A popular genre of video games are fighting games; They collect a specific fanbase unlike any other. (For better or worse…) Fighting games seem pretty simple: you put a couple of dudes together and make them punch/kick each other and sometimes wave a sword. I may be simplifying it but only for anyone unaware of how these types of games work. Either way, fighting games come in many different shapes and sizes, and I’ve been a fan of them for years now. “Super Smash Bros. Brawl” was the first fighting game I had ever played, and whether or not you play competitively or causally, you understand the value that game has for many fans like myself. But more importantly, over the years I’ve come to love fighting games for the sheer amount of variety in unique styles, music, and the overall presentation of creativity.
The topic for today is a crossover fighting game. You see, some fighting games like “Super Smash Bros.” or “Blazblue Cross Tag Battle” are a big collection of a number of popular properties of very well known characters. The purpose of this would be to put a character fans are familiar with in a brand new setting. Where sometimes it can be through unique character interactions, animations, or some other ways of just communicating to the player that this is that character you know and love plopped in a world they are all too unfamiliar with, ready (or reluctant) to explore it.
And that’s the same case for Nickelodeon All Star Brawl. Except No. No, it’s not.
“Nickelodeon All Star Brawl” (NASB) is a fighting game that features a collection of popular Nickelodeon characters from across the channel’s lifetime. It’s a game coming from a company called Ludosity. They developed the well received indie fighting game called Slap City. And despite how on the surface NASB is just another Nick game for kids with consoles, its name got around the internet quicker than it should have, gaining popularity from Super Smash Bros. Ultimate fans from all around. Which is probably because it’s heavily inspired by the Smash Bros. series, and you can tell from certain mechanics, UI choices, and character animations. However, that may be its first defining problem… There are a lot of aspects of the game that were made to mimic Smash Bros. or more importantly their predecessor game, Slap City. Which isn’t too much of an issue until it ONLY comes off as a cheaply made imitation. Now, in some ways, the game has its own identity through its mechanics that competitive players can enjoy such as Rollback Netcode, combo oriented moves, etc., which in some regards, is done better than the Super Smash Bros. series. But while those are a good few steps, it’s one HELL of a leap backwards in terms of what it should focus on.
In most cases, whenever you create anything, it will always be similar to something you’ve seen before. It’s a common idea that everyone understands, but in some ways, the property you create can carry a feeling of its own and seem completely new. “A Hat In Time” (A game I previously went over) showed us a world with its own characters, and that made the game stand out from its competition with other 3D platformers. And in contrast, Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale had a distinct lack of effort that made it susceptible to just being a “smash clone”. Even with the attempts put in place to make it feel unique, it didn’t grant itself anything special other than its roster of Playstation characters, who were NOT the best picks. (Something else this game mimics, other than “All Stars” in the name. Hope that isn’t some sort of bad omen…) In regards to Slap City however, its personality comes from the way it looks and moves. While it does have that “beginner-game-developer” feel, it comes off completely as charm from the way it presents everything else design wise.
But NASB fails to capture that same feeling for NUMEROUS reasons: The characters themselves feel off and seem to be animated unprofessionally. Each character moves way too fast, a choice most likely made to support competitive play but when you have characters who should have different weights to them, that doesn’t help with how it feels to play them. Which goes into my second reason being that their movesets are initially unoriginal. Some moves make impressive references to the character’s show, but the standard moves seem more just like a copy of a move that any other character can do. Like an up jab from Patrick is him upper-cutting with a snack in his hand, while SpongeBob does the same thing with just his leg. This is present in fighting games traditionally, as sometimes it’s just a single move. But if a majority of the roster can do that same thing, I feel it should be time to look for an alternative. Its most egregious reason is in how it looks. DEAR GOD does this game show you how NOT to demonstrate design from how UGLY it is. There are some places where characters look just fine, there’s a good looking character render of Danny Phantom in the main menu of the game. But his ACTUAL RENDER? His is one of the worst transitions from 2D to 3D in this game.
Toph looks absolutely lifeless with her single slit for a mouth, and while Patrick and SpongeBob are better off, they just have small odd choices. Why does Patrick’s mouth look like it’s falling off?! Why does SpongeBob’s mouth go more into his eye than his cheek?! These inconsistencies are scattered around all of the characters, which is probably because of the terrible looking art style they chose to go with. And the more you see it, the less satisfying it is to play. This all culminates to where it doesn’t feel like those Nicktoons that everyone recognizes any more than it does a video game model moving on a screen.
So, in the end, there was a project with a lot of promise that unfortunately stumbles over its own feet. In fact, this title has a lot of potential especially with its roster. Almost too much potential, really. I’ve seen people come up with Just to have a better understanding of how Nickelodeon treats their properties, I decided to check out the quality of the other Nick crossover games that recently came out. These were just the racing games, which starred a similar cast of popular characters but nonetheless, they suffer the same issues. In THAT department, there’s consistency in quality… and it looks like it’ll follow the trend of being only good enough for kids to enjoy. Which isn’t a terribly bad thing, but when adult fans of fighting games only look at this game as long as a kid with a short attention span, all of the attention it’s garnered will fade quicker than it should. I don’t exactly know how the game could ever fix these problems (or if it ever will) other than a sequel, but it’s got a lot of work that needs to be done. And from what the first game presents, that may forever stay a fever dream.
Artist’s Note: For the record, the soundtrack for the game is actually pretty great, and not just generic unrecognizable pieces like you’d expect from the game’s predecessors. If you can appreciate musical styles similar to shows they represent, then check out the stage themes! It’s worth a listen!