Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl Review: Great Fundamentals
Platform fighters will always face unfair comparisons and be labeled as clones. It's an entire subgenre perpetually held to the standard of Nintendo’s monster IP, Super Smash Bros. Thankfully, this notion hasn’t stifled development.
On the contrary, it’s actually helped inspire games like Ludosity and Fair Play Labs’ Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl. The desire to make All-Star Brawl into something that could potentially rival Smash in terms of quality is evident within the first match or two. The fighting is solid.
There are a few issues, however, that keep All-Star Brawl from shining as brightly as it could.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl Review: Great Fundamentals
As a platform fighter, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl’s foundation is comprised of all the usual elements. Bouts take place in 2D arenas with floating platforms, a moving camera, and the occasional environmental hazard. Life bars are absent, replaced by percentages that count up as players take damage.
A high percentage doesn’t necessarily equate to instant death but rather the distance a character will fly when hit; the accumulation of damage makes players more prone to being knocked off a given stage.
The goal here is to send rivals flying in a manner that makes it impossible for them to return to the arena. This can be done with well-placed attacks in mid-air that prevent opponents from grabbing onto a ledge or a powerful strike that sends them to the corner of the screen, resulting in an instant KO.
The amount of damage needed for these maneuvers to work varies. Because of this, players will want to keep their percentages low while increasing the percentages of their opponents.
All-Star Brawl also offers a familiar control scheme: a jump, grab, block, special, and a few attack buttons. Quick light attacks are great for chipping away at freshly spawned foes. The slower strong attacks are better used after building up a bit of damage, as they’ll send enemies careening.
Both sets of attacks are directional-based; holding up and pressing the strong attack button hits airborne players, launching them upwards, for instance. The same goes for the special button. Pressing it while neutral can send out a projectile while holding up, and hitting it offers a lifesaving third jump.
Again, these are the things we’d expect from a platform fighter. There are some interesting bits that flavor All-Star Brawl’s combat, though.
Take the block button. Usually, players can only block every so often before becoming vulnerable; constant hits weaken their defense. In All-Star Brawl, it’s possible to block somewhat indefinitely, with the mechanic balanced by a player’s proximity to a ledge.
When blocking attacks, players are constantly pushed backward. If pushed while close to the edge of a platform, they start to teeter over, becoming vulnerable and unable to attack for a few seconds. It's a wrinkle that allows the aggressor to attack or grab them freely.
Speaking of grabbing, All-Star Brawl lets every character grab a rival’s projectile and throw it back at them. It’s also possible to hit projectiles back and forth using basic attacks, with each hit increasing a projectile’s speed and power. Of course, this doesn’t work for AoE moves, though. It isn’t possible to knock back Reptar’s ground-based fire breath, for instance. But overall, these mechanics allow for some interesting moments that are often tied to specific characters in other games.
Another unique feature here is the ability to strafe. By holding down L/L1/LB or the right Ctrl button, it’s possible to move a character in one direction while facing another. This can be used to evade enemies while throwing projectiles their way or as a strategy to fool them by suddenly changing directions mid jump, causing them to walk into an attack.
These types of maneuverers are amplified by wave-dashing and an intriguing rock-paper-scissors attack system. Pressing block while jumping causes players to airdash. Press both buttons while on the ground, and they’ll wave-dash, speeding up their movements to avoid attacks and/or close the distance between them and opponents.
The rock-paper-scissors system is centered on clashing strong attacks – where two players simultaneously land hits during a fight – giving one player an advantage over the other. For instance, a neutral (or Mid) strong attack will beat out an Up attack, forcing the other player to face the opposite direction.
On the other hand, an Up attack beats Down, making the downward attacking opponent spin about, effectively stunning them. A similar thing happens when a Down attack beats a Mid.
All-Star Brawl has the fundamentals needed to make it a compelling fighter. And for the most part, it succeeds. Trading blows is always entertaining. There aren’t any contestable items like in Smash or Brawlhalla. Still, bouts are often chaotic, with players sending each other flying to and fro.
The roster of characters is generational in scope, welcoming to fans who grew up on shows like Ren & Stimpy, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, The Loud House, and SpongeBob SquarePants. Most of the maps are well designed, the best of which are those that really utilize a given Nickelodeon IP. Essentially, on a basic level, Ludosity and Fair Play Labs did a solid job in this department.
While All-Star Brawl is mostly a good time waiting to happen, it is a little rough around the edges. For one, there isn't any voice work or much in the way of a classic soundtrack. The original music is nice, and some of it pulls from certain shows (the Aaahh!! Real Monsters’ scream is used to great effect), but many classics are missing. It seems odd; if Nick allowed these characters in a fighter, wouldn’t it allow their music to be used as well?
The game’s finer details make up for most of this. Seeing Ren & Stimpy do the Happy Happy Joy Joy dance when they win a match or noticing Grandpa sleep on a bench in the Rugrats-playground-themed map never gets old. There is a lot to like here. Unfortunately, All-Star Brawl can be a pain to play sometimes.
All-Star Brawl’s rollback netcode – a connection framework that helps prevent latency by correcting/rolling back data – usually works well. However, there are times when the game desyncs during a fight. Players can completely disconnect from one another, continuing the match separately until it crashes them back to the lobby. You can tell it’s happening because your opponent will either stand in one place or constantly run in one direction.
This desync issue occurs often enough to frustrate. This is especially true in larger lobbies. Having four players battle while a few spectate is asking for trouble. The problems don’t stop there, though. There are times when players in a lobby can’t join a match, and framerate dips can make the game unplayable for 10-15 seconds, resulting in a missed attack or death via a poor jump.
These types of problems negate your desire to keep playing. Local play is fine, sure. But most will want to play online, given the world’s current state. There aren’t many options beyond the game’s bare-bones Arcade mode. Meaning that when the online issues show up, it’s easy to forgo playing All-Star Brawl for something else.
The good news is that the developers are keeping an eye on things. Sporting a fan-led vibe – supported by comments from Fair Play Labs’ Markus Villalobos about how they’ll properly listen to/incorporate feedback – the game was designed to grow into a competitively complete product eventually. Hopefully, All-Star Brawl's online play will improve with time.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl Review – The Bottom Line
- Solid platform fighter mechanics
- Unique gameplay elements that shake things up
- Good cast of characters
- Potentially fun nostalgia trip
- Online issues
- No voice overs/classic music
- Lacks compelling solo modes
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is an entertaining platform fighter. It bleeds nostalgia, has a good roster of characters, and plays uniquely enough to stand on its own for casual and competitive players alike.
The online portions are great when things are working. There isn’t much to do when they aren't, beyond playing local matches and the lackluster Arcade mode. Thankfully, All-Star Brawl was made with updates in mind.
[Note: GameMill Entertainment provided the copy of Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl used for this review.]