I have no doubt that for as long as we’ve had stories and characters, humanity has sat around and argued about which of their favourites would beat the others in a fight. Thankfully, we live in an age where such discussions can be put to the test, not only by pitting our beloved heroes against each other on the battlefield but by actually taking control of them to settle our personal pugilistic pursuits. The crossover fighting genre is nothing new, with Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. franchise being a household name and more recently Warner Bros. MultiVersus garnering a solid cult following (despite the current hiatus).
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2 is the animation giant’s latest bite at the cherry, promising new game modes, new game mechanics and, of course, a stacked roster of new and returning fighters, each with upgraded abilities, visuals and voice overs at launch.
Fans of the previous All-Star Brawl game (and indeed brawlers in general) will know what to expect, but for the uninitiated, here are the brass tacks. Up to four players pick their favourite characters and then battle each other, or CPU-controlled opponents on a variety of different, platform-based levels. The objective is to beat up your opponent to decrease their resistance and eventually kick, punch or throw them outside the bounds of the arena, depleting their ’stock’ (lives).
Each fighter has a unique arsenal of quick light attacks, harder hitting but slower charged attacks and diverse special attacks to exchange with their foes, building up their vulnerability number. The higher the number, the easier they are to fling from the arena. While you duke it out, items can randomly spawn to assist you or your enemies, ranging from restorative bowls of noodles to light pistols that you can use to blast others from afar. Each level has different kinds of platforming layouts, so you’ll need to stay on your toes during the match, lest you fall down an unseen hole or stray too close to the edge, making for an easy knock-out.
That’s all pretty standard fare for this kind of game, but All-Star Brawl 2 isn’t just a shiny new coat of paint, with plenty of new additions to excite returning fans. The first big ticket item is the inclusion of a new single player campaign, which will challenge you to fight your way through the Nickelodeon multiverse in order to stop Danny Phantom villain Vlad Plasmius from conquering all. You’ll begin your quest with Spongebob Squarepants, but as you progress you’ll be freeing other classic heroes, anti-heroes and villains, allowing them to join the fight and save their realms from tyranny.
As you fight your way through a series of branching nodes, each with its own challenges and rule sets, any damage you take persists, and running out of stock will send you back to the starting hub world to try again. Surprisingly, there’s something of a roguelite twist to the campaign, to make things a bit fairer when fighting an interdimensional despot. You’ll be able to collect resources and purchase upgrades that carry across each run, such as additional stock and the ability to heal between nodes. That’s not all though, as certain nodes will also grant you temporary power-ups for your current attempt, ranging from classic damage buffs to sacrificing resistance for your attacks to inflict poison damage on each hit. All of this makes for a simple, fun and replayable adventure for solo players.
That’s not all though, because if the campaign doesn’t sound like your kind of thing, the arcade mode gives you the same kind of experience without all the faffing about of unlocking and upgrading things, just straight up brawling against the CPU. If you feel like a break from the biffo, you can also try the mini-game mode where you can compete against the clock in the non-fighting challenges from the campaign. For the truly brave there is also a boss rush mode, where it’s just you versus the titans of All-Star Brawl 2.
From the get-go, there are 25 toons for you to tussle with, drawn from all across the Nickelodeon pantheon. Old favourites like Patrick Star and Nigel Thornberry are joined by newcomers like Jimmy Neutron and Azula (my favourite) from The Last Airbender, all of them with upgraded visuals, upgraded animations and fairly accurate voice acting. Whether you’re returning to All-Star Brawl from the first game or entering the ring as a fresh-faced fighter, there are some new mechanics that you’ll need to learn to reach your full potential, like a new dodge-roll or aerial dodge ability, which can even give you that last little boost to catch the edge of a stage before plummeting to your death.
There’s also the new ‘Slime’ mechanic, which is a special meter that fills up during combat and allows you to power up attacks, cancel enemy attacks and even unleash a character-specific cinematic super attack.
This is of course a multiplayer game and All-Star Brawl 2, supporting up to four players in local and online play, including cross-platform. You’ll be able to quickly play free-for-all matches, 1v1 matches and 2v2 matches or search for specific lobbies. If you’re feeling extra competitive, there are also ranked matches available, where you can progress through various tiers. Sadly, the lobbies weren’t live during my review period, but having played other brawlers online, I can tell you that it will likely be a lot of fun. Spare me your judgement if you see me soon rise to the highest ranked Azula player, she’s just the best.
While All-Star Brawl 2 is quite a fun fighting game to sink some time into with friends, it’s not without its flaws. If I had to sum it up in a single word, I would say that it’s inconsistent. Some of the characters feel dynamic and quick, while others just feel needlessly slow and heavy, with no noticeable difference in damage output. Some attacks can take you a fair distance across the map, allowing for a fast-paced movement-based playstyle, but you can’t change the direction of a charged attack once the animation starts, you just need to stand there for crucial seconds while your opponent has a free shot at your back.
Some stages are perfectly balanced in terms of layout and others just feel unfair or riddled with cheap pits. Speaking of the levels, they all look great with some genuinely exciting animation in the background, but the nodes screen during the campaign is a generic space scene with cards up the top to denote “Wilderness” or “Metropolis” with absolutely no other noticeable difference.
Even the CPU difficulty seems all over the place, with some fights lasting mere seconds as the enemy walks itself off the stage and others having me fighting fruitlessly for my life, all on the same ‘medium’ difficulty. Although the new additions are likely a welcome sight for returning players, I do feel that many of the modes could have used a bit more time in the oven, the boss fights and bonus stages especially can get repetitive in the context of the roguelite approach.
The load times when installed on an HDD are also pretty atrocious, hilariously leading to several instances where I’d wait over a minute for the next fight to start, only to have it completed in 15 seconds. I eventually re-installed it on my SSD and it cut load times down drastically, but it sticks in my craw that my SSD is now host only to Starfield and Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2.
I’ll admit that it’s been quite some time between drinks for me with platform fighting games like this, but Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2 is a fairly good mix of nostalgia, new ideas and inoffensive fun. While it may not reach the sky-high standard of something like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate it gives 90s kids like me another way to beat up our friends while reminiscing about the good old days of racing home to watch your favourite cartoons and arguing about which of them could take the others.
Diverse roster of fan-favourite characters
New modes are great for returning and solo players
Fights feels like Saturday morning cartoons
Cross-play is always great for games like this
A few mechanics and presentation feel inconsistent