Multiplayer games are commonly understood to attract two types of players. For the sake of discussion, let's call them "casuals" and "competitive".
Casual Mario Kart players might believe a Bowser Shell is unavoidable if you are in 1st place. Competitive players, on the other hand, know that with enough maneuverability and timing, the 1st place player can reliably avoid the shell every time.
For the competitive player, one trick learned becomes another and small advantages began to stack into huge ones. The level of competitive play can quickly advance as each new exploit is mastered and further developed. Legacy competitive titles like Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and Super Smash Bros. Melee, despite being developed 20 years ago, still thrill esports audiences today largely thanks to the high-octane gameplay these tricks create.
When looking at the newly released Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, one thing becomes abundantly clear: if nothing else, this game has tricks.
I don't begrudge Nickelodeon for creating their Slap City-esque platform fighter in this way. On the contrary: The decision to include limitless movement options and mechanics ripe for the exploit is the primary reason most FGC games have paid attention in the first place.
However, I am beginning to doubt whether All-Star Brawl will receive the polish it needs in order to retain the attention of the casual community. Netplay that involves repeatedly getting your bikini bottoms washed by five-frame dash attacks leading into zero-deaths isn't, historically, what casual fighting game fans react positively to in the long run.
If it Aang broke...
At the heart of esports are players that appear unstoppable once they find gather enough momentum. During the Juice Box 53, the first online Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl's tournament, CLG James "VoiD" Makekau-Tyson was that unstoppable player. Using Aang's versatile aerial mobility, wide hitboxes, and combo potential, VoiD made his aggressive playstyle look untouchable against the 700+ entree bracket.
As Aang won the first tournament, the character is automatically considered strong. As pros continue to explore the game and how to win most efficiently, many can't help but adopt a tongue-in-cheek tone when discussing game balance.
As each week goes by, more exploits and tricks are discovered that keep fans interested in watching streams and supporting tournaments. Star Brawl represents a new fighting game opportunity for an esports scene that desperately needs one as well as the hope of Nickelodeon financially supporting the scenes esports infrastructure.
Before that happens, however, I predict some balance patches.
Technique or tedious?
This week, a new defensive technique called "Drop Cancel" was shared by YouTuber Wisdom v3:
"I hope you can abuse this trick to your fullest because I see no one do this online"
This trick uses air dodging to cancel aerial momentum after getting hit by an attack that otherwise should have killed. It is a relatively simple trick and doing so nets a huge benefit — you simply die less often if you know how to Drop Cancel. If this technique proves as useful and flexible as it appears currently, then Drop Canceling may always be the correct decision after getting hit by an attack.
The existence of Drop Canceling is an esports longevity red flag because it feels tedious. Drop Canceling isn't a flashy or eyecatching technique so the majority of players won't even realize they are being defeated by it. Furthermore, there is no intuitive reason as to why this trick works and its inclusion in the game adds a layer of complexity that feels broken in a frustrating way.
All-Star Brawl is not Smash
When I first played All-Star Brawl, something felt missing. I didn't realize what it was until I saw the video below.
And just like that, the heart and soul of Nickoledons iconic IP is finally felt. Although there are rumors of voice acting being eventually added via patching, its omission now speaks volumes about the level of polish and fan service missing from All-Star Brawl. Is it really ok that Spongebob is mute? Won't this lack of atmosphere diminish the game's replayability?
When the game was first released, anticipating fans were quick to remind everyone that Nickoledon is not Nintendo and that this game is not Super Smash Bros. Before the game's release, this sentiment held a sense of optimism and hope. It was said to remind people to temper expectations and not unfairly compare the game to a more established franchise.
It's still a good idea to go into All-Star Brawl with an unbiased mind, but do remember: All-Star Brawl is not Smash. Despite initially attracting Nintendo's competitive community so well, Nickoledon has a lot of cleaning up to do if it wants to surpass its flavor of the month status and capture the communities attention long enough to mature as an esport.
Warcraft 3 is my one true love and I will challenge anyone to a game of Super Smash Brothers Melee.