The Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl community is fueled by nostalgia
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Joshua “pink” Lewis sat at their desk with the shadow of a giant Appa plush hanging over them. Their love for “Avatar: The Last Airbender” was clear, even if it may take a second to spot the Aang figurine among the other doodads and neon lights around the desk.

Aang was standing right next to pink’s Super Smash Con Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl (NASB) tournament trophy, almost as if the hunk of bald plastic helped the FGC veteran win the tournament.

“I love ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender,’” pink said. “I’m in my room staring at three Appa stickers under the plush. That whole thing always works out for me whenever I pick a fighting game. I always pick a good character.”

Pink won Super Smash Con: Fall Fest playing with Aang and his deadly neutral, taking out Tyler “mirrorman” Morgan’s SpongeBob by resetting the bracket after a losers bracket run. It was the first major, in-person Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl tournament. And it’s been paving the way for a new fighting game that’s hitting a number of growing pains. It has built a passionate following through the month it’s been available.

Riding the coattails of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

“I think it’s going to be the side bracket for every Super Smash Bros. major for a while,” pink said. “It’s developing its own scene as well. I think a really dedicated community is going to come from it.”

pink Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl
Pink after winning the Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl tournament at Super Smash Con: Fall Fest. | Provided by No Pause Tournaments

NASB launched on Oct. 5, bringing Powdered Toast Man, Sandy Cheeks and something called Oblina to PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One S and PlayStation 5. This is a platform fighter developed by Slap City veteran studio Ludosity — alongside a number of other game developers — so fighting game fans knew they’d be in good hands after adding NASB to their catalogue of competitive games.

The Bikini Bottom-based fighter has a homegrown roughness to it that makes fans of non-platform fighting games feel right at home. The art style is old school, it launched with a number of exploits players have been happy to use and — unlike Ultimate — it has little to no input delay.

“This game checks a lot of boxes for me,” pink, who has competed in other fighting games like Dragon Ball FighterZ before turning a big part of their attention to NASB, said. “There is no crazy native delay like with Ultimate.”

Trust in the development team

Gameplay felt tight to high-level players and there are promises for more characters and maps in the future, but most players Upcomer spoke with agreed that some parts of the game feel incomplete. A number of issues, including everything from a broken Michelangelo chain grab exploit that can kill easily to custom button maps getting reset between matches, have hindered NASB since launch.

“I don’t think anyone is caught off guard that this game is a work in progress,” pink said. “The devs really care. The game is going to get so good as the level of play gets so high.”

Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl
The full Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl roster at launch. | Provided by Ludosity

Ludosity is a known commodity in the fighting game community, though. Fans of Slap City, another highly-rated platform fighter, watched it turn from a rough beta to a feature full fighter with deep mechanics and a single player campaign. Many of the NASB’s launch issues have been addressed with patches, although that hasn’t stopped some players from leaving the scene early.

“The devs have been incredibly open,” Tournament Organizer Danny “Hanukkah Jamboree” Cohen said. “You don’t get that from devs of AAA games. We get, maybe, 1-2 development updates from Guilty Gear Strive. It’s not required but it feels damn good.”

Ludosity has been communicative about changes they plan to implement and problems that arise, as well as talking with players in competitive spaces like Reddit, Twitter and Discord. Thaddeus Crews, a character designer and programmer at Ludosity, has been detailing part of the development process on their Twitter. It’s a change of pace from the few-to-no updates players see from developers like Nintendo, Bandai Namco and Capcom.

Modders have been quick to jump on the NASB hype train, adding re-skinned versions of characters, like Nigel Thornfieri (a mixture of Guy Fieri and Nigel Thornberry). They’ve helped make PC the ideal platform to play on, adding a voice acting mod that fills in some iconic voices that aren’t part of the official game yet.

Nickelodeon had approached Ludosity and asked them about the possibility of developing a platform fighter. The entertainment company wanted a game with a competitive element. Ludosity and publisher GameMill were more than happy to chase that goal. They’ve invested a lot into the game’s competitive community, going as far as setting up a $10,000 pot bonus for Super Smash Con: Fall Fest.

“[Nickelodeon has] continued to encourage us to push our own creativity on the character movesets and overall design of the game,” said Ludosity CEO Joel Nyström. “Everyone involved wants this game to be a success.”

Building the future of Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl

NASB is a passionate project for the players too. They’ve come together to start multiple Discord servers and run side events at major tournaments like Mainstage 2021 and Genesis. Streamers and top players like Ludwig Ahgren and Juan “Hungrybox” DeBiedma have thrown support behind the game with live-streamed tournaments.

Major, local and regional tournament organizers have opted to include Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl to their list of available games. Most of these events are centered around Ultimate, meaning that the only in-person platform available for it is the Nintendo Switch.

The Switch version of NASB is inferior to other consoles and PC, and PC has been the standard platform for online play. The Switch version gets patches later than all other platforms and can be technically inferior to other versions. Few Super Smash Bros. organizers have enough PCs in order to accommodate the demand, and the cost wouldn’t be worth it.

“We’re just rolling with the Switch version, but people get that it’s not anyone’s fault,” pink said. The issues will hopefully be addressed in the future, but it could serve as a barrier for some tournament organizers to host events. It could also cause problems. For example, Super Smash Con: Fall Fest ran on the Switch version and had to ban Michelangelo after a patch had addressed an exploitable mechanic on other platforms.

Some are hoping the recently-delayed Steam Deck platform will be the answer once it launches.

NASB Spongebob
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl players are hopeful for the future of their small community. | Provided by Ludosity

It’s normal for tech issues and bugs to pop up in any game on launch and fixes normally come in time. Players like pink are happy they’re getting a chance in the spotlight with such a unique opportunity; the chance to beat up SpongeBob in front of thousands of people for a cash prize.

Pink is hoping to use a chunk of the Super Smash Con prize money and reinvest it back into the community and build their stream setup. Pink hopes to see Aang’s nemesis-turned-friend Zuko added to the game, but they are more hopeful for a healthy competitive scene that they can fight amongst. As of yet, pink doesn’t have a huge following, but they’ve been in the fighting game scene for a long time.

“Some people say that this dude came out of the woodwork and started n-airing,” pink said. “That’s not true. I’ve been working at this for a long time.”

There are plenty of upcoming NASB tournaments to look forward to, including a major event at Mainstage 2021. Fans can check out some high-level competition on the Beyond the Summit Twitch page on Nov. 12.

Aron Garst looks at esports from a different point of view by tackling the ways games are molded and broken by players around the world. He covers Call of Duty, Fortnite, Super Smash Bros, and everything else for Upcomer. You can read his previous work at WIRED, Rolling Stone, ESPN and elsewhere. Rise up red sea.
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