Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2 Review – A Slime Fight in The Limelight
When the original Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl came out in 2021, it was a relatively bare-bones experience, but those bones were solid. Despite lacking many single-player modes, items, and even character voices, the core gameplay was good enough to keep the game afloat until it received refinements via online updates over the next two years. Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2, however, comes packaged with all those improvements and more. Developer Fair Play Labs has learned its lessons, and while the game isn’t without its faults, it’s a more-than-worthy follow-up.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2 starts you off with 25 characters, which is the same amount currently available in its predecessor if you include DLC. A surprisingly large number of characters do not return for the second entry, however; only 14 fighters return, meaning 11 were replaced. If one of your favorites was cut, you have every right to be disappointed, but it’s a blessing as well. For one, notable exceptions from the first game, like Squidward and Jimmy Neutron, are included here. A new roster also means the team at Fair Play has more opportunities to be creative with character mechanics, and the game feels more novel, even though the basic gameplay is similar.
Luckily for All-Star Brawl 2, its strongest elements are its core combat mechanics. All the side content in the world means nothing if the game doesn’t feel good to play in its most basic modes, so it’s a good thing the franchise still feels great. Movement is quick and precise, powerful attacks are satisfying to land and devastating to absorb, and a new slime meter raises the skill ceiling higher than before. Fair Play has struck a successful balance between depth and approachability.
This balance is exemplified in the slime meter system. As you play a match, your meter slowly increases, and by holding one of the triggers, you can spend that meter on a variety of actions. You can make attacks stronger, cancel attacks, make your shield last longer, or use a slimeburst to halt your momentum and save yourself from flying offscreen. For casual players, however, the slime meter will probably only ever be used when it hits maximum level, at which point you can unleash an ultimate move. These character-specific, cinematic attacks are only lethal when your opponent is at a high damage level, making for exciting finishes to matches.
While the slime meter allows for more complex high-level play, I would have liked some more comprehensive tutorials to help newcomers reach that level. There’s a “how to play” section tucked away in the single-player tab in the menu that gives a good overview of the basic mechanics, but more complicated maneuvers (like some slime skills) are reduced to quick text boxes you click through. Character-specific tutorials for some mechanics would have been appreciated as well, but you can always pause the game and see move descriptions in the “movesets” section.
The biggest new feature All-Star Brawl 2 introduces is a campaign mode. Because of a dastardly plot helmed by Danny Phantom villain Vlad Plasmius, the universe is doomed to explode. Luckily, Clockwork (also from Danny Phantom) sucks Spongebob into a hub outside time and space, allowing him to journey through a series of levels to defeat Plasmius, with Clockwork rewinding time if you fail. The narrative itself is nonsensical and frustrating, frequently undermining achievements the player makes by pulling the rug out from under them and immediately inventing a new problem. It ultimately didn’t ruin the campaign, though, because it takes up a relatively small amount of the experience, and the gameplay itself is shockingly fun.
Structurally, it’s a roguelite. Runs are divided into three areas which you navigate via a series of paths in a menu screen. Activities vary by level, with some having you face off against henchmen from various Nickelodeon shows, and others having you pop balloons or complete platforming challenges. You can also fight mind-controlled versions of characters from the game’s roster, gaining the ability to play as them in future runs if you succeed. Finally, each area is capped with a boss, like Sartana of the Dead or Shredder. These battles are hit or miss; late-game bosses are oddly much easier thanks to their simpler stages and general lack of movement – The Flying Dutchman, a boss from the first area, consistently gave me the most trouble.
You can also unlock various upgrades from Professor Wakeman in the hub world, granting you extra lives, opportunities to heal, and better upgrades from shopkeepers mid-run. By the time I reached the end, I had an absolutely busted Azula build where most attacks poisoned foes and healed me. It’s an incredibly satisfying power crawl. And even though the narrative falls completely flat overall, I enjoyed interacting with various shopkeepers along my runs, including Mrs. Puff, Hugh Neutron, and the Cabbage Merchant from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Each playable character has unique dialogue with each shopkeeper and boss, and it’s fun to play as different characters to see how they interact.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2 is a successful second attempt at the groundwork laid by its predecessor. Fair Play delivers a solid platform fighter that simultaneously improves the franchise’s core mechanics and introduces side content to flesh out the overall package. It’s nothing mind-blowing, and it’s certainly not the next Super Smash Bros., but it’s engaging, exciting, and worth your time.