I played the original Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl when it came out two years ago and had reviewed it over on Boiling Steam. While it wasn’t that bad of a game, frankly it had just been rushed out way too quickly. The game lacked voiceovers, characters only had three special moves rather than four, they lacked a forward and back air attack, the arcade mode was only a quarter-baked…you can read about some of the other flaws from my post earlier this year about platform fighters not being able to keep up with Smash.
And, to be honest, it kind of made sense, given that the publisher, GameMill Entertainment, is known for not only giving developers extremely tight deadlines, but letting experienced staff go because they don’t get enough funding. Take, for example, the worst game of 2023: Skull Island: Rise of Kong. In an interview with The Verge, the developers reported having only a year to work on the game. You put the pieces of the puzzle together, and the game definitely would have been better if the developers were given more time to work on it.
And yet, to my surprise, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2 – despite being published by the same company in just two years after the original – exceeded my expectations. Fair Play Labs returns as the developer, but curiously the Steam store page for the game omits the name Ludosity – the makers of Slap City. In any case, NASB 2 takes the original and blows it out of the park, addressing nearly every flaw of the orignial and improving the gameplay, the mechanics, the sounds and music, and in many other ways. It’s one of the few times where the sequel to a game is better than the original. Just like how Super Smash Bros. Melee took the formula from the original Super Smash Bros. 64 and expanded upon it in nearly every way, for the better.
Vastly Improved Gameplay⌗
So, here’s what’s been improved:
- characters have voices baked in right from the get-go, and they’re pretty decent at that
- the announcer sounds less annoying
- sound effects when attacking an opponent are more satisfying to hear
- background music sounds less generic
- characters now have a side special in addition to up, down, and neutral
- characters now have a forward and back air attack, in addition to neutral, up, and down
- shields have been improved as far as how they work, and behave similarly to the shielding in Smash
- each character’s grab has been re-worked. Instead of holding on to them like Donkey Kong, they can now throw in four different directions, with a unique animation for each character, thus bringing more personality into each character
- instead of just dashing, characters can now walk and adjust their movement speed depending on how far the stick is tilted
- side-tilts have been added
- strong attacks can now be charged, whether the character is on the ground or in the air
- each character has three unique costumes to choose from rather than just one or two, and a few more can be unlocked through the story mode
- the arcade mode feels more fleshed out, with different challenges, including bosses and team battles
- crossplatform multiplayer
- story mode
- a vastly improved training mode that actually provides you with stats, like showing you the directions you input and the name of the animation your character is currently in
All of these make the game so much better, and you’ll feel right at home if you’ve played any of the Smash games. The mechanics are very similar to Melee, albeit some techniques are easier to pull off. For example, wavedashing (sliding across the ground without walking, making it more difficult for your opponents to guess an upcoming attack) has been made easier. You can just hold the left stick diagonally downwards while pressing jump and shield simultaneously. In Melee, you had to press the stick down every time you wanted to wavedash. There’s also auto L-canceling. There practically isn’t any end lag when returning to the ground from an air attack; there’s no need to press the shield button to shorten the animation speed. Unfortunately you can’t pull off moonwalking like you can in Melee, but that would add a whole degree of complexity that would probably turn off any newcomer to this platform fighter.
In the original game, air dodging was simply an air dash; your character was still vulnerable to attacks. In NASB 2, shielding in the air feels more like an air dodge in Smash Ultimate. Your character won’t go into freefall afterwards. You can use your up special after airdodging for a longer distance recovery.
NASB 2 introduces a new mechanic: Slime. The Slime gauge builds up over time with attacks to your opponents. This gauge can be filled up to three bars. By pressing the Slime button and a combination of another button, a character can use a stronger attack. It can also allow a character to recover back to the stage more easily, or to interrupt a combo to give your character another opportunity to strike. When the gauge is filled all the way up to three bars, the characters can make use of their ultimate attack. Similar to a Final Smash, when an opponent gets caught in the “wave” in front of the character, they’ll be launched off stage after a brief animation is played. It’s a pretty neat concept – it will likely take me some time getting used to all the things you can do with the Slime meter, but it certainly adds some variety to the combat.
