For a good few months since its initial announcement, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl was one of my most-anticipated games of 2021. Super Smash Bros. is already one of my favourite series out there, but to mix that in with a decidedly more competitive edge and centred around characters I’d grown up with made it seem like a game specifically made for me.
Thankfully, in the ways that matter, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is absolutely what I wanted it to be. The fighting is spot-on and incredibly fast-paced, the characters are some of the cream of the Nickelodeon crop, and the competitive scene is already heating up to near Smash levels. In those regards, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is absolutely fantastic.
Yet, there’s a lot of other things needed to make a game feel complete, and it’s in those other ways that Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl sadly falters at launch. It can feel cheap at times, has some strange omissions, and is lacking in content in many areas. It feels like it has the potential to become one of the best platform fighters out there, it’s just not ready to fight yet.
Straight out the gate, one thing I can praise Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl for is its Nintendo Switch release. Beyond some long loading times in the arcade mode, it’s a pretty flawless port that looks, sounds, and runs great without any big flaws. Thanks to the rollback netcode, it also has an even better online experience than Smash, which sort of makes me laugh when I think about it.
Although the Switch port is great in capturing the look and feel of Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, I wouldn’t say that look and feel is exactly flawless. There’s clearly been a lot of love put into the stages and characters here, but it feels like a case-by-case basis on how well they’ve been translated. Stages are mostly flawless in getting a show’s vibe, but the characters can be hit and miss.
Some look almost absolutely spot on like SpongeBob and Lincoln Loud, whilst others feel rushed and out of proportion like Danny Phantom. Seriously, why is his head so big? He’s not Jimmy Neutron. The animations also range from awesome references to a character’s show to looking cheap and a bit uncanny valley. For example, Aang has an incredible taunt that is a great reference to Avatar, whilst Lucy Loud just sort of sneers at the character. When it’s good, it’s really good, but when it misses it can make things feel cheap.
All of the animation and looks come under a big magnifying glass because of the game’s sound. As has been shouted across social media, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl doesn’t have character voices and instead just uses sound effects for all attacks and movement. The songs are also mostly completely original, which can make it feel like you’re playing a very high-quality flash game at times.
Personally, the music and lack of voices don’t bother me all too much. I think the animations and references do a good enough job capturing the characters as is, but it can make those times where characters look a bit off even more glaring. I prefer it as it is than having random low-quality voice clips, though.
Although most of Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is focused on the competitive scene, there are a few modes you can play in single-player, such as a very basic arcade mode for each character and a sports game that is fun for a few rounds but quickly forgettable. Once you’ve done all the arcade modes, you’re pretty much done as far as single-player content goes.
After talking about the look, sound, and content pretty quickly, it might seem like there’s not a lot to talk about with Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, and that’s really one of its biggest issues. There are no interesting extra modes, no hidden fighters, no character interactions, and really nothing to go about collecting. It’s a game very devoid of that sort of content, which may be a deal-breaker for some.
Thankfully, what Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl focuses on, it does with an expert grasp on platform fighters. It takes the basic formula of what works for Smash, light attacks, tilts, directional attacks, and specials, but also mixes it up in ways that make it much more competitive, such as all characters having DK’s cargo throw and projectiles being grabbable.
Game feel is a tough one to explain, but Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl just feels crunchy, whilst somehow also having characters that zip around like they’ve stood on butter. It’s tough to get used to compared to Smash but once you do you’ll realise that it’s very close in quality to Nintendo’s own. It’s not quite there, mainly due to some balance and polish issues, but it’s impressively close.
Online play is also fantastic thanks to rollback netcode, which means that even with a notoriously poor internet connection I was able to enjoy matches without many drops at all. It’s incredibly clear what Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is focused on, and it really does work in those areas.
It’s just a shame that so much feels missing in other areas. That may not be a deal-breaker for you, as it isn’t for me, but Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl feels like it’s in early access right now. I’m confident with more characters, stages, modes, and quality-of-life fixes like alternate outfits, it’ll be even better in a few months time, but that’s not an ideal way to launch.
The long and short of it is that if you’re a fan of Nickelodeon and Smash, this is absolutely worth it, but it might take some time to flesh out the sturdy fighting skeleton with some Mr Meaty.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Gamemill Entertainment