'Nickelodeon All Star Brawl' Doesn't Quite Smash The Competition: Game Review – The Indiependent

*Disclaimer: Nickelodeon All Star Brawl review code was provided by Gamemill Entertainment, Fair Play Labs, and Ludiosity for the purposes of this review. That being said, all opinions expressed in this review are entirely that of the author.
If you told child-me that there would be a game in which Reptar could fight Danny Phantom while Leonardo and Michelangelo watched from the side-lines, you’d have to spend the next hour or so calming me down.
Well, Nickelodeon All Star Brawl is out, and that concept has become a reality. Now all of your favourite childhood characters, and a handful of probable unknowns, can all come together and punch each other so hard they fly off the face of the known universe. But it doesn’t quite play like the nostalgic dream it sounds like.
I’m just going to get this off my chest right now; this game is not Smash Bros. Ultimate. This is going to keep coming up in this review but it’s important to understand that Smash Ultimate is such a one-of-a-kind, monumental feat of game design that trying to replicate it is a recipe for disappointment from the get-go. And, unfortunately, if you’re going to try and replicate it, you better be ready for critics to compare your product to it. That being said, All Star Brawl is pretty underwhelming, both when compared to Smash Ultimate and on its own.
All Star Brawl features 20 stages, all inspired by a Nickelodeon property. Generally speaking, these stages lack some variation in how they play. Most of the maps function as “Battlefield”-type maps, which is essentially a long, flat platform. Some of these stages offer one or two levels of these flat platforms and some have occasional obstacles like a trash compactor, mine carts or gravestones that pop up to separate fighters or damage them. There are, quite literally, three stages that offer some genuine variation, with moving platforms and a moving screen changing how you control your fighter.
Regardless of their actual function, the vast majority of All Star Brawl‘s stages are eerily empty. While most have some elements of movement in their background (Appa slowly flies across the background of “Air Temple”, for example), it’s often only one or two models that can barely be made out when playing handheld on Switch. It’s nowhere near the same level as even your most average Smash stage.
Although the stages are inspired by various beloved properties, many of them lack references or iconography that would clearly link the stage to the show it’s trying to emulate. For example, the stage “Sewers Slam” is supposed to be inspired by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I know this because there is a pizza box at the back of the stage, we are in a sewer, and the edges of the screen are emanating a sickly green colour. That’s it. There’s no references to the other Turtles, no Splinter, no Bebop or Rocksteady, just two eerily empty, small platforms on top of each other.
There is one stage, however, that is absolutely worthy of praise, because for all its faults, All Star Brawl is not a bad game, and there are glimpses of greatness in this otherwise functional brawler. “Showdown at Teeter Totter Gulch” is a diamond in the rough. This stage, inspired by Rugrats, takes place in a play park. There’s a seesaw in the middle, a rocking horse to the left, and a tyre swing to the right. Below you is a vast sea of quick sand. The apparatus provides for gameplay variation, offering you different platforms with separate functions while still giving you enough room to keep the fight comprehensible. The sinking sand below gives you enough of a reprieve to keep the fight intense. This stage is also quite nice visually, with pastel colours harkening back to the stage’s inspiration.
The other side of All Star Brawl‘s coin is the roster. 20 characters are featured in the game’s launch line-up and, if I’m honest, the selection is not bad at all. There’s some real fan favourites here from Avatar, Spongebob and more, spanning the last three decades of the channel’s life. But, again, All Star Brawl just doesn’t quite live up to premise.
In general, attack animations are quite generic. Across the board, characters will punch and kick in ways you wouldn’t really expect them to. It’s hard to imagine Nigel Thornberry wrecking Spongebob with a shoulder barge. This leads to quite a few of the characters feeling oddly disconnected from the nostalgia we should be feeling. They feel just a little off, like they’re some multiverse version of the character we know so well. On the other hand, some characters and their move-sets align almost-perfectly to our preconceptions .
The perfect example of this juxtaposition are two of the Avatar fighters. Toph stands out for her attack animations. She throws rocks, can create a rock platform beneath her, build a rock wall and push it onto her opponent, everything you’d expect from a skilled Earth-bender. But then you have Korra, whose moves, while perfectly functional, don’t really evoke her on-screen presence. This Avatar, this God, is only given moves that boil down to a shoulder charge and various kicks, each with a low-res sprite of fire, rocks or water pasted over her character model.
It’s also really hard not to compare Leonardo and Michelangelo’s appearance here to their stellar appearance in Injustice 2. It’s a bit unfair to compare the two fighting games as they play very differently, but the Ninja Turtles evoke so much more charm and warm nostalgia in Injustice than they do here. All of their moves in Injustice feel intrinsically linked to what makes the Turtles so loveable, whereas here, Leo and Mikey’s moves feel a tad artificial and glossy, which is essentially how I feel about the entire game.
