It’s nothing short of a miracle that a sequel as well-made as Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2 managed to arrive just two years after the original. Developer Fair Play Labs’ second attempt at a Nickelodeon-based platform fighter is a massive leap forward from the first, with a more polished feel, more vibrant characters, and the coup de grace: its envelope-pushing Slime meter. It took me a minute to get comfortable with its slightly buffered movement and wildly expressive Slime mechanics, but after a handful of late nights with friends – both online and off – I couldn’t put it down. While comparisons to the Super Smash Bros. series can cast an obnoxious shadow over this genre, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the only other platform-fighting sequel to improve, rework, and refine what came before it to this impressive degree was the legendary Super Smash Bros. Melee itself.
I’ve spent literally thousands of hours in platform fighters like Super Smash Bros. and Rivals of Aether, and classic Nickelodeon cartoons like Spongebob SquarePants and Avatar: The Last Airbender are some of my all-time favorite shows – so I was very disappointed by how much I didn’t like the original All-Star Brawl in 2021. It had the usual platform-fighting structure of damaging up your opponent before knocking them off the screen for a kill, but the animations and sound design were flat, it didn’t seem particularly polished, and most of the characters felt the same. Deeper than that, I found it mechanically unrewarding, with poorly tuned movement that prioritized hollow speed over precision. Instead of weaving a combo together based on my opponent’s damage, the attacks at my disposal, and my position on the stage, I felt more incentivized to string together the same busted attack over and over again until I could spike my poor opponent into the blast zone.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2: A Massive Upgrade
It’s incredible, then, that All-Star Brawl 2 takes nearly every frustration and complaint I had with the first one and inverts them. Combos are deeper and more fleshed out thanks to multiple revamped mechanics, hits feel more substantial and satisfying thanks to beefed up sound design and improved animations, and movement strikes a much better balance between speed and precision. And perhaps most exciting of all, its excellent cast of characters shine thanks to their updated, more cartoony models and well-acted voice lines delivered by many of their original voice actors. Every animation cleverly references something from the cartoons.
Fanservice and nostalgia are often wielded with all the tact of an ill-fated Krabby Patty secret formula attempt – using them as seasoning, rather than the main ingredient, is almost always important. Not so in a crossover fighting game, however. Games like Marvel vs. Capcom and Super Smash Bros. rightly revel in nostalgia, and All-Star Brawl 2 similarly dives straight into the deep end. Every animation and attack for every single character cleverly references something from the original cartoon shows. For example, SpongeBob’s neutral weak aerial is a pose he does during the radical Goofy Goober Rock scene from The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, Ren and Stimpy throw out the iconic Log from their show’s parody commercials, and Aang rides around on his signature ball of air.
Varied and Unique Characters
But these referential movesets aren’t just hollow, with most characters having different gameplans, specialized meters, and other bespoke mechanics that add a fun, necessary level of diversity. SpongeBob, All-Star Brawl 2’s all-around character, is pretty good at everything, but isn’t especially strong at one particular thing more than any other fighter, and he’s a bit floatier in his movement. Compare that to the devastating damage and heavy-hitting combos of Reptar and the difference is clear, with momentum-based movement that feels like controlling a hulking dinosaur should – but that raw power means you won’t have a prayer when you’re trying to get back on the stage. Meanwhile, Garfield has a decent combo game, but doesn’t have many reliable options for killing until his lasagna meter (yes, you read that correctly) gets filled up and he becomes faster and stronger.
It’s hard for me to talk about the different ways characters function without going on an overexcited rant about each and every one because they all offer something unique and interesting. Where it took me forever to pick a main in the previous game because I just couldn’t find a character that stood out to me, it’s taken me a long time to find one in All-Star Brawl 2 because I like so much of its cast. After putting every fighter through the motions in the single-player Arcade mode, I found myself excited to explore a whopping half of its 26 characters further. I can’t remember the last time I was this torn and this excited to spend time playing as such a wide swath of different characters in a platform fighter. This is the kind of diverse cast that puts a fighting game into the next stratosphere. Zim is a puppet character now and has the ability to control Gir with greater accuracy, the Angry Beavers work less like Ice Climbers and more like a team from a tag-based 2D fighter with moves that may remind you of some well-known assists from games like Dragon Ball FighterZ, and Plankton is a weird mix between a grappler and a zoner with ranged grabs and wonky projectiles.
A Fresh Take on Familiar Characters
That cast hasn’t come without sacrifices, though. Not only have a handful of favorites from the previous game been cut, including CatDog and Toph Beifong, but it’s a little weird to see main characters from their own series not show up. Grandma Gertie and Gerald from Hey, Arnold! are playable, for example, but Arnold himself is nowhere to be seen. The same goes for Reptar standing in for any of the Rugrats. While I can understand why that might frustrate some, these choosier omissions leave room for All-Star Brawl 2’s cast to have more diverse playstyles. Reptar is one of the game’s few heavy characters, and both Grandma Gertie and Gerald’s movesets bring a lot of distinct, cool flair to the cast in a way that feels worth the trade-off.
While new characters may get the spotlight, even the returning cast brings something fresh and new to the brawl. Fair Play Labs has fully rebuilt every aspect of this sequel, so no character is the same as they were in the previous game. This huge rework may sound like overkill, but it’s a necessary step in making every fighter work with the new Slime mechanic, All-Star Brawl 2’s greatest innovation.
The Slime mechanic is versatile, easy to manage, and well-balanced. I cannot overstate how much style and finesse Slime adds to this game. With just a single button press and a sufficiently filled Slime meter, you can add extra power to any of your special moves, boost your air dodge, cancel out of freefall after using your recovery, boost that recovery further, cancel out of any move’s ending animations, and even escape enemy combos. Versatile, easy to manage, and well-balanced, Slime is a key component that adds depth to the gameplay.