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More than a nostalgic joke, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is a genuinely fantastic cartoon fighting game just slightly marred by unpolished presentation.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl Specs
|Games Platform||Nintendo Switch|
|ESRB Rating||E10 for Ages 10+|
Over the decades, Nickelodeon has amassed a cast of cartoon characters, Nicktoons, that are loved by people of all ages. But who would win if they all fought each other? The $49.99 Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl answers that question in the form of a delightfully silly crossover that also happens to be a legitimately good fighting game. The occasionally subpar wrapper doesn’t always do the premise justice, but the mechanics more than make up for it. To paraphrase a different cartoon empire, this Nintendo Switch game is a diamond in the rough, and recent updates have turned it into a shining Editors’ Choice pick.
Are You Ready, Kids
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is available on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox, but I played the Nintendo Switch version. Immediately, it reminds you of another crossover fighting game on Nintendo’s hybrid system. This game is basically Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, but with Nicktoons instead of video game characters. Fortunately, like Smash, Nick All-Star Brawl mines multiple eras of nostalgia to pull together a satisfying roster filled with familiar faces and unique playstyles.
Obviously, SpongeBob SquarePants is the star, along with his sidekicks Patrick and Sandy. It’s still weird to accept the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as Nickelodeon characters, but you can play as brothers Leonardo and Michelangelo, as well as April O’Neil. Avatar’s battle-ready elemental heroes Aang, Korra, and Toph make an appearance. Old-school Nick lovers should get a kick from seeing Ren and Stimpy or Invader Zim, while Lincoln and Lucy Loud from The Loud House reminded me that there are, in fact, popular Nick shows that debuted after my own childhood.
The 20-fighter initial roster captures the comedy chaos you want from the concept. For example, some characters have taunts based on internet memes. Like any shared universe, Nick All-Star Brawl also leaves you wanting more. More Nicktoons! Where are characters from Angry Beavers or Doug? Can live-action actors join the battle? Give us the All That cast! Thankfully, free and paid DLC fighters have added everyone from famous lasagna cat Garfield to Jimmy Neutron’s dad.
Although the developers clearly have a lot of passion for Nickelodeon, a relatively modest budget seems to have hamstrung how well they could express that passion in the production value. The game is a bit rough around the edges, but decent overall. The somewhat wonky character models are well-hidden by the pulled-out camera angle, and the different stages successfully capture their respective shows’ aesthetics, from cel-shaded Saturday morning cartoons to anime-influenced, martial arts epics. The game runs smoothly, with only a rare frame rate dip when multiple visual effects pop off at once.
Previously, the lack of voice acting was one of our biggest issues with the game. Except for the enthusiastic announcer, everyone was silent, which felt distracting and made the slapstick sound effects all the more repetitive. Fortunately, a recent patch added full voice acting. Some of the characters’ original voice actors make a return, including Tom Kenny (SpongeBob SquarePants), Janet Varney (The Legend of Korra), and Billy West (Ren and Stimpy). You might be able to tell that these voices were added after the fact. There’s something about the way the voices are integrated that doesn’t sound as polished as, say, Multiversus. Still, this is a huge, welcomed upgrade that makes Nick All-Star Brawl feel so much more alive.
Meanwhile, the soundtrack tries to evoke the instruments and musical styles you expect from each show, but don’t expect any classic theme songs. When it comes to truly honoring its various worlds with remarkable quality and craft, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate remains unmatched.
Happy Happy, Joy Joy
So, what stops Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl from simply being a throwaway cash-in title? The gameplay punches so far above its weight class that it makes you willing to forgive almost everything else. Nick All-Star Brawl was co-developed by Ludosity, a team best-known for its well-received indie platform fighter Slap City. That love for this creatively fertile fighting sub-genre elevates every aspect of Nick All-Star Brawl’s design.
The easiest way to describe platform fighters is still “fighting games that play like Super Smash Bros.” You attack other characters to increase their damage percent. If you have a high percent, you become more vulnerable to getting launched off the screen when hit by a strong attack. You can also jump around with far more freedom than what you see in a “traditional” fighting game, such as Guilty Gear, Street Fighter or Tekken.
Like fellow platform fighter Brawlhalla, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl introduces several exciting ideas into this familiar framework. Normal attacks, including aerials, come in light and heavy varieties. Up, mid, and down attacks use a rock-paper-scissors system to determine priority. You can keep moving and jumping after grabbing your opponent and you can block indefinitely, but breaking a block near the ledge opens the blocker up to serious punishment. Characters of course also have their own special attacks, such as Helga Pataki’s tricky slingshot, Oblina’s garbage breath, and Danny Phantom’s high-risk, high-reward ghostly wail.
These systems come together to form a fighting game that just feels awesome to play. At first, I thought the floaty animations looked a bit stiff and weightless, but they make much more sense considering the game’s blazingly fast speed and air mobility. Combos have an addictive, improv feel as moves seamlessly flow into each other. I could go on and on about how practically everyone has at one move that spikes opponents into oblivion, a genius choice. This is a game made for people who still think Melee is the best Super Smash Bros. game, to the point where wavedashing is a vital technique.
Don’t worry about overly hazardous stages. Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is confident enough that its pure Nicktoon fighting alone will keep you entertained, and that confidence is completely earned. However, a new update also adds wacky items that give you more ways to pummel opponents. Toss Sokka’s trusty boomerang, activate the Reptar Wagon, or unleash spirits from the Fenton Thermos. Competitive players will instantly turn items off as they ruin the overall game balance, but casual players will have a lot of fun.
Get Slimed, Online
Most debut fighting games need to lay down a solid foundation before layering on a lot of extra content. Look at how many entries it took Mortal Kombat or Super Smash Bros. reach their current forms. So, don’t be shocked that Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, which does feature impressive groundwork, doesn’t have, say, an elaborate story mode. You have to settle for text quotes before each match.
However, Nick All-Star Brawl has a variety of modes. Brush up on techniques in training mode. Take on a branching path of challengers in the single-player Arcade mode, the best way to unlock player icons, jukebox songs, and other extras. Up to four players can compete in Stock (everyone has limited lives) or Timed (score the most kills before time runs out) multiplayer modes. In Sports mode, characters try to knock different balls with different properties into the opposing team’s goal.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl’s esports dreams become a reality in its robust online offerings. Choose between Quick Play or Ranked competitive matches. You can also set up and browse through online lobbies. The game displays ping times in milliseconds, and I experienced little lag even on Wi-Fi thanks to the rollback netcode, the gold-standard input prediction online code for the high-speed and high-precision fighting game genre. Currently, there’s no cross-platform multiplayer, but the dev team stated that it may come in the future. You can save and share replays, and the community is already beginning to pool its knowledge. Who knows what the tournament scene will look like in a year.
Kids’ Choice Award
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl has unbelievable highs and disappointing, but slightly improved lows. The contrast between its gameplay and presentation is still a bit whiplash-inducing, but this exciting and inexplicable game is now fit for the fighting game freaks who care about seeing SpongeBob’s frame data and hearing his trademark laugh. The developers put in the effort where it mattered most, and are still putting in work. All minor gripes melt away as you figure out new CatDog combos or show Reptar who’s boss. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Super Smash Bros. fan or not; Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl should be your next offbeat fighting game obsession.