Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl PC Review
Right off the bat, who is this even targeted at? I mean, if you’re looking to edge your way into the Smash-style platform/fighting game sub-genre, you need to be able to compete with either Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which currently has eighty-nine playable characters, over thirty hours of creative and challenging single player content, and a thriving online community; or Brawlhalla, a free-to-play alternative that is also packed with crossover characters, is available on just about anything with an internet connection, and has all sorts of fun party modes to mess around with. Either that or you’re trying to compete with Super Smash Bros. Melee directly – a game that die-hard fans have been playing for over twenty years now, one whose strategy and execution has been honed to a fine art, and even in its old age still manages to pull in huge crowds at any event it’s hosted at. I suppose it could also be a labour of love, but I just can’t bring myself to believe that. Not after experiencing every lackluster note of it first-hand. I guess the target was just ‘people who like Nickelodeon cartoons from the 90s/00s and don’t know any better’, then. You know, the nostalgia-blind.
Anyone used to another platform fighter is going to be immediately familiar with the controls. Basic movement consists of walking, jumping, running, blocking, dashing, air-dashing, plus wavedashing as a more advanced technique to get in and out of range faster than otherwise possible. Attacking is split into lights, heavies, and specials, that can each be used whilst neutral (pressed on their own) or in conjunction with up or down, either on the ground or in the air, to trigger different moves. Running lights and heavies also help to get in swiftly with a quick strike. Not including the standard grab/throw, that breaks down into about seventeen unique attacks per character. And this is actually where All-Stars shines. Not in the balance of the combatants’ movesets, combos, damage, or utilities, of course. That’s actually kind of all over the place, albeit improving. What it does do well is bring them to life with an array of silly and perfectly in-character attack animations. Toph proudly showing off her championship belt, CatDog fighting with itself, and Nigel Thornberry flopping around like a fish out of water are all wonderful examples. What a shame, then, that they’re all done in complete silence. I still can’t believe it myself, honestly, but there is not a single line of dialogue in this entire game.
That complete disregard for quality really sets the bar for the title as a whole, to be honest. With nothing but the ability to run regular fights of 2-4 players (local, vs CPU, and online) and the simplest concept of a 1-on-1 arcade mode, the title’s main menu is just as much of a disappointment. This was only made worse when I received the brutal reminder that console games require a dumb paid subscription service to be taken online, but let’s not get into that right now (nor the difficulty of activating Playstation Plus for a UK account when you live outside of the country). The point I’m trying to make is simple, there is very little meat on these bones. Even the ‘How To Play’ section is just a slideshow of thirty or so screenshots! At least the team has acknowledged the voice-line issue and will be working on getting them out in the future, and perhaps will even go on to add more modes, etc, but personally I believe the damage is already done. The player base has (expectedly) nosedived since release and I don’t expect the latest DLC character to bring anybody back for very long. Garfield didn’t and people love that lazy, pipe-smoking, fat cat.
However, if you can somehow put all that aside, All-Stars still makes for a fun party experience. Battling it out with a group of friends is phenomenal, although I expect that that may also have a lot to do with the elation of having company after almost two years of COVID quarantines. Seriously, though, it’s fun. Really. I know this entire review thus far has probably not painted it in the best of lights but the game is genuinely a good time. Of course it is! I mean, it was seemingly designed to be a laugh with friends over anything else, and it absolutely accomplishes that with a cast of classic, playful characters and hectic combat. The problem is “why would you pick this over any other available option?”, and the answer is “you wouldn’t”. Even when I had people over to specifically play this for the purpose of reviewing it, it turned out to be very challenging to hold off switching over to Smash Ultimate, instead. After all, that game is better in probably every conceivable way.
If Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl came out twenty years ago it would have been a smashing success, ignoring that many of the characters within didn’t exist back then. But that’s not the case, and even though I did enjoy it for what it is, I can’t recommend it when the alternatives are so incredibly superior in its current state. I’m sure with a passionate team and a dedicated community it could do really well, but with a haemorrhaging player base and the blaring shortage of anything to keep people in the game in a world dominated by season passes and constant loot-box unlocks, I just don’t see that happening.