Nick All-Star Brawl: It’s Melee, But With Spongebob
There’s a handful of fighting games that have attempted to take up a similar mantle to that of Super Smash Brothers. Games like PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale attempted to change the formula but weren’t able to rise to the challenge as the gameplay was too different compared to Smash. Some independent companies decided to take their shot at it, with games like Brawlhalla and Rivals of Aether holding the biggest fanbase, with characters like Rayman making an appearance in the game. However, one developer for the game decided to jump into the scene. The developer is Ludosity. This small indie company made the title Slap City, which played very similar to Melee, even including gameplay mechanics like wavedashing into the game. Slap City was supposed to be a competitive title, but with its lack of recognizable characters, many players didn’t know about the game, despite its gameplay.
However, someone who did notice was Nickelodeon. The company reached out to the developers of slap city and encouraged them to try their hand at the platform fighter genre one last time, but instead of making their own characters, they would be given the vast library of Nicktoons to play the part of the fighters. With this newfound backing from the company, they decided to pick up and try again, creating the living meme that’s Nick All-Star Brawl.
While the concept of the game is nothing but absurd, the real question remains, how good of a game is it?
Nick All-Star Brawl Review
This Nick All-Star Brawl review is going to be from the perspective of someone who plays platform fighters casually. While I don’t practice, and I don’t play competitively, the game is still enticing enough to me to want to pick it up, and I did. For those who are still on the fence, seeing that the track record of licensed games has been less than stellar, it’s hard to judge whether or not the game’s worth the $50 asking price.
Nick All-Star Brawl is nothing short of a genuine platform fighter. However, the gameplay for the game slightly differs from smash brothers. There are still percentages and knockouts, but the game is different on many small levels.
The game comes with 20 characters, spanning the entire Nickelodeon timeline. Characters like Leonardo and Michelangelo sport their original 90’s look, while April O’Neil shows up dressed in her classic Yellow Jumpsuit. Newer characters from new shows make their appearance as well, such as two from The Loud House. Of course, there’s also the addition of Spongebob and some of his friends. However, three of the standout characters in the game are the likes of Ren and Stimpy & Powdered Toast Man from Ren & Stimpy, and Oblina from AHH! Real Monsters.
Here’s how the game works. The main mode is three-stock battles with a timer of six minutes. Player’s will duke it out on one of 20 stages, with each character getting a stage from the show they’re in. While the rules are the same as Super Smash Brothers, there are some changes to the overall move sets for characters that help Nick All-Star Brawl stand out.
Every character has their own form of light attacks and strong attacks. However, the differences to Smash Brothers start within the strong attacks on the characters. Unlike Smash, both light and strong attacks can be done in the air. While they’re similar to some of the attacks from the moves on the ground, some of them do change when performed in the air. For example, looking at a character like Patrick, his strong down on the ground is a body slam. However, his strong down in the air has Patrick jumping into an ice cream cone and slamming down onto the ground, hurting anyone who decides to stand under him. This sort of difference goes for a large amount of the characters.
There’s also a massive change to the way that the game’s strong attacks work. When playing against one another, if both players use their neutral strong attack, they’ll both bounce back, but when they start using other attacks, the game becomes somewhat of a rock paper, scissors match. Some strong attacks prioritize over others, putting status effects on other players. Down beats side strongs and causes the player performing the side strong to stagger, making them vulnerable to punishing. Side beats up, and will spin the player around, and up beats down, and will cause the character to spin out.
Some of the moves can be canceled into combos. On top of this, there’s no sprinting in the game, but the game does give all players a strong dash, and a light dash attack to use against other players. Dashes can be canceled into any move, which opens up the window for combos, as some players aren’t familiar with this kind of mechanic.
Speaking of movement, there’s also the fact that players are able to strafe. By holding the left trigger as its default, players will be able to stay facing one direction and perform their attacks without performing them in any other direction. This is good for retreating without being placed into a combo from other players. Moving onto special moves, players will notice that there’s a lack of a side special. The characters do have their recovery move, and their down special, as well as a neutral.
