To say Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is a unique and original experience is probably a half-truth at best. For many bystanders, like I was, who were checking out the preview features of the game over the last few months, it was clear that we were interested for two main reasons.
One, the game was set to feature many of our beloved Nickelodeon friends (I’m looking at y’all – Aang, Toph, and Spongebob). Two, All-Star Brawl reminded us of a certain very, very popular Nintendo property (ahem… Super Smash Bros.). And after spending some time with the game myself, I’m happy to report that while the game does borrow a lot of its core gameplay and design elements from Smash, there’s a lot more than meets the eye here.
If there ever was a passion project by some people who wanted to create a crossover fighting game for their favourite Nickelodeon characters in the spirit of what Smash did for gaming’s biggest icons (and their lesser-known friends or bros… I guess), then Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is THAT game.
Use Your Imagination
My first impression upon booting the game up on my PS5 (backwards compatible from PS4), was just how well it captured the sense of light-hearted and zany fun that Nickelodeon always brought to me whenever I came home from school. There’s a quirkiness and polish in the in-game character animations and stage designs that I found myself often marvelling at.
I particularly enjoyed the grand scale and openness of the Spirit World on Harmonic Convergence (The Legend of Korra) and swashbuckling through a kitchen counter on Powdered Toast Trouble (The Ren & Stimpy Show). The latter, I would argue, might be one of my favourite stages in video games. Ever.
In motion, the characters look and feel true to their animated counterparts. Our Team Avatar brawlers like Toph and Korra fight with power and precision, as we’ve come to expect from these benders, while CatDog and Spongebob have quirky, silly, and very cartoony movesets that are sure to make you laugh like an idiot in the middle of a serious fight. A lot of attention was paid to the details, and it shows when minor things like character taunts ended up being one of the biggest highlights of my time with the game.
Sometimes maybe good, sometimes maybe sheet
Unfortunately, there are a few caveats here as well. First, while the in-game presentation surrounding the actual brawling is pretty stellar, All-Star Brawl’s menus and in-menu character models have some rough edges. Literally. Some assets are polished to a T, while others have obvious jaggies and blurriness, which can feel a little odd at times.
Likewise, while most stages were a visual treat and many were fun and interesting to play on, certain stages and design elements were bemusing and frustrating. For example, on stages like Omashu (Avatar) and Wild Waterfall (The Wild Thornberrys) it’s hard to tell which on-screen elements are in the foreground (so that you can stand on them) and which ones are in the background (so they don’t affect gameplay). That’s pretty annoying considering that All-Star Brawl’s fighting is all about staying on platforms and avoiding flying/falling off the screen.
And then there’s Space Madness (The Ren & Stimpy Show) with its constantly moving and sinking platforms. Why? Insert pause for dramatic effect here.
When it comes to gameplay and combat, that’s where All-Star Brawl truly shines. The game features a diverse roster from many beloved Nicktoons, including Avatar, Spongebob Squarepants, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. As well as characters from lesser-known and more historic properties like Helga Pataki (Hey Arnold!), Oblina (Aaahh!!! Real Monsters), and Powdered Toast Man (The Ren & Stimpy Show).
Each character has their own unique, animation-inspired movesets that feel different, clever and fun to play with. Some like Aang and Leonardo are much better in the air, while Toph and Korra are powerful on the ground. And while the game is welcoming to players of all levels to pick up and have a good time, All-Star Brawl has some surprising depth that hardcore players are sure to gravitate towards. Judging by the already growing communities on Reddit and Discord, the masses have already begun to gather.
Warning: Challenger Approaching!
In my time playing against AI opponents, I found them to be very competent, and they provided a good, consistent challenge. But you’re gonna have more fun playing with real players, either via up-to-4-player local multiplayer or online with randoms or friends. Online multiplayer matches ran well in my experience, and it was easy-to-use when you’re able to find matches or set up lobbies with your buddies.
However, as the game currently does not support cross-platform play (yet), it means that you’ll be stuck playing with others on your platform and, depending on your internet connection, region. In my case, sadly, that meant being forever alone (Asia and PS4). Thankfully, the devs have confirmed that cross-play is high on their priority list, so hopefully I won’t be stuck in the wilderness for much longer.
I am full of holes, but still hold water
Finally, there are a few more glaring gaps that I felt needed to be mentioned. Firstly, sound design and music are pretty basic and (somewhat) disappointing. We don’t have any original music from our favourite shows, which feels incredibly odd. Neither do we have any character voices, which can make playing the game sometimes feel like catching up with old friends but realising that you’re just talking to a photograph. You can see them, they look great, but part of them isn’t really there at all.
Secondly, game modes, or should I say the lack thereof, could be a point of contention for some players. Besides standard stock and timed battles and a pretty generic arcade mode, the only other addition is a sports mode that I never found myself coming back to after the first match.
And lastly, the roster has some notable absences. I mean, where are my boys Jimmy (Neutron) and Timmy (Turner)? Or you know, if anyone on the dev team is reading this – where’s Cosmo? Once again, thankfully, the devs have confirmed that there are currently plans to introduce new DLC characters in the future (with at least two confirmed to be in the pipeline), so fingers crossed.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl makes me feel like a kid again – playing Smash with my real friends and then hanging out later in the evening with the likes of Aang and Spongebob on Nickelodeon. While the game in its current state has great animations and a solid gameplay foundation to build on, some major caveats bar the game from potential greatness.
With cross-play and DLC characters still in transit, and a budding but passionate community congregating around it, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl has the potential to become something truly amazing. But for now, it’s just pretty good. And after seeing the failings of Sony’s attempts with PlayStation All-Star Battle Royale (2012), the butchering of my beloved Digimon Rumble Arena (RIP), and the forthcoming end of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, this may not be the hero we deserve, but it is the hero we need.
Screenshots taken on a PlayStation 5. Additional visuals courtesy of GameMill Entertainment.