Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2 Review
A second round resurgence
When you think of some of the biggest cartoon shows out there, those produced at Nickelodeon are bound to be mentioned. The television channel is an absolute powerhouse, and it's hard to imagine any Saturday morning line-up without the appearance of SpongeBob SquarePants or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This includes myself, as I lost countless mornings slurping on cereal and watching these beloved TV shows back in the day.
When Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl came out in 2021, a brawler filled with a roster of Nickelodeon characters, it gathered a lot of attention, as many people naturally felt affiliated and connected with these nostalgic favorites. Who wouldn't want to play as the Godzilla-inspired Reptar and beatdown the idiotic Patrick Star? Even though the concept was sound, the game fumbled due to iffy controls, poor visuals, and absent voice acting. Developers Ludosity and Fair Play Labs have learned from their mistakes and, two years later, have released Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2, which is a gigantic improvement on the original in nearly every way possible.
NASB 2 follows the same traditional mechanics as other platform fighters and thus has the mantle of being a "Smash clone". But for those unfamiliar with the brawler genre, the goal is to knock all the opponents out of the arena boundaries until they lose all their stock (lives), and the last one standing is victorious. The more damage you inflict on an opponent, the more likely they will fly into the outer boundaries. This battle structure encourages everyone to attack one another, and when up to four people can participate, a match can become utterly chaotic within moments.
The character roster in this genre can be a dealbreaker, as you want everyone to feel different. NASB 2 achieves this and grabs a good range of characters across the Nickelodeon brand. At launch, there are twenty-five fighters, including some from their juggernaut shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender and SpongeBob SquarePants, but also retro characters like Danny Phantom and Jimmy Neutron. I would not go as far as to say the character roster is as diverse as Smash, but there are enough differences between the characters to keep each battle engaging. Reptar is a heavier, tank-orientated character and resembles Bowser. In contrast, Nigel is far brisker in his attacks and movements, much like Kirby, minus the flying, and The Angry Beavers switch between themselves during the fight.
Call me greedy, but even though the roster offers many quality characters, I wanted more of them. For instance, Catdog and Powdered Toast Man from the previous game have been dropped, which is a shame as they are Nickelodeon royalty in my eyes. They also choose not to bring back Helga but include Grandma Gertie instead. It's not exactly who I think of when I cast my mind back to watching Hey Arnold. Undoubtedly, these characters may have been saved for future DLC.
There has been a dramatic overhaul to the gameplay and graphics, giving the series a new lease on life. Beforehand, the characters looked rough, and everything felt very low budget, but this time, everything feels smoother and looks far more fleshed out as you can see each attack animation more clearly. All the character models look true to their show, and when you think some of these characters existed decades apart, that is a pretty good achievement. The camera angle is far more stable now as well, and it follows the characters more seamlessly rather than senselessly zooming in and out. What also helps reinforce this more refined tone is the character movements have slowed down so you can better track the action. There are also more audio cues. It might not sound like a big deal (pun intended), but hearing SpongeBob's squeaky boots while he walks makes it feel like the battle could be from an elaborate cross-over episode.
Light attacks and special attacks remain as the basic foundation. In the previous title, if you wanted to achieve a different variation of one of these attacks, you would either have to jump in midair or tilt the analog stick vertically while pressing down the respective face button. But this time, they have included more attack maneuvers, which can be executed by directing the analog horizontally, dramatically expanding each character's move pool. All attack moves are also hidden references to their respective show as well, like Aang riding an airball or Squidward throwing a pizza box, a homage to the famous Pizza Delivery episode.
Another change introduced to NASB 2 is the removal of strong attacks in favour of charged attacks, which require a longer button press. This replacement was a solid choice, as it adds a bit more variety to the gameplay and makes the action flow better, as even if the opponent is not within range, you can still prepare for your next attack. Another new mechanic is dodging, further differentiating the sequel from the previous game, which leaned on the button-bashing side, as it was hard to avoid incoming aggression.
