alone.

A huge void in the game is a lack of a tutorial mode. This is a problem that exists across almost every fighting game, but the closest thing All Star has to a tutorial is showing the movelist of each character. The only reason I figured out how to play the game at all was by going back to the character breakdowns, which honestly would have been a welcome inclusion in the game.

Overall, Nickelodeon All Star Brawl feels like a bit of an underbaked experience. Some matches feel like they have an incredible, speedy fluidity to them, so there’s clearly something interesting there, but it definitely needs some touching up to make it feel more balanced. I certainly didn’t hate my time with the game, but it also didn’t wow me enough to want to stick with it forever. I’m hoping to see updates for the game, and if the datamines are to be believed, there are more characters to come. For the moment, however, it can too often feel like a frustrating experience rather than a fun, casual party game.

6.0
Score

Pros

  • Roster includes some great picks from classic cartoons
  • When it feels good, it feels really good

Cons

  • Lack of weight can make matches feel unfair
  • Little else to do aside from local co-op or online

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