The returning characters from the original aren’t just carbon copies of themselves. Each of them has been re-worked from the ground up. Their movesets are more in line with the references to their TV show counterpart, and overall their attacks just feel better to execute with more rewarding results. This also makes each character more unique over the other, giving you more options for the type of playstyle that you want. Do you want a brawler that’s heavy with strong, slow attacks, or do you want someone that’s faster but doesn’t provide as much knockback? Overall, the gameplay is just incredibly fun and feels a lot more akin to the Smash games.
Unlike the original, you can’t reflect projectiles with a strong attack, or grab them. Not really sure if this was a good or a bad move; I suppose it would be up to the preference of the player.
There are some odd quirks that I’ve seen. Sometimes players will clip through the stage depending on what they do. They might clip right through the stage and into the bottom of the arena if they get attacked at a certain angle. I’m pretty sure the devs are aware of this though; they’ve been pretty active on Twitter and seeing the feedback they’re getting from players.
There are 26 fighters altogether. Some of them are returning veterans from the original, like SpongeBob and Patrick. Others are newcomers, like Squidward, Plankton, Jimmy Neutron, and the Angry Beavers. Sadly, some of the characters from the original have been dropped, such as Hugh Neutron, Shredder, Helga, and Oblina. Some of them have returned as NPCs that will help you on your journey, or have become a boss instead. My personal favorite fighter is Jenny Wakeman, who returns in this game in the base roster as opposed to her being one of the DLC fighters in the original. More fighters are planned as DLC. Just think of how upset Mr. Krabs will be when he loses money and the havok he’ll cause in the arena.
Each character has three different skins to choose from. There’s a DLC that unlocks a fourth for each one. It’s kind of disappointing that this is locked behind a paywall. It would have been good enough to have four skins from the start, and maybe then have additional costumes available for a price. Because as it is, what if there’s a four-player brawl where every player is the same character? One of them is going to have to have the same costume as another.
The story mode lasts about 5 hours. It has roguelite elements. The world is in control from the antagonist from Danny Phantom – Vlad Plasmius. While you’ll start off using SpongeBob, later on you’ll be able to fight other brawlers who are mind-controlled. Defeating these fighters will allow you to use them in subsequent runs.
Since the story is roguelite, you’ll start off at the beginning when getting a game over. However, perks can be obtained. Permanent upgrades like movement speed, the number of stocks that you have, and how much damage you’ll recover when you enter a new stage can be obtained through the game’s Slime and Splat. Both of these “currencies” are earned by completing stages, and these rewards are multiplied depending on the game difficulty that you choose.
Kind of think of it like Melee’s All-Star mode. You fight some baddies, move on to the next level with all the damage you accumulated from the last match still intact. Sometimes you’ll fight a horde of enemies. Other times you’ll fight a mind-controlled brawler. Interspersed with these matches are bonus stages, like Pop the Balloon (think of “Break the Targets!” in Smash), or a stage where you’ll have to make it to the end by jumping across various platforms. And sometimes you’ll come across a NPC that will provide some kind of performance enhancement for your character for that run.
There are about 36 stages to go through until you reach the final boss. There’s three “areas”, each of which has 12 stages. Sometimes you can pick what stage you want to play. The final stage for an area will be a boss fight. You might have to brawl a King Jellyfish. Or Shredder. Until you reach Vlad at the final stage. Each run lasts about an hour, if you can make it until the end. But you’ll have to go through the portal multiple times, even if you “won”. Because there’s a new plot to be discovered through each run.
All-in-all, the story mode isn’t that bad. I don’t want to spoil it too much, but there are unique interactions between each character that you choose. It’s pretty fun and can be worth your while. Only concern that I have here is you can’t exit this mode; you can’t just pause while you’re on the stage selection screen and return to the main menu. You can only get out of this by quitting the game entirely.
Be aware there is no Steam cloud support. Same with the original game. It makes transfering saves between different devices a royal pain.
Other Single-Player Modes⌗
The arcade mode, while an improvement from the original, is just sort of a carbon copy of the story mode. Different stages to choose from, different characters to fight, a boss to occasionally tackle, but it’s almost identical to the story mode, albeit without the rewards. This was a bit of a disappointment, and to me isn’t really worth trying out since it doesn’t really offer anything different than the story mode.
There’s also a boss rush mode, where you try to defeat each boss as quickly as you can, and you can access the Pop the Balloons and other bonus modes individually through the Single Player category.
