On the fifth of October in the year 2021, Nintendo revealed the final DLC character of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. It was a momentous occasion wrought with cheering and sneering with the arrival of Sora from the Kingdom Hearts™ series. He was a character many thought would never come due to the nightmarish legalities upheld by the Disney cooperation, but yet another sword fighter came.
On the same day, another party fighter was releasing, and would bring to the fray many childhood cartoon characters together. Like Smash Bros., Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl promised a frenzied beatdown with icons, new and old. Ren & Stimpy, Spongebob, Ninja Turtles, Avatar, and even CatDog among may others were poised to fulfill a gap of a pure cartoon “Smash-like” that hit nostalgic feelings in the right places.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate may not have been perfect, but it does deliver the most dense package and dazzling presentation imaginable. It could be unfair to compare Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl to the Nintendo behemoth.
But when a game is backed by a mega corp like Viacom, and has access and ownership to almost all media in existence, there is absolutely no excuse for a gross lack of quality control and anemic content.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl
Developer: Ludosity / Fair Play Labs
Publisher: Game Mill Entertainment
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S (reviewed)
Release Date: October 5, 2021
Players: 1-4 (online and local)
Price: $49.99 USD
The initial wave of nostalgia for Nicktoons hits like a frenzied Tasmanian demon, drenched with managed and craven saliva. Then the disappoint sets in, and then you curse the slimy shysters who duped the world into thinking that this glistening cheap junk could ever match anything in Smash Ultimate.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is not coy with how its influenced by Smash Bros. What better way than to pitch the product as Nicktoons with Smash Bros. gameplay? It’s certainly appealing, and the potential is there.
Sadly, the sorry state that All-Star Brawl was released in can generously be called pre-alpha. It’s as if the barest of bones of fighting mechanics have been implemented to the 3D models and animations.
At first glance, it can be easy to assume that this could be a decent Smash-like. The characters that are present look excellent and are faithful to their 2D counterparts, which is not easy for some of them. Some fighters like Danny Phantom or the Loud siblings relied on a distinctive flat style, and the way they’ve been rendered in All-Star Brawl is very convincing and accurate.
Everyone else looks about as good as one could hope for. Michelangelo and Leonardo look a lot like their 80s action-figure designs, and have a glossiness to them that looks appealing and tugs at those delicate nostalgic heartstrings. Powdered Toast Man’s signature Kirk Douglas face has been eerily captured in 3D, and his idiosyncracies with his anatomy have been preserved.
The stages also look great, and have really stylish lighting and effects to add a bit drama to each battle. The gimmicks of the levels are fairly restrained, and add excitement to each battle. Some are a bit much like Space Madness’ conveyor platforms that sink, or Aang’s massive stage with a distant camera; but these are the outliers.
The stages for the turtles and April are especially striking. The lighting and gritty atmosphere make them stand out, and look like something from a Batman Arkham game. It’s a shame the rest of the game cannot match the visual quality and artistry in the 3D assets.
One look at the roster of Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl and expect to make a double-take. There are utterly confounding choices through out, like the complete lack of Tommy Pickles, Angelica, or Chuckie Finster. Why is Reptar the Rugrats rep? Was the publisher afraid of having the Avatar characters beating up babies? Reptar is a fun character to have, but him alone makes no sense.
Where is Filbert, Heffer and Rocko? Rocko’s Modern Life was a defining Nicktoon, and they were a lot more relevant than Powdered Toast Man. Oblina is such a bizarre choice for representing Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, since she was part of a trio and their only rep. Even the Gromble doesn’t get any love, and he was the best character in the show.
Nigel Thornberry is a great fighter, but he wasn’t the main character of The Wild Thornberrys. There are several instances of supporting characters becoming fighters over the actual show protagonists. The worst part of it is that having Nigel is completely wasted, since none of the characters have any voices.
Not having characters say anything in a fighting game is something most gamers take for granted. It’s such a small detail that has a huge and lasting impact on the feel and feedback of the action. In many instances, voices aide the gameplay by serving as a cue for timing certain attacks. The only characterization the Nicktoons get is an obtrusive text box before battle with a couple of lines.
Even this gets bungled with Ren & Stimpy, who for some reason speak as a unit. Unless you are familiar with the characters, their lines won’t read well at all. They are contrasting characters, so knowing who is saying what informs who they are, and the text box messes it up by suggesting they both say their lines together.
Reptar’s only text is *RAWRS*, which is so lazy. The one non speaking character can’t even get a stock roar sound effect. Even without access to voice actors, it may not have even been necessary; editing out the existing lines of dialogue from the cartoons could have been done. The only reason why it probably wasn’t done was because All-Star Brawl was rushed, and there was no time.
The lack of care given to the voices extends to the music too. Everything sounds like generic lawyer-friendly versions of the kinds of background tracks from the shows. They had the rights to use the characters, but nothing else? Amusingly, both Spongebob and Ren & Stimpy shows both relied on the same library of stock music which is in public domain, yet none of it was used.
Playing All-Star Brawl is an unforgettable experience. Not because it makes up for its many shortcomings, but because it constantly surprises with how it gets everything wrong. Getting into an online match means laggy and unresponsive gameplay, and that’s if you can tell which fighter is yours.
One of the most obvious tricks a fighting game can do to differentiate players is recolors or costume variations. All-Star Brawl does not attempt either.
Getting into an online match with four identical Reptars is a confusing nightmare, and nobody will know who is who for long. Matches have many instances of players awkwardly standing around as they try to figure out who they are controlling, as the lag moves them forward.
Anyone lucky enough to play in a match with different characters will still have to contend with some hopelessly unbalanced gameplay. Hitboxes are absurd form some characters, with some unfairly hitting the underside of ledges, making returning to the battlefield impossible.
Through out most of the 20 fighters, a lot of moves get recycled between characters. Expect a lot of downward smash attacks and upward launches. There is not enough creativity for a cast of imaginative cartoon characters who all have extremely varying silhouettes. A lot of the lack of imagination seems like it was due to a limitation on time.
On Series S, there was a noticeable lack of polish on the technical side of the game. This is not a high spec fighting game at all, yet there were several instances of choppy frame rate and lots of screen tearing. Series S can do way better than this, so it must be something going on with some sloppy optimization.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is something that had a ton of potential. If Super Smash Bros. Ultimate suffers from one thing, it would be its ever expanding cast of realistically proportioned human characters that make the roster feel samey. This is something All-Star Brawl can easily avoid due to all the fighters being varying styled cartoon characters.
There could have been a few bad guys; Ed Bighead, Shredder, Dib, or even Squidward. Even not counting cartoon villains, the representatives are really confusing and the lack of character bios does not help uninitiated players know who some of these characters are. An older gamer who grew up with Ren & Stimpy won’t know who Lucy Loud is; they’ll assume she is some kind of goth kid in Charlie Brown’s class.
Probably the biggest and easiest missed opportunity to get players on board with some of the characters they know nothing about would have been to include a cartoon episode for each character. Instead there is nothing but still images. For $49.99 USD, this is a rip-off and is a wasteland of content. Maybe Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl will get better with updates, but it would take a miracle to salvage this pile of slime.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl was reviewed on Xbox Series S using a review code provided by Game Mill. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.