Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is out today, and there’s hope that it might be a big hit in the competitive fighting game community. It’s impossible to look at gameplay of the newest platform fighter starring the likes of SpongeBob, Nigel Thornberry, CatDog, and other Nicktoon stars without drawing deep parallels to Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. series.
The Melee community is still highly active today, bringing CRT televisions to tournaments and playing Melee online through modified versions of the game. Despite Nintendo’s tendency to shut down select Smash-related community events, the Melee fanbase has endured due to a deep love of the game.
But in addition to their long-term love affair with Melee, many players in the Smash community are hyped at the idea of Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl: a new fighting game with competitive ambition, rollback netcode, and no Nintendo involvement. IGN spoke to multiple Smash pros about their excitement for this new fighter ahead of its release.
Another Platform Fighter Joins the Fray
Toph — the player, not the character — started competing in the Melee scene over a decade ago. Besides competing, he’s also known for commentating, streaming, and podcasting about competitive Smash. He says he’s excited for Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl because it’s exploring a type of game that still has a lot of room to grow.
“It feels like a new genre,” Toph says. “There aren’t really that many big platform fighters that people have mastered. I think it’s cool to see another one.”
Platform fighters differ from traditional fighters in that the goal is to knock the opponent off the stage, rather than deplete all of their health. Apart from Smash Bros., the most well-known platform fighters are Brawlhalla and Rivals of Aether, two indie hits that haven’t quite managed to break through to the mainstream. Toph thinks this game’s inclusion of recognizable characters could help it go a long way.
“I think a lot of people care more about that stuff than they like to admit. People are excited about SpongeBob and Patrick, the Ninja Turtles, and Avatar: The Last Airbender. People love those franchises,” he says.
In a video on our IGN Compete channel, Smash God Mango echoed the excitement within the community.
“I’ve only seen positives from everyone in the Melee community, and even in the Ultimate community,” Mango said. “We all grew up with Nick, so it’s just so many things we like clashing, we’re all out of this world excited.”
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl Screenshots
Will Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl Be Competitively Viable?
Of course, these comments are just pre-release hype. It remains to be seen how pro Smash players will react upon touching the game for the first time, but there are signs that Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl will be a hit with Smash fans.
Ludosity is the developer of All-Star Brawl. The studio previously worked on Slap City, another platform fighter inspired by Smash Bros. The Smash community latched onto Slap City, and Zain, one of the best Melee players on the power rankings right now, says the developer choice has people intrigued.
“When I heard that the creators of this game made Slap City, I was like, ‘oh this is gonna be legit,’ because I know a lot of my peers in Melee really loved their experience with Slap City as a competitive outlet,” Zain says. “Listening to the developers talking about it, it’s obvious they’ve played Smash at a competitive level and have an understanding of it. I’m really curious to see what kind of things are shared with Melee and other Smash games, as well as the unique things it will be offering.”
As far as changes go, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is introducing a handful of new mechanics to the genre. Players can grab and throw their opponents in mid-air, they can turn around while in the air, and there’s a rock-paper-scissors setup with up attacks, mid attacks, and down attacks that can shift the flow of a battle. There’s no limit to how long you can shield, either. Of all these changes, grabbing is the one getting the most attention.
“Grabbing is crazy in this game,” Toph says. “I hope grabbing isn’t too strong.”
Zain also thinks grabbing has the potential to be a big game-changer.
“I think a lot of people are frightened by the prospect of what you can do [with grabs]. Are you gonna be able to just chain your opponent in the air and combo it? It’s exciting for me because it’s completely different,” Zain says. “It’s hard to say without actually playing the game, I’m open for that kind of change.”
And, of course, wavedashing makes its grand return. For those unaware, wavedashing is a movement technique in Smash Bros. Melee performed by air dodging diagonally into the ground. To the naked eye, it looks like a wavedashing character is sliding around the stage at a high speed. The technique was removed from Smash sequels after Melee. After wavedashing was shown in one of Nick All-Star Brawl’s gameplay showcases, the Smash community caught wind of a viral tweet, and went nuts.