I haven’t played online multiplayer too much but I have come across a few hiccups. For example, crossplay can be turned on or off in the Options menu. Sometimes this option will randomly turn to “Off”. The game won’t remember your preference and will always default to “Off” each time you run the game.
There’s also long loading times on the Switch version, so if it takes longer than 30 seconds for a match to load, that’s why. Even then, when you do a ranked match, the loading screen doesn’t go away sometimes. And you’ll lose some of your ranking points if you exit the game. The devs are aware of this and are working on it.
Other than that, you can play Ranked, or find a quick match in a free-for-all format, one-on-one, or teams. There’s also a custom lobby feature where you can make your own rules and have others join in the lobby list. Lobbies can be password-protected if you so choose, so you can make sure you only have the players that you want. I don’t have much to say about the netcode, although from what I hear other people say the netcode is pretty decent.
Crossplatform multiplayer was originally going to show up in the original game, but it never came. But thankfully it’s here in the sequel. I’m actually pretty happy about this, because I can see this extending the longevity of the game.
Steam Deck Compatibilty⌗
Runs OOTB with Proton 8.0-4. No need to add the
WINEDLLOVERRIDES="winusb=d" %command% as users once had to do with the original. I’ve been able to get away with 6-7 watt TDP at 50-60 FPS with a GPU clock speed limit of 700 MHz (with two players on-screen; it might be a different story with four). Since it’s a fighting game, we’re obviously going to want 60 FPS at all times, so 8 W with a resolution of 1024 x 576 strikes a good balance at high settings.
There is, however, one noticeable issue that I’ve come across. When I connect the Deck to an external monitor, the framerate just kind of “skips” so to speak. Every second the game skips a few frames, and it gives me a pretty bad headache. After disconnecting the monitor, restarting the game, or adjusting any of the video options in the game, it doesn’t do anything to alliviate the tearing. The only solution I found so far is by deleting the game’s compatdata (2017080). Please back up the save files though, as the compatdata contains these files.
I’ve filed a bug report on the Proton GitHub, so if you experience anything similar, be sure to leave a comment there.
Also, for some reason, Start and Select are swapped out. So, if you want to access the Options menu on the main menu, for example, you’ll have to press the Back button as opposed to the three-lined hamburger icon, even though that’s the icon legend in the menu. You’ll have to change Steam Input to swap these buttons out.
A Platform Fighter Done Right⌗
I’ve played a lot of platform fighters. NASB 2 has been the closest one that really does feel like a Smash game, while at the same time introducing new mechanics like Slime that add some “spice” to the gameplay. It outstandingly does better in just about every asset over the original game. And with easier wavedashing and auto L-cancel, you can confidentally put a controller in your friend’s hands and let them in on the action, even if they never played a platform fighter before. Crossplatform multiplayer, voiceovers (which are better than the original), better sound effects, music…I could just go on and on.
Only gripes are a “meh” arcade mode, occasional clipping of the characters through the stages, random softlocks in Ranked mode, and some characters from the original roster have for some reason been omitted.
There’s also a costume DLC that adds an additional costume to each character. I felt like this should have been included in the base game, as each character only comes with a set of three skins.
Other than that, I’ll definitely be playing NASB 2 for months, maybe even years, to come. It’s great to have a platform fighter available on PC. And no need to worry about your tournament getting shut down or having restrictive rules. I’m really looking forward to more updates to this game to address some of the minor hiccups, as well as the upcoming DLC fighters. I can already see people making mods for this game with more skins and the like.
- surpasses the original game in every way, with side specials, forward and back air attacks, charged strong attacks, better shielding, original grabs and throws, and more
- many of the original characters make a return, with new ones thrown into the mix, and each character has been re-worked for the better
- Slime mechanic adds more variety to the gameplay, while still being easy enough for a newcomer to play with easier wavedashing and auto L-cancel
- story mode has been added that’s fairly interesting with roguelite elements
- crossplatform multiplayer with ranked, unranked, and custom lobbies
- training mode that gives you some actually useful information
- not everyone has returned from the original game
- bland arcade mode
- characters sometimes clip through the stage depending on how they’re attacked
- a softlock may occur while waiting on the loading screen for a ranked online match
- only three skins for each character, and a fourth is locked behind a DLC paywall
- headache-inducing screen tearing if you connect the Deck to an external monitor
- no Steam cloud support
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2 is available on Steam for $50.
Review key provided by Sandbox Strategies.