But, again, it’s important to give credit where it’s due. Catdog is done perfectly here, capturing the zany charm of the show while also providing some solid fighting moves. Their light attack sees Cat strangling Dog to affect opponents on either side, they can swap places mid-battle to change up the visuals of their moves, and their victory screen echoes the iconic intro to the show, having them both stretch out and smack into each other.
I am not a fighting game expert. While I’ve put well over 100 hours into Smash Ultimate and have adored Mortal Kombat and Injustice for the best part of a decade, I am far from a pro fighter. So if you’re looking for specific info on hitboxes and frame data then I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong review. What I can say, though, is that All Star Brawl feels pretty unbalanced.
Light attacks feel pretty useless. Despite a handful of fun animations linked to them, the miniscule damage and the lack of momentum and any tangible visual feedback associated with these moves makes them feel weak and redundant in comparison to the speed of some power moves.
Some characters, in my humble opinion, are a little broken. Ren & Stimpy, for instance, I found to be quite weak. The majority of their moves are close-range attacks, with a ranged move that can be tricky to land. They stand almost no chance next to a fast opponent. On the flipside of that, Reptar might be the most powerful fighting game character to ever exist. His chargeable attacks can reach full power in a second and can instantly knock an opponent off-screen, regardless of how much damage they’ve taken.
As discussed in the previous section, some characters don’t behave how you’d expect them to, and that can throw you off a bit when you play as them. My biggest pet peeve with the game is that Danny Phantom feels uncharacteristically slow. I don’t know if I’m remembering the show wrong but I always thought we saw him zipping through the ghost zone like a spectral Spider-Man, why is he slower than Reptar here?
If you’re already sick of losing to your friends on Smash time and time again, this imbalance is probably going to be too much for you.
If there’s one word that I could use to sum up All Star Brawl it would be “empty”. And nowhere is this more evident than in the lack of audio. Nickelodeon All Star Brawl features no theme songs, no dialogue, and barely a voiced grunt from any of its cast.
When your roster is filled with characters known for their constant dialogue, like Spongebob and Aang, the distinctive lack of any voicework makes the game feel uncannily vacant; as does the lack of any iconic score or music. Some stages try to replicate the essence of the music of the show, but most fail, coming across as a tinny, midi-version of something the original composer scrapped years ago for not making the cut.
Only hollow and dull punch sound effects can be heard within a given battle. Not to compare it to Smash again, but your average match usually has a nostalgic theme playing (one that you’ve chosen) along with iconic sound effects, often from multiple franchises at once, all while your fighter makes constant grunts that cements their character’s presence.
The Arcade mode in All Star Brawl occasionally has some fun references buried in the on-screen text displayed at the start of each fight, like Mikey saying “Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go”, but the majority of these text lines seem generic and unrelated to the characters saying them. This lack of voiced dialogue and audio is another example of where nostalgia just can’t quite be linked to the gameplay.
Nickelodeon All Star Brawl is an ugly game. Or at least it is on Switch. The second you boot the game up, you’ll be hit with jagged polygons, just on the main menu. When you’re in a match, it’s much, much worse. As I’m sure you can tell from the screenshots sprinkled throughout this review, this game does not look like a 2021 release. As my partner kept saying as I forced her to do just one more round, “it looks like a PS2 game”. And I can’t argue against that. Character models have fuzzy, low-resolution edges, the background of stages are hard to make out, and lighting effects look blurry and unfinished. I think April O’Neil’s face says it all.
I also ran into one pretty major bug. After playing for about 12 hours, the game suddenly decided that my right Joy-Con just wasn’t good enough, and refused to acknowledge its existence. To be fair, it allowed me to click on the menu and move my character, but attack? Yeah, that’s not allowed. I restarted the game, restarted my Switch, played several other games perfectly (including Smash), but All Star Brawl just won’t have it. Even now, as I write this, Reptar is flailing about helplessly as Nigel Thornberry shoulder barges him in to oblivion. Not really what you want from a 2021, £40 release.
Nickelodeon All Star Brawl will not have you trading in your 3-year-old copy of Smash Bros. Ultimate. That’s just a fact. But once you get over that disappointing but inevitable realisation, you might find yourself enjoying the bright and functional chaos on-screen. It’s pretty barebones and lacks a distinct and noticeable layer of polish, but All Star Brawl might keep you entertained for a few hours if you’re a casual fighting game fan, especially if you have friends to duke it out with. That is, if your game doesn’t break on you.
Final Verdict: 6/10
Words By Cameron Swan


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