Many of today’s adults grew up watching Nickelodeon and its affiliated channels, so characters like SpongeBob SquarePants, Ren and Stimpy, CatDog, the Rugrats and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hold special places in their hearts. To the majority of those folks, these characters were an iconic staple of childhood and comfort, much like Mr. Dressup, Fred Penner and the Raccoons were to me. Thus, there’s a lot of nostalgia surrounding everything involved.
I grew up without cable, so I was limited to a certain number of channels via antenna TV. The only time I was able to watch anything Nickelodeon was when I would visit my grandparents, who lived two and a half hours away, and would get to enjoy their cable. Hell, I often had to go down the road to visit family and friends just to watch hockey, which I liked to do as much as possible. The cable company wouldn’t bring the line up, and as far as I know they still haven’t.
The above is my way of saying that I don’t hold as much of a nostalgic attachment to most of the Nickelodeon library as many others do. I respect their roster of characters and shows, and enjoyed the times I was able to watch Ren and Stimpy or Rugrats, but never got into SpongeBob or numerous others. I did, however, watch a lot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when I was young, and would rent the VHS tapes. The largest portion of my action figure collection also belonged to the Heroes in a Half Shell, as did some of my favourite games. That said, I believe this was well before they were acquired and rebooted by Nickelodeon.
All of this brings us to a new game from GameMill Entertainment, Maximum Games and Fair Play Labs. One they call Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, and for a fitting reason.
Pitting around twenty-one different characters against one another, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is best described as being a Super Smash Bros. clone. That’s really what it feels and plays like, despite having a completely different roster and more zany arenas. It’s also the first thing people who pick it up and play it are going to notice, so if they’re not big on Smash Bros. and don’t have a lot of nostalgia for Nickelodeon, it’s probably not the best choice.
The main menu directs players to choose between Arcade, Battles and Online Play. They contain the following options:
Arcade: This is your standard ladder, which will be familiar to anyone who’s played fighting games. It’s reminiscent of what you’d find in the original Mortal Kombat, albeit more colourful and less violent. You can also sometimes choose between two fights, allowing for some player choice within the seven round ladder.
Battles: Those with interest can start stock or timed battles, or they can play sports, which is basically a competitive and attack-filled game of soccer. Two opposing pairs of players try to both score goals and prevent the ball from entering their own team’s star shaped net.
Online play: You can enter lobbies, play competitive matches or opt for lesser quick matches.
The soccer mode is pretty fun, but it’d be a lot more enjoyable if it had online play. Furthermore, there’s not a lot of incentive to go back through Arcade mode unless you want to try a different character. Reason being is that you don’t unlock much, outside of some gallery images. Thus, local multiplayer and online battles are the two main draws here, especially since the AI isn’t the best.
On the gameplay side of things, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl feels kind of barebones. Sure, its soccer mini-game is fun for a while, but its core fighting mechanics aren’t nearly as fluid or immersive as that of its inspiration. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Nintendo’s series, but it’s a lot more polished than what’s included here.
Each character has a light attack, a heavy attack and a special, and they’re all normally handled using the A, B and X buttons. The Y button, then, is used for jumping, which took some time to get used to. These controls are customizable, though, so don’t worry if this isn’t something that suits you.
The core fighting mechanics are okay, but they lack the fluidity that allows you to really chain attacks and marvel at the result. I also found that specials weren’t as responsive, or as easy to pull off as they could’ve been, and felt a bit disjointed from my character.
During my review sessions, I played through Arcade mode several times, took part in some soccer, went online and tried out numerous characters, from SpongeBob and Ren and Stimpy (who are one combined fighter), to Patrick, Invader Zim, Powdered Toast Man, Lincoln Loud, Danny Phantom and Nigel Thornbury. Some were obviously better than others, especially for my play style, but Powdered Toast Man ended up being my favourite of the bunch.
It was the arenas that stood out the most, though, because of their creativity. I recognized some of the locations from specific shows, but not all or most of them. Still, I appreciated the randomness and uniqueness of several of the locations. There’s a moving Ninja Turtles bus to fight on top of, with a couple of nearby cars to use as secondary platforms; a cemetery with moving gravestones; CatDog’s house; Jellyfish Fields; the Technodrome; a moving Ferris wheel and a kitchen counter complete with leftover cereal in milk and an active frying pan. It’s possible to die from drowning in the milk, and it’s obviously easy to get burned by the pan itself.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is a very colourful game, too, and that’s to be expected given its cartoon subject matter. There’s lots of detail to be found within its environments, and some of them feature their own artistic style that differs from the rest. The character models are also pretty well done, but they’re outshone by the backgrounds. Moving on, the music is also between decent and forgettable, with some songs standing out a lot more than others. Since there’s no voice acting, it and the sound effects are all you can look forward to.
I should also mention that, at least on Xbox Series S, there’s an awful screen tearing problem. It was very evident during my first match, and still persists after what seems to have been a recent patch. It’s not as bad now, but is still noticeable.
At the end of the day, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is best suited to people who adore these characters, and who would love to play a Super Smash Bros. style game involving most of Nickelodeon’s iconic roster. They should understand, though, that this is more of an imitator than a peer, and something that has flaws. It’s not a great fighting game by any means, but is serviceable enough to entertain super fans and kids alike, provided they don’t go in expecting anything amazing. It’s not something I can see myself playing long-term, though.
This review is based on the Xbox Series S version of the game, which we were provided.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is a mediocre Smash Bros. clone that will only really appeal to super fans and children who haven't played better.