Melee fans are losing their shit right now. pic.twitter.com/X0vS50MJoz
— Mitchell Saltzman (@JurassicRabbit) September 8, 2021
HugS, a Samus main who has been active in the Melee community for well over a decade, agrees that the game could be a hit in the competitive community.
“The team behind it is great and they’re giving the characters vast movement options,” HugS said. “It’s tough to know how it’ll play out now, but the fact that you’ll have so much agency over how you play your character seems promising.”
Solid gameplay isn’t the only thing Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl needs to catch on. When we asked what else would be important for the game’s success, online play was the biggest answer.
Online Play Is the Key
Melee launched on the GameCube 20 years ago, a console lacking any online play. But since then, Melee players have taken things into their own hands. Project Slippi is an in-progress tool that allows Melee players to compete online with rollback netcode. Rollback netcode is key to smooth online matches, especially in fighting games where every frame counts.
Rollback netcode and online play have become even more important in the last 18 months, as in-person fighting game events have been basically nonexistent due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Zain says Project Slippi and its rollback netcode helped keep the scene alive.
“With Project Slippi and rollback netcode, it really did save the scene. We had a bunch of tournaments that were really competitively viable,” Zain said. “It’s crazy to see the longevity of Melee, and how strong it is to survive a literal pandemic.”
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl will feature rollback netcode, a feature that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on Switch lacks.
..apparently the Nickelodeon fighting game HAS rollback netcode “on supported platforms” according to a dev on the Discord
A PC version is apparently coming as well https://t.co/oQPTzK8Zn4
— Nibel (@Nibellion) July 13, 2021
Toph says a smooth online experience could help this game to catch on.
“Removing those barriers of friction of being able to get into a game, and being able to feel like you’re playing a good game, it’s gonna matter to people even more than they realize,” Toph says. “I think a lot of people accustomed to Smash Ultimate’s netplay experience aren’t going to be able to put this game down, if it really is the rollback netcode that they’ve kind of advertised. It matters a lot.”
A Rocky Relationship With Nintendo
The Smash community and Nintendo have shared a rocky relationship for a long time. Nintendo has a history of taking action against competitive Smash. The divide became even wider and complicated last year, after a misconduct scandal hit the Smash community.
Now, the prospect of a competent platform fighter without Nintendo’s involvement is sure to have some members of the Melee community contemplating jumping ship to Nick All-Star Brawl. Plus, Ludosity’s apparent goal is to foster a competitive community makes the new game even more enticing.
“I think the competitive Smash community has felt at times pretty burned by Nintendo and their willingness to talk about competitive features,” Toph says. “It seems like the developers of Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl are very warmly receptive to that sort of thing.”
HugS, who has been very vocal pushing back against some of Nintendo’s business decisions related to Smash, says the combination of recognizable characters and the community’s frustration with Nintendo could “make this the perfect storm for people to prioritize a game that might actually rival Smash in the platform fighting genre.” He says the main problem is the apparent lack of voice acting in Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl.
However, Toph also says Smash players are so invested in their craft that there’s nothing Nintendo could do to drive them away permanently. While some players who feel burned may end up moving on, the players we spoke with agree that Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl won’t have a negative impact on Smash’s competitive popularity.
“We love Smash. We love the game. Whether you’re a Melee player or an Ultimate player, they’re just great, great competitive games,” Toph says. “We might not agree with some of the decisions Nintendo makes, but we see the games they put out and their business decisions as different entities. I think it’s possible to love Nintendo games without necessarily agreeing with their competitive philosophy.”
So, it seems there is room for Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl to fit alongside Melee and Ultimate in Smash-lovers’ hearts.
“I do think a lot of Melee players will support the Nickelodeon game by competing in it and streaming it, alongside Melee,” Zain says.
Overall, the players we spoke to are feeling good about Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, and it won’t be long until we start to see how the scene will shake out.
“When something like Nick All-Stars comes out, where it looks awesome gameplay-wise, it has awesome characters, and it has better online than Nintendo’s ever given to its games, as well as actual developer support into the competitive scene, it’s obviously just a no-brainer to funnel support into there,” Zain says. “I’ve never had this intention with anything but Melee, but I want to become the best in the world at it, even if it’s just for a little bit.”
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is out now on Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.
Logan Plant is a freelancer writer at IGN