Another good new feature is the slime mechanic, which is a clear tribute to the Nickelodeon game show Double Dare. But this slime is not the slippery wet goo that comes from a kid's playbox. At the bottom of the screen, each character has a slime meter worth three bars, and every time you land a hit on an opponent, this meter fills up. You can use a bar of slime to add more juice to your charge or special attacks. But you can save up all three bars and execute an ultimate move, which, if successfully lands, causes the opponent to be knocked back.
This ultimate attack can only land on one opponent, meaning if multiple fighters are present, you may want to hold back your bars until the right opportunity arises. This adds a whole new layer of strategy to the combat. Don't get me wrong; it's nowhere as sophisticated as other fighting games that have come out this year, like Street Fighter 6 or Mortal Kombat 1. To be fair, it's not trying to be; it's a platform fighter, after all. But it adds an element to the action and raises the strategic skill ceiling.
Every ultimate move has a small animation lasting for a few seconds; most are humorous like Patrick trying to smash the opponent with his rock-house. Others are a bit bland, like Garfield's ultimate just has the lasagna-loving cat narrating about his love for food. There were also framerate drops during some of the character's ultimate animations on the PS5, with the most visible one being during Aang's animation, which takes away from the pow factor of these moments.
A lot of the stages from the previous game have returned with improvements. Rooftop Rumble is a far bigger arena with more platforms, and Western Air Temple has the flying bison Appa come onto the stage at different points in the match, and you can physically jump onto him. However, some of the new stages, like Bun Wrestling Ring, felt dull and unexciting. You can draw upon many locations from the Nickelodeon universe, and it's disappointing they didn't capitalize on this opportunity.
Outside the traditional battle mode is a rogue-like single-player campaign that lasts about 3-4 hours and is accompanied by full voice acting, with some actors reprising their roles from the shows, including Tom Kenny (SpongeBob SquarePants) and David Kaufman (Danny Phantom). The plot opens up with the trouser-wearing yellow sponge enjoying one of his favourite pastimes, blowing bubbles with his pal Patrick. Suddenly, a portal rips open, and Patrick disappears. A few moments later, an ominous voice calls out to SpongeBob, saying he must jump into the portal if he wants to save his friend. At the other end, SpongeBob finds Clockwork, who tells him that Patrick is one of many victims of Vlad Plasmius, who has brainwashed many people in an ill-fated attempt to control the multiverse.
To begin with, you start with SpongeBob and pick different stages from a multiple-choice route. This includes beating a hoard of enemies, picking up a free power-up, or fighting a brainwashed character, which, when defeated, you can change into when you return to the hub world. At the end of each run, you will have to go one-to-one with a boss battle ranging from King Jellyfish to the ghoulish Flying Dutchman. When you have completed the run, you will be thrown back into the hub world where you first met Clockwork. Overall, it's a straightforward but fun campaign to play through, which captures the Nickelodeon charm very well, and younger players will probably spend most of their time in this mode, as you see so many iconic characters from different shows interact with one another.
There are several other modes, like an arcade that involves beating a certain number of opponents in a row, a tutorial, and an online mode. There are three types of online matchups: ranked, quickplay and lobbies. In ranked, you will put your skills to the test and fight against another skilled player, whereas quickplay is far more relaxed, and you can pick from free-for-all, 1v1 or 2v2. The lobby mode allows you to make or join lobbies created by players. You can even create private ones, so even the explorer, Nigel Thornberry, cannot find the backdoor. The online servers seemed pretty good; the only slight delay I noticed playing online was that dropping down platforms would take a few moments.
I was honestly cynical about whether a sequel would be successful so soon after the disappointing first title, but NASB 2 broke every expectation and feels like what the first title should have been - a whimsical and charming brawler. The Super Smash Bros franchise is still the undisputable haymaker when it comes to the genre, but this is a fun alternative and far superior to the MultiVersus. If you're looking for a game with an elaborate fighting system, you won't find this here, but it provides enough diversity in the move-pool to keep things interesting. When I'm with a group of friends, I'll definitely recommend playing a few bouts of NASB 2, even if just an excuse to get nostalgic and hum some of my favourite Nickelodeon theme songs.