It’s strange to think just how influential Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. games have been. What seemed like a fun but ultimately shallow fighting game crossover idea when it first came out has transformed into one of the best – and most accessible – ensemble brawlers around. One whose success many games, like Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, are still trying to replicate.
The latest game to join the ensemble brawler style that Smash Bros. pioneered is Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl. As with Smash Bros., Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl pulls an assortment of characters from across the breadth of Nickelodeon’s cartoon properties and throws them together in an arena to fight for supremacy. So, if you’ve ever wanted to see SpongeBob beat Korra with the power of imagination, then this is your game.
All-Star Brawl pulls twenty characters from across Nickelodeon’s cartoon properties starting from the late 1980’s to relatively recently. You’ve got Leonardo and Michelangelo from the popular 1980’s cartoon version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, squaring off against the likes of Korra and Aang from the Avatar series, to name but a few. It’s an eclectic collection of fighters that includes some no-brainers, along with fan-loved characters, to some that I wasn’t sure why they made the cut. Perhaps it has more to do with my lack of love for certain Nickelodeon properties, but it didn’t make sense to me to have Helga from Hey Arnold! without Arnold himself. Then there are just some strange choices, such as Ren and Stimpy. At least everyone’s favourite Invader Zim is here with a Gir attack to boot.
Each character’s attack is based around their personalities and abilities from the shows, with novel moves that feel appropriate for each character.
Characters are nimble, able to jump, double jump, and air dash. Attacks are split into strong, heavy, and special attacks. The character move sets are limited compared to most traditional fighters but All-Star Brawl isn’t designed around combos. While some characters attacks do flow better into each other, or offer a one-two hit with a single button press, All-Star is more concerned with landing each attack at the perfect moment.
Mechanically, each fighter’s moves use the same button combination, with variations for each attack determined by a direction press. There’s no significant difference in how you perform each move between the fighters, as you might find in more technical fighters. While this may not seem ideal for experienced fighting gamers, it lowers the bar for new and younger players. This design makes sure you rather spend time learning the intricacies of matches and concern yourself with the timing instead of trying to remember long input strings.
This adds to the game’s pick-up and play nature, but also makes it obvious that All-Star Brawl is aimed at a younger crowd (despite the age of some of the characters in the roster!).
Despite the mechanical similarities, there is a difference in how each fighter plays. Some are slow, others are fast, and some have far more damaging moves than others. So it won’t be long before you have a go-to character that, more than likely, won’t be based on your personal fan bias. SpongeBob’s special, for instance, is weak, while Danny Phantom’s heavy is a little on the OP side. And then there’s Patrick’s Hugdriver, a high damage move that also works wonders as a winning suicide attack when performed near a ledge.
As with Smash Bros, winning, depending on the game mode, is based around dealing damage to enemies until their percentage numbers are high enough that even the weakest attack can send them hurtling off-screen. This mechanic can make each match a hectic throwdown, especially if you’re playing with four players. It becomes a screen-filling explosion of chaos that can get a bit much to follow.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, despite its focus on timing, does suffer from some issues that keep it from becoming an instant classic. Some enemy’s moves, for instance, can make it difficult to get in close to do damage as their “magical attacks” give them a larger attack radius than non-magic characters. Secondly, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl lacks the depth that you find in other fighters. This isn’t to say that the game isn’t fun, especially if you’re playing casually against friends, but rather that, timing aside, the game favours button mashing and cheap moments more than truly strategic play (especially against the AI).
There are a couple of different modes out the box, along with support for 2-player local co-op. The game supports 4 players with others online or against the AI. If you can’t get anyone to play with, the game’s AI does a fairly decent job of challenging you in the customised matches with a “CPU Level” ranging from 1 to 9. At higher difficulties, the game becomes a mad free-for-all, with the AI jumping around all over the place like spiking the punch at a kangaroo convention with LSD.
Arcade Mode is a seven-match mode that you can play at very easy to very hard difficulties. You’ll only fight one opponent per match, with a set amount of lives each depending on the difficulty. The draw here is the ability to unlock new artwork and music, which you can view and listen to in the Extras menu, with each completed character.
Battle Mode contains a standard mode that essentially amounts to Versus play with someone else or the AI. Timed Mode does what it says on the box, while Sports Mode is essentially a soccer mode – All-Star style – where you have to knock the ball into your teammates net while dealing with and being attacked. Finally, you can get a quick run-through of how to play the game and get used to each character in training mode, which you can play with a friend or AI.
If you’re looking for a story mode, there isn’t one. There’s not even the faintest attempt at explaining why everyone is punching the snot out of each other. While it’s no deal-breaker, I would have preferred some form of narrative framework, especially in Arcade Mode.
Visually, All-Star looks quite nice. The visual style fits the cartoon characters quite well and they’re well animated, though somewhat plastic-looking. Stage design is mostly great as well. They capture the look of certain iconic locations from each show nicely, though some stages are better looking (and play better) than others. The Flying Dutchman’s Ship is a nice compact location to battle on, while the spaceship setting with its platforms that sink when you stand on them just isn’t any fun. Some of the stages have environmental hazards as well but they’re rarely anything to worry about. For the most part, the game ran fairly smoothly on an Xbox One X, though I did notice screen tear and some slowdown usually when the view zoomed out to give you a larger view of the stage, or when four characters were rocketing around the arena and the view zoomed out again.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, despite its tendency to favour button mashing and cheap hits, is still a fun, solid entry in the fighting game genre. While it feels aimed more towards the casual and younger market, the fun of using Toph to beat Michelangelo, or any of the other characters from its roster makes for a fun way to pass the time. And it’s even better if you can do so with friends.
An Xbox review code for Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl was provided to Gameblur by the Publisher.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl (Xbox One X) ReviewNickelodeon All-Star Brawl (Xbox One X) Review
Ease of Play8/10 Very Good
Visuals8/10 Very Good
- 1980’s Ninja Turtles
- Some fun stages
- Gets very hectic
- More of a button masher
- Slowdown and screen tearing