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Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2 review: finally, a true Super Smash Bros. rival

Squidward knocking out two opponents with a painting.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2
MSRP $49.99
“Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2 brings more soul to the Nicktoon fighting series, making for a great sequel that overcomes some familiar quality control issues.”
Pros
  • Tons of content
  • Deeper fighting systems
  • More polished
  • Full voice-acting adds a lot
Cons
  • Campaign gets repetitive
  • A few frustrating gameplay quirks

The first entry of the Super Smash Bros-inspired Nickelodeon fighting series, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, was good-natured fun that left me wanting more. It was rich in the gameplay department with a lot of potential hidden under the hood, but I could feel the limits of its smaller budget. A Nicktoon game lacking the iconic voices of its legendary toon characters will do that. Its sequel, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2, thankfully brings the “more” I craved during my time with the original.

Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2 - Official Campaign Trailer

Much like its predecessor, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2 is a 2D platform fighter that takes some of the greatest — and not so-greatest — characters from the TV channel’s history and pits them against one another. Don’t label it another poor Smash Bros. clone, though; the sequel goes above and beyond to correct the mistakes of its predecessors and deliver on the potential it could never quite capitalize on.

By taking a strong fighting game foundation and expanding on it in every way, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2 comes into its own. It introduces systems never seen in other platform fighters and keeps the speed that made the original a blast. Cleaner graphics, better art direction, and the inclusion of full voice acting don’t hurt either. The only thing the series still lacks is quality control, an area where it becomes clear why Nintendo still rules the platform fighter genre.

An upgrade of continental proportions

Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2 is similar to its predecessor, giving players a roster of Nicktoons to toy around with in multiplayer brawls. While the original NASB felt like a low-budget tech demo for what a Nickelodeon fighter could be, the sequel actually feels nearly full-baked. One of the biggest jumps in quality this time around comes in the content department. I jumped in expecting a simple reskin of the original with a few upgrades. Instead, I found some significant new modes that gave the series a more distinct, slime-soaked identity.

Campaign mode is a great distraction …

Upon starting it, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it features more than just versus, a standard arcade mode, and training. NASB 2 also packs in a surprisingly robust single-player campaign, a boss rush mode, a suite of minigames, and more. All of that comes with unlockable art and customization options that give players a lot to dig into beyond multiplayer fights with friends.

The standout addition here comes in the form of the new story mode. If you’ve played Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s Subspace Emissary then you know what NASB 2 is going for here. And it even features the same issues.

Squidward gets knocked off a pirate ship in Nickelodeon All-Stars Brawl 2.
GameMill Entertainment

During campaign mode, you’ll play through different missions that may have you doing a bit of platforming, completing stray minigames, fighting hordes of weak enemies like jellyfish and Foot Ninjas, pummeling other playable characters to unlock them, and eventually squaring off with a big boss. There are some branching pathways as players move from stage to stage and fully voiced cutscenes that truly bring the toons to life in interdimensional adventures. It’s a clever idea that pulls inspiration surprising from the roguelike genre (a “run” structure has players buying new perks each time).

Campaign mode is a great distraction, but its repetitive structure can get dry fast. The same goes for boss rush, minigames, and arcade mode. Each of those modes act more as fun bonuses to jump into every once in a while if you want to soak in the cartoon art style a little more between competitive fights. Of course, that’s standard for fighting games. Core combat is always what makes or breaks a title like this, and NASB 2 delivers where it counts.

The secret fighting formula

While the wealth of new modes was a pleasant surprise, the drastic improvements to battling shocked me. There are so many changes here that open the doors wide open for player expression. There are meatier mechanics to think about, more stylish flourishes, and a unique feel that sets it apart from similar games. Sometimes, it can take a game like this several entries to truly find its identity; Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl found its voice in two.

One of the most fun platforming fighting games out there.

NASB 2 takes the speed and fun of the original and polishes it with some great new features. The sequel retains the same basic attack system, which has players alternating between light, charge, and special moves. However, air throws are gone, cleaner gameplay makes fights feel more consistently fair, and the new “Slime” system completely steals the show.

Slime has many functions and is attached to a meter that builds when you land hits and take damage. It’s a deceptively powerful tool that entirely changes the flow of battle. Slime can be attached to light and charge attacks with a single meter, unleashing stronger versions of these moves on the fly. When that three-tick meter is fully built, players can release a cinematic superattack (similar to Final Smashes) that will usually spell curtains for any wounded enemy. These moves let characters show their personality a bit too; SpongeBob’s ultimate attack has him wildly careening around the screen in a car before smashing enemies off-screen.

Nigel Thornberry battles a robot in Nickeldeon All-Stars Brawl 2.
GameMill Entertainment

While each animation is a delight, the other functions of slime are what make it so special. Powering up moves is useful, but there’s a lot of depth that high-level fighting players will get use out of. Take “Slime Cancelling,” which allows players to cancel a landed attack into whatever move they want. This adds extra options for combos, more mix-ups when Slime Cancelling attacks on shield, and brings in more player expression. On top of that, players can better protect their shield against attacks by holding the slime button or even stop their momentum by taking a hit by pressing slime and shield.

Little nuances like that add so much in terms of on-the-fly decision-making, meter management, and planning. Should I use my meter to go for a kill, try for a big combo to get a leg up on my opponent, or should I save it in case I need to protect myself later? Deep questions like that take an already solid and fast battle system and make it one of the most fun platforming fighting games out there.

Saturday morning soul

Perhaps the sequel’s biggest upgrade comes from improved presentation, which gives NASB2 the soul its predecessor lacked. Developer Fair Play Labs cleaned the project up significantly, making it feel like a more effective love letter to Nickelodeon’s colorful world. Seeing one of my all-time favorite toons, Rocko from Rocko’s Modern Life, in 3D glory with clean graphics and full voice acting gave me a feeling similar to what I felt when seeing Sonic in Smash Bros. Brawl as a kid.

Rocko fights XJP in Nickelodeon All-Stars Brawl 2.
GameMill Entertainment

Little notes of passion add up throughout the detailed package. Roster additions like Jimmy Neutron, who was strangely absent from the first game, and bosses like Danny Phantom’s Vlad or Spongebob’s King Jellyfish actually make this game feel like what it’s supposed to be: A Nicktoons game for both those that grew and still are growing with all these characters.

While production value feels much higher here than its predecessor, I can still feel the limitations of its smaller budget. There are graphical bugs here and there and some textures are unsightly, which is jarring among otherwise clean cartoon visuals. The bigger pain points come down from messy moments that add up over time. During my versus matches, I’ve run into points where it seems like my characters just don’t want to grab the ledge. Sometimes they’ll hold it correctly, but other times they just fall to their death.

I found that I needed to jump through hoops to get everything running smoothly during my matches.

Controls come with some odd issues too that could use a patch. There’s currently a strange issue where you can’t enable a custom control profile in story mode, despite being able to do it everywhere else. In my experience playing local multiplayer on PC, the second player’s controller would often attach itself to the third player. I found that I needed to jump through hoops to get everything running smoothly during my matches, which isn’t what you want from a casual party game like this.

Thankfully, these issues don’t overshadow the impressive feat that Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2 achieves. The sequel takes so many steps beyond its predecessor that it nearly feels like a different beast entirely. And the actual fighting at its heart? That’s what makes it an all-star.

Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2 was reviewed on PC.

DeAngelo Epps
Former Digital Trends Contributor
De'Angelo Epps is a gaming writer passionate about the culture, communities, and industry surrounding gaming. His work ranges…
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