Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl Review: A Far From Smashing Fighter
When its trailer launched, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl made a very specific subset of Nickelodeon and gaming fans fizz with excitement. By no means was its reveal taken seriously, but come on - the chance to kick the snot out of Patrick from Spongebob Squarepants as Reptar from Rugrats? Sold. I’ll have five. Take my money.
But, as the dust settled, some cracks began to show. The game’s very clear influence (to put it lightly) from the Super Smash Bros series started to feel less like a homage and more like a commandeering, and though nobody expected the title to be a flawless fighter, it charges players like it is - at £45 just to get in the door with DLC fighters planned even before launch, it’s clear that the consumer isn’t immediately in mind.
But, of course, getting bogged down in these details defeats the point of the game, right? It’s a Nickelodeon fighting game! It’s meant to be silly, goofy fun, surely...? Not quite.
The Bland House
The leading quality of All-Star Brawl is of course, its characters. The most compelling thing about picking up a game like this is the prospect of laying waste to Powdered Toast Man as Helga from Hey Arnold, and the game is able to deliver - for the most part.
Due to potential budget constraints, the game is without any voice lines except the slightly underwhelmed announcer. This means that you won’t hear Spongebob react when you yeet him across the stage, nor will you hear him quip after a good kill. This sadly drains the life from all of these characters and dissects the game’s lovability - presenting the characters as facades of themselves, rather than the real thing. The main draw of the game is left without any vibrance whatsoever, and while there are rumblings that voice lines could be introduced in a future update, it doesn’t do much for our favourite characters right now.
The same can be said of the game’s presentation, which is garish and unpleasant. Some models seem simple and unfinished, with the game’s overarching art style attempting to bring characters of varying styles to life in the same place and making most look like plastic in the process. The reps for Spongebob Squarepants and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles get away with it, but Nigel Thornberry looks like he’s made of rubber, and Ren and Stimpy are just generally unpleasant. This, paired with the relatively generic stages and teeth-gratingly repetitive music make Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl just as ugly as it is frustrating to play.
Aaahh!! Real Problems
While much of the game is carried by its obvious iconography, a game like Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is carried by its gameplay. The fighting itself is postured as simple enough for young players to grasp, yet with enough complicated tech to offer for some serious professional play - yet neither of these facts comes to be true.
The movement and attack systems are immensely frustrating, with the light, heavy, and special attack muddying the move pool rather than giving players more variety, making fighting dissolve into a pure button-masher. The sensitivity of moves cannot be understated - accidentally pointing even slightly upwards when performing a side-attack will force you to use an up-attack, and when using your special moves, you’ll be dragged into using your recovery move, often doing zero damage in the process and throwing you off-kilter in a flash.
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There is no option to adjust sensitivity, and you’re destined to a life of up-specials unless you can learn laser-precise moves - and it’s especially annoying when playing as characters like CatDog, who will ping upwards in a diagonal line, often forcing you off the stage if you’re unlucky. It’s deeply frustrating, especially if you’re coming over from the game that All-Star Brawl takes most of its notes from.
Beyond just battling in basic fighting modes, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl offers a few more ways to play, other than just clattering your mates. It comes packed with a bare-bones Arcade mode that will take you through randomised selections of stages and fighters, letting you make your own selections as you go. This mode fails to engage however, as the rewards of images and music tracks it offers you right at the end hardly make the experience worth it, and the difficulty of each fighter never seems to increase as you go. It’s practically just a long list of fights generated for you, making the mode feel little more than a random fight generator.
There is also a sports mode, which sees you attempt to kick a ball into a circle on your opponent’s side of the stage - but frankly, it’s not much fun despite the game’s efforts to add a little individuality to the title. You just kick a ball into a circle. Wicked.
The game’s lack of variety makes it feel like it’s too soon to pick up a copy of the game, coming in at a whopping £45 at launch while only really offering 10 minutes of couch brawling before the cracks of the game become all too prominent. The game might have plenty to offer on the front of DLC, but it’s unlikely to make the blow of the initial £45 any softer.
Scraping The Bikini Bottom Of The Barrel
Sadly, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl fails to do the bare minimum that is expected of it, making a game that should be a silly flash of nostalgia into a frustrating, lifeless mess. The characters you grew up loving are here on a very basic level, with a lot of their charm completely sapped. The lack of voice lines and the inconsistent presentation is the most egregious missteps in the game, but crucially, it simply can’t manage to be fun.
You might be able to stick around for long enough to choose your own main (mine’s Oblina, just FYI), but once you’ve done that, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl will have nothing else for you. Even playing with friends can’t manage to make the game exciting or engaging, and chances are, it’ll end up at the bottom of your gaming pile before you can say “smashing!”.
Reviewed on PlayStation 5. Code provided by the publisher.