Positive early impressions and confident developer deep-dives showcased the legitimate potential for Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl to be a stellar standout in the world of platform fighters. I even found myself indulging in the possibility of this nostalgic brawler standing toe-to-toe with the undisputed king of the genre, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. While interest for this title among the competitive fighting game community was undeniable, it's time to discuss where it stands several days after release.
Like many games emphasizing online multiplayer launching in 2021, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl currently has a host of serious issues. From inputs not functioning correctly to online servers being borderline unusable, the initial experience for many players has been less than ideal.
I've spent a fair amount of time with the game on Xbox and PC, and there's no denying the genuine promise Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl shows. When everything works as intended, the gameplay feels fast, fluid, and engaging. However, significant bugs, performance issues, and apparent shortcomings have seriously hampered enjoyment.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl
Bottom line: Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is brimming with fantastic characters, fun combat, and legitimate potential. However, limited content and a laundry list of bugs keep it from thriving as a platform fighter right now.
- Amazing cast of iconic characters
- Gorgeous, detailed stages
- Fast, fluid 2D combat
- Successfully caters to casual and competitive players
- Limited game modes
- Obvious budgetary shortcomings
- Serious performance issues
- Loads of weird bugs
Disclaimer: This review was made possible by review codes provided by Gamemill Entertainment. The company did not see the contents of the review before publishing.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl: What you'll like
With a stunning cast of nearly 20 iconic cartoon characters, Nickelodeon fans, past or present, will easily find a fighter that speaks to their taste or sense of humor in Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl. Historically, Super Smash Bros. has successfully requisitioned the biggest names from the world of video games, but Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl manages to assemble some of the largest figures from general pop culture. It was impossible for me not to have an enormous smile on my face when I saw SpongeBob, Patrick, Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Ren & Stimpy, and Powdered Toast Man all together on the character select screen for the first time. As someone who grew up watching many of these beloved cartoons, this platform fighter pandered heavily to my nostalgic inclinations.
|Title||Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl|
|Developer||Fair Play Labs and Ludosity|
|Xbox Version||Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S|
|Play Time||10 hours|
|Players||Local and Online Multiplayer 1-4|
Something even more impressive than the roster of playable fighters in Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is the sheer number of gorgeous, detailed stages. There is so much diversity to where players can battle, with a commendable balance of tight arena-style stages and enormous sprawling environments. Standouts like Powdered Toast Trouble beautifully capture the 1950s-era essence of Ren & Stimpy and even offer opportunities for combatants to dunk each other in a massive bowl of cereal. Other noteworthy locations like Jellyfish Fields or Glove World triumphantly nail the vivid colors and memorable environments of SpongeBob SquarePants. Despite playing some of these stages dozens of times, I'm still discovering subtle background details.
Rapidly flopping around stages like a flailing fish as Nigel Thornberry is an absolute delight.
While Super Smash Bros. pioneered the platform fighter genre, we've seen countless titles experiment or innovate on this groundbreaking formula. Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl certainly keeps its gameplay mechanics fundamentally similar to Super Smash Bros., such as bringing back wavedashing. but what firmly sets this title apart is how it ingeniuously incorporates increased movement speed and elements of traditional 2D fighters.
Directional air-dashes provide a sense of maneuverability unlike anything I've seen in other platform fighters, and unbreakable blocks require more methodical execution of specific attacks against opponents than many of us might be used to. In combination with an incredibly diverse kit of abilities for all 19 characters, these design choices demand the awareness of players. Rapidly flopping around stages like a flailing fish as Nigel Thornberry is an absolute delight.
Like Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl's obvious inspiration, this title delivers casual and competitive players an engrossing fighting game experience. Try-hard brawlers like myself can study the specific hitboxes of characters, identify viable counters, and work to master the perfect block. At the same time, the average fan can select Reptar and scorch enemies with devastating fireballs. Thanks to the universal control scheme for all characters in Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, anyone, regardless of skill level, can pick up and play any fighter. However, the more competitive-driven community should be excited about the nuance between playable characters. Technical fighters like April O'Neil might seem mediocre to some, but once the camera into microphone combo clicks, it opens up a whole new world of destruction.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl: What you won't like
Unfortunately, an impressive roster of iconic characters and delightful stages doesn't make up for the fact that Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is a relatively feature-light package. There just isn't much in the way of content here, especially for solo players.
Performance problems aren't acceptable when playing a fast-paced fighting game that relies heavily on steady framerates and reading an opponent's movements.
A bare-bones arcade mode serves as your primary solo experience, and it's nothing more than randomly selected 1v1 matches with AI opponents. When it comes to local and online multiplayer, things open up slightly more, but you are still limited to only three modes; Stock Battles, Timed Battles, and Sports. Stock Battles and Timed Battles are your traditional platform fighter modes where you're goal is to either outperform or outlast your opponents. Sports is a strange mixed bag of objective modes that task players with smashing various balls into opposing goals. Think Rocket League but worse.
When mentioning the exciting potential of Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, it's difficult to ignore some of the painfully obvious budgetary shortcomings. First and foremost, the lack of dialogue or vocal expressions for characters leaves a strange void. This is especially true in Arcade mode, where dialogue ripped straight from these cartoons is displayed as nothing more than a text blurb before the start of the match.
Even the game's primary announcer, who celebrates the most noteworthy gameplay moments, uses recycled and blatantly spliced dialogue lines. Hearing an obvious pause between "Red Team" and "has scored a point" or "Blue Team" and "is unstoppable" was jarring. These areas of limited production value started to add up, and I found myself frustrated by what could have been if only this team had been given more resources.
For this review, I played Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl on both PC and Xbox Series X. I'm sad to report that as it stands, both platforms have serious performance issues. Currently on Xbox Series X, I consistently suffered through framerate drops and horrendous screen-tearing, and this is while using a variable refresh rate display.
When it comes to PC, the screen-tearing isn't as consistent. However, my overall performance was noticeably worse. Certain stages ran at a flawless 4K 60FPS, while others would dip into the low 30s. These performance problems aren't acceptable when playing a fast-paced fighting game that relies heavily on steady framerates and reading the opponent's movements.
Unfortunately, I also encountered numerous frustrating and inexplicable bugs during my play sessions so far. More egregious problems such as being unable to use diagonal inputs with my controller's d-pad or having my controller completely disconnect mid-match are some of the first that come to mind. I've also had completely unrelated inputs like grabs or special attacks register seemingly by their own accord on several occasions. Not to mention all the times my game has completely crashed on both Xbox or PC, either. I'm confident many of these issues will be ironed out in the coming weeks, but right now, there's a lot that needs to be addressed.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl: Should you play it?
Despite my laundry list of criticisms regarding the current state of Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, I'm still having a tremendous amount of fun with this platform fighter. If you're someone who loves Super Smash Bros., but primarily plays on Xbox, this is absolutely a title you and some friends can have a blast with. Forming online lobbies with other players and smacking each other around as Oblina and CatDog is genuinely something no other game can offer. There's a great deal to celebrate when it comes to this nostalgia-driven brawler. Even with an objectively rocky launch, I'm still hopeful for the future of Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl.
Right now, it's tough for me to recommend Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl to everybody, but if you're looking for something to fill that Super Smash Bros. void on Xbox or PC, the team has a strong foundation for something truly special here. While maybe not the best fighting game on Xbox, the frantic and somewhat chaotic combat, an great roster of cartoon legends, and a massive platter of eye-catching environments still confidently shine over performance issues and bugs. Let's just hope GameMill Entertainment, Ludosity, and Fair Play Labs continue growing and evolving the game.
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