Publisher: GameMill Entertainment
Platforms:Switch, PC, Xbox One, Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Playstation 5, Xbox One S|X
Release Date: Available Now
Price: $49.99 – Available Here | $69.95 – Available Here
We’ve seen a lot of Nicktoons titles over the years. Nicktoons Racing, Nicktoons Baseball, and so on have basically acted as semi-average fare to capture kids’ eyes – while possibly tugging on another market or two with a bit of nostalgia. Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl looks to do the same but was released with a lot of hype behind it as it’s an unaplogetic Smash clone with a roster that is sure to get the attention of a lot of us older gamers out there. Is timing everything, or was the hype here a bit unnecessary? Let’s find out.
I wish I had something to write about here. Even though fighters are not known for their narrative, with the characters involved, some sort of silly story bringing together this cast would have been just fine and filled out the game. Characters do have text dialogue, but outside of a one-liner before battle, there isn’t really much story to speak of. On top of that, the dialogue is not interactive between characters, so SpongeBob or Helga will be saying the same thing to just about anyone they encounter. Is story needed in this genre? No, not at all, but with Nicktoons that were chosen due to their personality and fit, it feels like a missed opportunity for All-Star Brawl to leave out such a simple addition.
So how does this clone stack up? Mostly, things are rather competent. Each character has an assortment of moves, and players have a goal of knocking the opposing foes off the map. Every face-button input has a small set of attacks, special moves, and so on – which all work well for the characters involved. That said, there isn’t anything else to really make this brawler pop. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the small touches that go a long way to enhance each character’s moveset. For instance, Catdog can switch between species, with each having their own themed special attacks that act as throwbacks to the show. From Sandy’s karate to April relying on studio equipment, these moves fit well here and do a lot to give the player a more fleshed out feeling that they are playing as the character from a Nicktoon.
In almost every way, this game is a Smash clone. The menus, the HUD, and so on mimic All-Star Brawl’s inspiration closely, which does nothing but enhance the gameplay. The stages are also a joy to play on, as they are interactive set pieces, ripped from cartoons they’re inspired by. Everything should be perfect, but instead, the more Easter eggs you find, the emptier this shell feels. There are no large smash attacks. No items, or silly assist summons. Just fighting and knocking the opponent out based on the damage they collected.
It’s such a shame as I do think this could have had the potential to compete. I mean, the love is there. It’s one of those games that had a passionate team who obviously knew the source material and cared about making a good game yet seemed to lack the assets and time to make it all continuously exciting as a whole experience. After just a few rounds of Arcade Mode, I found myself already bored with the character I had and ready to choose another. Once you explore the small roster, there are a few other modes to play such as a sports mode and slightly varied activities, but without unlockable content other than stickers and loading screens, the rewards simply do not match the monotony that comes during long sessions. Online and local multiplayer do add a lot to get more time out of the game, and the net code was fine. Regardless- solo or with a friend, I just kept thinking “OK, I’m good now”. I think fighting games need more, and with this cast- it is a disappointment we only got to scratch the surface of what a competent Smash clone could be in this wacky universe.
The character models are outstanding. From getting every pixel perfect on Powdered Toast Man to playing as Ren and Stimpy as a duo, each cast member look as they should and feel just like you would expect. Animations are also clean and do give a great sense of variety for the attacks. Like I mentioned, it is all about the little things that give this game its greatest attribute, which is the attention to detail that was applied to the roster from a visual standpoint.
While the visuals are great, the audio is yet another downfall to the experience. There are no original voices present for these characters, so playing as anyone takes time to get used to due to that emptiness that comes with seeing a mute SpongeBob or a silent “Loud” family member. The soundtrack is sure to be divisive as well, featuring generic tunes that try to mimic theme songs from the official Nicktoons, but still feel very distant as they do nothing to bring out any atmosphere to the overall experience. I got excited at the City Dump stage as the scream from “Aaahh!! Real Monsters!” starts out the song, only to go into this wonky beat that pulled me back out of the world, where I then began to reach for my phone and play the real deal while the game was played on mute. I can see the effort and attempts made, but when you are dealing with anything licensed and you have the official license for the characters, it seems like an odd decision to omit the music that made these cartoons a delight.
I have a long history with Nicktoons, which makes Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl a difficult pill to swallow. The gameplay is great at its core- but that’s the problem. It’s just a core. There are no bells and whistles. No chaos or excitement that makes these characters feel like themselves. Nicktoons are nostalgic for generations of kids, and I get why there was so much hype as All-Star Brawl effortlessly nails its gameplay and visuals where it counts. However, without music, voice acting, or any personality, this brawler comes off more as a novelty than a real contender, offering a hollow visitation to worlds and characters that deserve so much more. After all, they’re not just cartoons, they’re Nicktoons.
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