Some characters have their own gimmicks, much like the other special characters in the game. For example, April O’Neil has what’s called “Ratings.” The more damage April inflicts with two of her moves, the snapshot camera and the TV camera, the more Ratings she’ll acquire, which is shown on her microphone. She’s then able to unleash a falcon punch-esque finishing move as her neutral special, which will send the other player flying based on how high her ratings are.
Another character, Lucy Loud, is able to switch between two auras, Ghost, and Vampire. These change the effect of every single special move she uses. CatDog has the ability to let either Cat or Dog be the lead character, with their moves changing based on who’s in front, with the difference being a mid strong punch with little knockback or a weak punch with high knockback. Some of the moves are taken from other characters from Super Smash Brothers, With Reptar’s up special being the same jump up and smash down that Yoshi has in his game. Players are going to find themselves drawing connections to Smash Brothers while playing. While some of the moves have some similarities to smash moves like Nigel Thornberry’s down special being Jigglypuffs sleep, there’s still enough new ideas that players are going to fall in love with.
More changes come in the form of the other parts of the moves. All characters have a cargo carry similar to DK from Smash, meaning they’re able to move while carrying an opponent. On top of this, any projectile thrown in the game are able to be grabbed and thrown back or hit and sent back. This will increase the speed of the projectile, making it harder to hit for other players. However, it does increase the power of the projectile with each subsequent hit. Which can be very punishing for players who find themselves on the other side of it. On top of this, the game does include air dashing in any direction, so when players dash into the ground they slide. This means that, yes, wave dashing is a thing included in the game. The game’s heavy focus on implementing some of the most competitively used mechanics in Melee is the one thing that sets Nick All-Star Brawl apart from Super Smash Brothers.
The game does come with some more modes than the normal three-stock battle. The game also comes with an arcade mode, where the player can pick one of the characters to go through multiple fights to crown themselves champion. Winning the arcade mode with a character will unlock some music to listen to, as well as some concept art that’s viewable in the gallery. The characters and the stages are all randomized, but when starting up a match the player’s character will have a quip before the battle starts, although it doesn’t come with any other form of voice acting.
There are also two more modes in the game that players can play either locally or online. There’s a timed mode, which is the same ruleset as the normal Smash Brothers mode: get as many KOs as possible before the timer runs out, and whoever has the most KOs wins.
Finally, there’s sports mode. The one that I played during my time with the game was Soccer. Which has the players hitting a ball into a goal on the outskirts of the map. There are multiple balls that players can play with. The one that I played with was the soccer ball, which is unable to be grabbed and must be hit to knock it into the goal.
However, there’s also online, which is able to be played against friends, through online lobbies, or through random matchmaking. All the modes are playable online, and players can team up for team battles as well. Matchmaking in the game is based on the ranking that players have after completing matches, with the skill rating changing after a win or a loss. Players will also note that the game does come with rollback netcode, something that Super Smash Brothers has lacked, making it easier for players to duke it out with one another without worrying as much about a bad connection.
The controls can also be changed for the game as well, with the player being able to switch what buttons do what. Every button does something in the game, from the guard to the grab, to the moves, and even the taunt.
Some things that have changed in the game comparing the controls to Smash is that the D-Pad isn’t used for taunts in the game. Players only have one taunt. The D-pad is actually used for movement in the game. Having the players use this allows for more precise movement compared to the control stick.
Another thing is that the strong attacks can either be done on the right stick, or a button dedicated to it on the controller. Being that the strong attacks can be used in the air and on the ground, putting the use of the strong attacks on one button and the stick will make it familiar to both new players, and players of other platform fighters.
My only massive complaint with this game is the fact that it’s lacking content in some places. While the sports mode does support other balls, there are only three modes and only a few ways to play. It’s not that there’s not a lot of content, it’s that the content isn’t as expanded as much as I would like. The arcade mode is going to be the same no matter who’s chosen, and there’s no special dialogue in the mode for characters that know one another like Spongebob and Patrick, or Aang and Toph. There isn’t any form of items in the timed mode for casual players either, and the game is lacking in certain aspects like unlockables.
