Ludosity raised some eyebrows a while back with their competent Smash clone featuring some of Nickelodeon’s finest. While licensed titles typically have little fanfare, this fighter gathered a ton of acclaim due to its community-driven feedback and promotion, making it a lightweight contender on modern platforms. These heroes of the tube are back again for another round with Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2. Does some new faces and changes continue to leave a mark, or does this sequel leave us with a squeaky whimper? Let’s find out.
There is a revamped story mode for All-Star Brawl 2 that certainly shifts things in a better direction from the start. Players now get to participate in a mode where they must go up against Danny Phantom’s prime antagonist Vlad Plasmius and stop his evil plans while dealing with some silly fare from familiar faces. Sure, the narrative here is thin and rather vague, but for a licensed title it works out fine. That said, I think a bit more cohesiveness with the plot and characters within would have tightened things up a bit – as the characters included are a bit odd and having a backstory as to why would have made for a more celebratory adventure for the brand. I do however feel that the developers “get” the nostalgia of the brand, and those little nods do a lot to retain the charm of the entire package.
I think the first All-Star Brawl was good enough to not have to add a lot, but this follow-up does manage to get some things right by adding in more elements to the gameplay itself. This is an arena fighter and now things are slowed down a bit. Attacks feel more fluid and simple this time, as characters all have their selection of normal and special attacks, but now a new “slime” meter comes into play to let players build for special actions. Now you can choose to activate and get a defense buff with a shield, or build for a more offensive blow. There are also ultimate attacks, which are a ton of fun to execute – even if they can still be a bit finicky in terms of accuracy.
This is a more balanced fighter and the gameplay just seems more engaging this time around, as the team followed through with feedback to refine things and it definitely makes it feel more polished and fluid, as if skill actually matters with this installment. The game’s main story mode has a lot of fun things to do and discover, with players fighting characters who have been basically zombified by Plasmius, with each area ending in a giant boss fight with the likes of The Flying Dutchman and several other major antagonists as you make your way to the one big bad at the end. These fights are focused on taking out a life bar and avoiding major attacks, and are fun enough – even if its easy to find cheap strategies to put the bosses away through repetitive actions.
All in all, the shops, cameos, and unlockables make the grind through arcade and story mode worth it, as the player feels rewarded by progression. Sure, there are some annoyance such as slowdown and minor hiccups with gameplay from time to time, but it isn’t anything game-breaking, just moments that can pull you out of immersion for a moment. Stages are clever and well built, and any fan of Nickelodeon for the past two decades should be pleased with the selection of characters, even if there are a few questionable omissions. For instance, Arnold still is not playable, yet Gerald and Grandma now are and Helga has left the line-up, while other characters feel lonely without their fellow cast mates. This will be a preference for the player and their favorite Nick picks, but I did feel those who are in at least feel accurate to their characterization from their brands.
The music here is fine, but nothing really memorable. Most melodies only attempt to capture the feel of a show instead of being from the show, and the lack of that input kind of holds All-Star Brawl 2 back a bit from capturing the essences of their license. That said, we did launch with voices for the competitors, and while the audio is a bit low (meaning its hard to hear taunts and voices compared to the rest of the chaos happening), those trademark quotes and sounds go a long way to enhance the quality of each battle.
As far as visuals go, things are a mixed bag. The load times are awful in the Switch version and the screens alone stutter rapidly as you are awaiting to get into battle. Maybe this is hardware limitations but with the graphics being so simple, it seems more like poor optimization for this particular platform. Animations can also be a bit rough, as I got a lot of slowdown during heavy moments of animation, and the game never leaves its 30 FPS threshold to truly give us a fluid fighting experience.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2 has a lot of heart and love tied into it, making it one of the best licensed fighters to pick up if you are itching for something different. The overall package shines with Easter eggs and nostalgia galore, and its a lot of fun playing these matches if you can overlook the issues with optimization. There still is a layer of generic, lifelessness under the hood of this engine though, as even with all of the new bells and whistles, there still is a lack of identity making this IP feel like its own thing, rather than just a competent clone with Nickelodeon branded on it from top to bottom. If you are looking for a decent arena fighter and want another break from Smash however, you may find some entertainment here, but just keep your expectations in check upon entry as this release (while improved) still has that licensed game aftertaste.
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