The Nick Toons are back and they’re ready to fight all over again.
All-Star Brawl was a decent attempt at building Smash Bros lite, featuring an all-star roster with the likes of Spongebob, the Turtles and more. Now it’s back with more faces, more arenas and an all-0ut campaign mode.
The end result is something a little bit better than the first and a little bit lacking compared to it.
Let’s start with the good. The bigger roster encompasses some sure-to-be fan favourites, like the other two Ninja Turtles who you couldn’t play last time out – Donatello and Raphael – a few more of your favourite Avatar: The Last Airbender characters like Azula, and Jimmy Neutron.
You can customise their outfits into all sorts of weird and wonderful options, like giving Rocko a beret, Squidward a viking hat and giving Grandma Gertie a Gi, and in each battle define the ruleset you want to compete with. It’s not massively flexible, but you can set it up how you see fit, deciding whether to include items, set teams or give yourself a time limit.
There’s also a wealth of stages to choose from that really catch the eye from all these incredible properties. Immediate favourites for me just had to be Fire Masters Meeting from The Last Airbender, and Rooftop Rumble from the Turtles. But you’ve of course got sets from Spongebob, Invader Zim and even My Life As a Teenage Robot.
Playing immediately takes you into a bunch of singleplayer options, including a full Arcade mode where you chain fights, as well as Boss Rush that sees you take on the big battles from the campaign. You can also trial out any of the minigames and even train your skills in the Dojo.
But let’s rewind a bit, go to the campaign and address that ‘Boss Rush’ mode I just talked about. Because, yes, after running through each themed stage you have a boss battle to take on. The game’s campaign mode really does feel like it’s paying direct homage to Smash Bros Melee’s Adventure Mode, as it’s more roguelike than your typical arcade, smash-em-up, as you cycle between battles, waves, platforming sections, balloon popping and even purchasing items in random shops.
In this campaign, you initially start out as Spongebob who is thrust into time by Clockwork to help his best friend, Patrick. However, it’s all part of a grander tale as you try to stop Vlad Plasmius from taking over the Nickelodeon universe, teaming up with all sorts of familiar faces.
Eventually, you’ll be able to swap out your character and even visit a hub after each run. There you can buy cool design apparel for your crib and enter the dojo for practice sessions. But should you make it to the end, there’s a boss waiting for you. All of whom are pretty menacing and present a decent challenge, regardless of your difficulty.
They’ll also be relatively familiar faces, including Shredder and The Flying Dutchman, each really looking, fighting and feeling like their counterparts, all requiring their own unique strategy to beat.
And that’s the same across all the roster, frankly. Without doubt, the best thing about All-Star Brawl 2 is how distinct everyone feels, how well-sculpted they are after their characters and how much their attack patterns make sense, like April using a tripod stick to smash enemies with and Stimpy using his eyes as a weapon. Really!
Fighters also now have Specials they can use in battle which really bring out the best in them, and it’s all done by building up your stamina throughout a battle, landing strikes, evading damage and generally kicking enemies out of bounds as they come at you in Wave Patterns.
The Specials look great and really showcase the game at its absolute best, adding dazzling effects, lighting and color to the proceedings that just feel right at home in this gunky, sludgy universe.
There’s even a decent attempt at an Online Ranking System with different tiers and leagues, though pre-launch I didn’t get to really savour and try this out too much. What might surprise you, though, is that modes are more stripped back this time, simplified to Free-For-All, 1v1 or 2v2, which some may find to be a bit of a blessing compared to how chaotic things were before.
But surprisingly, the thing that really stood out to me is how hard Fair Play Labs have gone for the Smash Bros Melee grand musical overtones for this one. I’d be lying if I said this didn’t give me some serious Gamecube nostalgia from the hours (and hours) I spent in those menu screens.
Sadly, though, the game never really quite lives up to that classic. The campaign mode, in particular, does wear out its welcome pretty fast. Between a surprisingly harsh difficulty at times, there is a real predictability and blandness to the paths you take. You can purchase unique items along the way that affect your playthrough and really mix things up by trialling different modes, such as Wave combat or unlocking other fighters in Versus. But it never really stands apart or does anything memorable that’ll keep your interest for very long.
The constant loading screens and frame rate chugging really slow the game’s momentum down a lot as well. And it actually really exposes itself when it creates a level where you speak to an NPC, select your item, then go straight through a portal and it’s level over, onto another loading screen. It all just feels a bit unnecessary and like it should have been more woven into the experience to make it more seamless rather than so formulaic and structured.
I also found quite a few of the stages to feel like complete death traps from the off with small platforms, far and few between. For a game that’s striving to be a bit more kid-friendly than the highly competitive Smash, this game seems to feel a bit confused by its identity and like it wants to target those core players rather than the younger audience it should absolutely be vibing with.
Nick’s charm is still clear for all to see, you can have some real fun with a few of the characters and a few of the stages are glorious, but this one feels a bit lost and directionless at times. Some fun can be had in the campaign, and the Supers look great, but questionable design decisions and a really unnerving, unnecessary difficulty curve, even on the lowest setting, make you question if they got their target audience quite right.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2 just can’t quite seem to get its balance right. On the surface, it really celebrates Nick culture, giving life, style and substance to each of its fighters, helping them stand out and feel like a true version of themselves through their abilities and supers. There’s intriguing ideas in here, including a rogue-like story mode and some stunning stages that really bring the universe to life, but the difficulty curve is unnecessarily hard, the campaign wears out its welcome quite quickly, and the game is full of performance problems and stop/start UI that pulls you out of the experience way too easily.
+ Beautiful visuals and stunning stages
+ Supers are great fun and compliment each roster member’s move set well
+ Some nice ideas in here
+ Competitive online league mode seems to lend itself to core fight players as much as junior
– Difficulty is going to off-putting for some
– Campaign mode gets dull quite quickly
– Performance of game is choppy and constant loading screens really slow its momentum
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2 is out now on PC, Xbox, Switch and PlayStation
Code Kindly Provided by GameMill for review purposes
Played on PS5