That’s one of my biggest gripes for Nick All-Star Brawl. You don’t get to unlock the characters. With around 20 characters, which is still a lot for a fighting game these days, you’d think that the game would start player’s out with a small amount, maybe just Spongebob, Danny Phantom, Zim, and Aang, and then playing arcade mode would unlock more characters to player’s could check them out later, and have more to do aside from having everything unlocked.
The only unlockables in the game are renders and pictures of the stages, and music tracks, which aren’t going to be used a lot by the people playing the game. By starting off with nothing to work forwards to, there’s not going to be a lot for players to do right off the bat aside from fighting their friends.
I also think the core of the issue comes from the fact that players were completely spoiled with Super Smash Brothers Ulitmate, which has 89 characters in total, and hundreds of hours of content to play through their story mode, and spirit boards. However, this game doesn’t have that because it’s banking on the gameplay alone to carry the game. I do think that the game can survive on the gameplay alone because it’s ridiculously fun. However, I also think that the game does need some new characters soon, or else players are going to get bored with the game, seeing that there’s not much else to do.
Even though the game looks like a meme made for giggles, it’s been said by the developers that the game was planned to be competitive from the start. This is also something that Nickelodeon was asking of the developers from the beginning. Since the game’s only been out for a short time, there’s not much of an esports scene for it. But with fighting game tournaments coming back in the near future, the game is going to be something that players are going to expect when it comes down to it. If anything is for certain, the gameplay is the one thing that this game has going for it.
With the love and care that Ludosity put into the game, their focus on making the most authentic platform fighter based on the one Smash Brothers game that’s stood the test of time, there’s going to be players who will bring themselves into the competitive scene, with the ability and the know-how to pick up the game right off the bat.
Even though the game was created with the intention of the community going competitive, it doesn’t mean that players shouldn’t pick up the game for casual play. I’m not a competitive player, but I do enjoy playing Smash Brothers with my friends. There’s a term for when my friends and I both pick our main and decide to go sweat against one another. We call it a blood feud. In Super Smash Brothers Ultimate, that blood feud was between King K. Rool, and Mr. Game & Watch. When I started playing with a different friend, It became Spongebob & Oblina. The gameplay carries Nick All-Star Brawl, and the fact I spent three hours telling my friend to “Run it back” after losing, is why I enjoy the game so much, even though I don’t play competitively.
Being that the game is on all platforms, and the majority of my friends play on PC, I picked the game up on Steam. I’m playing on my main computer, running it with a Ryzen 3600, RTX 2060 Super, and 32 GB of RAM.
I’m running the game on high settings, and I’m able to play the game with an unlocked framerate. Playing Nick All-Star Brawl has been nothing but smooth sailing from the beginning, and I’ve never run into any crashes, or issues running the game. However, there were some issues I did run into while playing it.
I don’t know what’s the cause of this particular issue, but when I was playing with a friend of mine, there were two separate occasions where my friend and I became unsynced. For some reason, he still has three stocks, but on my screen, he only had one. Somehow, we became unsynced mid-match, and when he took his final stock, he was kicked back out to the lobby, and I got the victory screen. The game didn’t boot him to the main menu or force him to restart. It just sent him to the lobby instead.
Another time, we started dropping frames while fighting. This only happened on the level Traffic Jam, when he had a bad connection. The game didn’t become unplayable, it just started running the game at a lower framerate than we were used to. I think that the reason this happened was that the connection was bad. However, due to the rollback netcode for the game, it was still playable, and input lag wasn’t an issue.
It’s up to player preference to play the game with or without headphones. The game’s main theme is really catchy, and I’ve personally had it stuck in my head for the past few days. Some of the stage music is also super catchy.
There’s a section in the extra’s menu that allows players to listen to music, but to gain the tracks from every single level, you’ll have to play the respective character in arcade mode.
