There’s a great game at its core, but Nickelodeon needs to properly support it.
Despite the unprecedented attention surrounding it, “Nickelodeon All Star Brawl” has fizzled out. With more competition in the platform fighter genre, can it recapture its audience?
Platform fighters combine fighting games with platformer movement mechanics. The original platform fighter series, Super Smash Bros., dominates the genre. The latest Smash installment always has a healthy competitive scene, with “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” being one of the most successful fighting games ever. However, “Super Smash Bros. Melee” remains an evergreen platform fighter for its high skill ceiling and dedicated competitive scene.
Smash defines what platform fighters need: fun mechanics, excellent presentation, good multiplayer, a solid budget and beloved characters. Most platform fighters’ rosters are crossovers, i.e. Smash celebrating the game industry’s finest characters. Half the fun of any new installment is speculating new roster additions. When your most wanted character gets invited to Smash – for me, it was Mega Man – it’s extremely validating.
The competitive Smash scene, as massive as it is, exists despite Nintendo’s efforts to the contrary. Nintendo’s relationship with competitive Smash goes beyond lacking support and borders on animosity, with it acting like “Melee” doesn’t exist and constantly shutting down tournaments and mods. It’s not like Nintendo offered a better alternative for competitive players (see its godawful paid online servers).
There’s always been a market for more platform fighters. Many have tried, but none successfully replicated every aspect of the Smash formula. At best, there are excellent games like “Rivals of Aether” that lack Smash’s iconic roster. At worst, there are licensed cash grabs like “Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion.” Then there’s “PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale,” which could’ve worked if you could finish opponents with anything besides your special meter.
Before 2021, platform fighter enthusiasts had two choices outside of Smash: great games without iconic characters or dream crossovers with terrible mechanics. Any company that combined great mechanics with a famous roster would be Smash’s first real competition. Enter “All Star Brawl,” the first good crossover of that magnitude. If any mascot could lead a platform fighter like Mario does in Smash, it would probably be SpongeBob SquarePants.
The reveal trailer received incredibly positive responses from fans of platform fighters and Nickelodeon cartoons. The internet had a field day discussing ridiculous matchups and what movesets characters would have, resulting in hilarious Nickelodeon versions of Smash memes. The funniest part of all? This ridiculous concept could be unironically amazing thanks to Ludosity, the studio behind the excellent indie platform fighter “Slap City.”
Unsurprisingly, Nickelodeon’s choice to license its characters to experienced platform fighter developers paid off. “All Star Brawl” features fast gameplay harkening back to what made “Melee” engaging. Unlike “Melee,” almost all of its characters are competitively viable – and what a fantastic roster, from cult-classic characters like Zim to left-field picks like Powdered Toast Man. Rollback netcode reduces laggy online matches, and developer-supported tournaments ensure that the competitive scene thrives.
“All Star Brawl” was good, but it could’ve been great. Ludosity’s passionate developers clearly put thought and effort into crafting great gameplay, but Nickelodeon didn’t give them enough of a budget. As a result, “All Star Brawl” lacks essential elements for platform fighters and crossovers. The game launched with rudimentary singleplayer, awkward visuals and no voice acting or alternate costumes – for a hefty $50 price.
One criticism toward “All Star Brawl” that I disagree with is the music. Barring a few repetitive tracks, this is a solid selection of original tunes inspired by the tones of various Nicktoons, with some genuine bangers like Danny Phantom’s Ghost Zone stage. However, I understand how this criticism reflects a larger issue: the lack of Nickelodeon’s iconic music and audio, like theme songs and voices.
Were its own flaws the only issue “All Star Brawl” faced, the game probably would’ve retained its hype. Unfortunately, it’s been forgotten – outside of a decent competitive playerbase – for a painfully ironic reason: Nickelodeon’s success inspired other companies to capitalize on platform fighters. When somebody strikes gold, a gold rush will follow.
With its DLC finally complete and no other ways to increase the game’s revenue, Nintendo finally came to its senses on competitive Smash. Panda Global partnered with Nintendo for the first official competitive Smash circuit in 2022. The circuit includes not just “Ultimate,” but “Melee” too. This unprecedented victory for competitive Smash is the worst thing that could happen to “All Star Brawl,” which relied on demand for competitive “Melee.”
As if that wasn’t enough, “All Star Brawl” launched the day that Nintendo revealed the final “Ultimate” fighter, Sora from the Kingdom Hearts series. Remember when I mentioned the magic of getting your dream roster pick? Sora won the Smash Ballot, in which fans could vote for any game character. While announcing the most highly requested character during a competitor’s launch probably wasn’t intentional, it was heartless.
A third major IP crossover will soon enter the ring: “Warner Bros. Multiversus,” a game with great potential and an even greater pun title. “Multiversus” sets itself apart from other platform fighters by focusing on doubles matches and team roles. Nickelodeon might’ve been first, but Warner Bros. one-upped its rival by going free-to-play and announcing features that “All Star Brawl” lacked, like voice acting, polished visuals and alternate costumes.
Having the broadest brand identity of these three – any Warner Bros. characters – “Multiversus” could have a jarring roster. Even wild, third-party inclusions like Bayonetta fit in Smash due to similar gameplay genres and aesthetics. Nickelodeon has recently acquired characters like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but they still fit the wacky Nicktoons style. Meanwhile, Arya Stark from “Game of Thrones” feels out of place among Cartoon Network and DC characters.
With stiff competition from Nintendo and Warner Bros., “All Star Brawl” risks being overshadowed. Not to mention, indies like “Rivals of Aether” and the upcoming “Fraymakers” have lower price points and incredible modding scenes, allowing fans to add any character from Regigigas to Ronald McDonald. Nickelodeon has potential to stand out from these rivals thanks to the incredible team at Ludosity – if it commits quickly.
The first step to improving “All Star Brawl” is a bigger budget for important features, which Nickelodeon thankfully seems to understand. Since its launch, Ludosity has added alternate costumes, gameplay improvements and the first DLC character, Garfield. Better yet, an interview with GameInformer suggests that its post-launch content “may include adding [voice over] down the road.”
The $50 price tag must be addressed. Platform fighters generally use one of three pricing options: free-to-play (“Brawlhalla,” “Multiversus”), less than $30 (“Slap City,” “Shovel Knight Showdown”), or the AAA standard of $60. Smash gets away with costing $60 because of its immense character roster, stage list, hours of music and more. Since “All Star Brawl” physically can’t include that much content, it needs competitive pricing.
Finally, memes are shockingly effective for marketing platform fighters. The internet exploded when Sans from “Undertale” joined “Ultimate” as a Mii Gunner costume, and “Multiversus” has the godlike Ultra Instinct Shaggy. Considering the meme renaissance surrounding its reveal, “All Star Brawl” benefits the most from meme characters like Nigel Thornberry. Highly requested characters like Hugh Neutron could recapture the memes that gave this game a future.
“All Star Brawl” survives because of genuinely fantastic elements like its competitive focus, satisfying combat and Ludosity’s experience with platform fighters. There’s a great game at its core, but Nickelodeon needs to properly support it. Without major aspects that its competition has, Ludosity is falling, and Nickelodeon is the only one that can give the developers a parachute.
Of course, assuming we live in the best possible timeline, Nickelodeon could save “All Star Brawl” by taking advice from the man himself: “Parachutes? I don’t need no stinking parachute! I’m Hugh Neutron, master of time and space!”