There’s a Smash-styled announcer in the game, and whenever the player launches another while they’re at high damage the announcer will say something along the lines of “Critical Hit!” or “Ooh! That’s Gotta Hurt!” I’ve seen some people online mention that the announcer’s performance is lackluster, and I can see where the voiceover work is a little weak, but it doesn’t ruin the experience when playing with friends.
Another audio issue that players encountered while playing was that the characters in the game don’t speak when they’re fighting. They don’t make sounds when they’re throwing punches, and they don’t make sounds when they’re punched.
Ludosity mentioned during the time up to the game’s launch that adding voiceovers to the characters is something that they were looking into. However, I think the real reason comes from the amount of money they’re going to have to pay these voice actors to reprise their roles. I don’t think Nickelodeon was expecting the game to get the press that it got, and since they were trying to play it safe, they decided to make the characters not speak, with the possibility of adding voices if the game sold well.
However, that’s only my theory.
The visuals of the game scream independent developer. There’s no hiding it. Some of the characters look weird compared to their renders for their character portraits. Some of the standout examples are Patrick star, Ren & Stimpy, and April O’Neil. I think this has something more to do with the fact that the characters are probably modeled by Ludosity themselves, and not with any consultancy or help from Nick. This would tie into my theory about Nick being hands-off from the project due to the fact that they’re playing it safe with the game, seeing that they’re making a platform fighter.
However, there’s another game that has slightly better visuals for the characters in question, and that’s the Nick Kart Racer that came out in 2020. Some characters look a lot better like Ren & Stimpy. However, the characters in the Nick Kart Racer also loom more Chibi than in Nick All-Star Brawl. Some characters, like the Loud House characters, and even Spongebob, don’t look as good compared to their counterparts in Nick All-Star Brawl.
It’s clear that in Nick All-Star Brawl, the characters are meant to look exactly like their original designs, rather than a more shiny version of them. However, some of the models look unshaded and almost unfinished. However, this is to be expected with an independent developer.
Another aspect of the visuals in the game is some of the animations, some animations that would be fast are slower than usual. My biggest example of this is the light neutral attack of Ren & Stimpy. Ren & Stimpy’s light neutral has ren slap Stimpy and then shake him. The shaking is the main problem in the game. Being that he shakes him slow rather than the fast almost psychopathic way that the duo is known for. It looks awkward, this could be fixed by speeding up the animation, and adding slight smears to the character to make it look more like the cartoon, and then changing the hitbox to only hit at the same rate as the normal move.
Aside from these, the visuals are serviceable, and it’s neat to see other characters in the background of certain stages, like Grandpa from Rugrats in the Reptar stage, or Krang in the TMNT stages.
The community for this game was already big from the start, with a lot of people wanting to be involved in the game’s community from the launch trailer. The wide variety of players in the game’s community comes from the fact that it’s not only a game for older people to play competitively but also a game that young people can play competitively too.
So much so that Nickelodeon hosted an invitational on Twitch for the launch of the game to watch people play competitively. The community is currently filled with people who are playing the game and wanting to see other people play as well, the only thing players who want to get into the game need to do is look for them, the developers, Ludosity have a discord server, where players can join to talk all things Slap City, and now Nick All-Star Brawl, however, it’s not a hub for the game if players are looking to join tournaments.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is one of the best Smash Clones I’ve played all year, and even tho the game has some issues with it, I think that the developers are going to fix some of them as the game continues its life cycle. There’s still a lot of content for this game for fans who are looking for some highly technical and impressive fun for the game.
I do recommend that people check it out on youtube first to see if they’re interested in picking it up, currently, it’s sitting at 20% off, being 40 out of the 50 dollars its normal price is, and I believe that it’s a little too high for my tastes. However, if you’re someone who really wants to play a fighting game with their favorite childhood cartoons, then, by all means, pick it up, the gameplay speaks for itself, and it’s nothing but fun once you learn how to play.