Nickelodeon Fighting Game Devs Have High Hopes, Competitive Dreams

Nickelodeon Fighting Game Devs Have High Hopes, Competitive Dreams

Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl is an upcoming Smash-like that, despite its licensed nature, already sounds like an absolutely legit fighting game. Not only do the lead developers have experience making their own popular platform fighter, but they’re also looking into implementing rollback netcode for an optimal online experience. Kotaku had a chance to speak with folks at Ludosity, the studio behind All-Star Brawl, about their hopes for both its casual and competitive future.

Ludosity may not be a household name, but it’s found itself thrust into the spotlight thanks to the reveal of Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl earlier this week. The studio, which is based in Sweden, was founded over ten years ago and maintains a staff of less than a dozen people. Ludosity released several games in that decade, most notably 2018’s Slap City, a platform fighter in the vein of Super Smash Bros. that’s even been featured at major Smash community tournaments.

“Shortly after the success of Slap City, we were approached by Nickelodeon,” Ludosity CEO Joel Nyström told Kotaku via email. “At first I didn’t think it was for real. You get a lot of weird emails and deals on a weekly basis, so at first I dismissed it as spam!”

The small studio eventually realised it wasn’t being scammed and got in touch with Nickelodeon, which laid out its plans for a platform fighter. Ludosity developed a demo, and by early 2020, the devs were in production on Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl alongside co-developer Fair Play Labs out of Costa Rica and publisher GameMill Entertainment.

That last name may not have inspired confidence in those familiar with its previous, middling work on licensed Nickelodeon games, but the niche community of competitive fighting game players immediately realised the enormity of Ludosity’s involvement. Here was a group of people who had already shown intimate knowledge and familiarity with making a competent platform fighter, and they were being put in charge of making a game featuring characters from classic cartoons like SpongeBob Squarepants, Hey Arnold!, and Rugrats. It was almost too good to be true.

Folks descended on Ludosity’s official Discord channel following the Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl reveal to inundate the developers with questions about the upcoming game. And they were more than happy to oblige, letting slip little details about the project’s gameplay mechanics and use of rollback netcode.

Screenshot: Nickelodeon / GameMill Entertainment / Ludosity
Screenshot: Nickelodeon / GameMill Entertainment / Ludosity

Elias “sinxtanx” Forslind, the chief designer who joined Nyström in answering our questions, was the most vocal; he explained that the team was drawing inspiration from both Smash and their previous work on Slap City to imbue the release with aspects that would appeal to those familiar with playing those games at every level.

“If Slap City played a bit like the old Smash games, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl definitely plays like its own thing,” Forslind explained.

But Nickelodeon isn’t really interested in making a competitive fighting game, right? Not that Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl needs that kind of official mandate from its rights holders to spawn a dedicated community of high-level players, of course. I mean, just look at Shrek SuperSlam. But the idea of a massive cartoon channel wanting to breaking into the fighting game community was so outside the realm of possibility to me that when Ludosity set me straight during our conversation, I was floored.

“Nickelodeon is absolutely on board with having the game be competitively viable,” Nyström said. “That’s been in the conversation from the start. That’s why they came to us.”

“My approach to the casual/competitive question is the same as with Slap City,” Forslind added, responding to a follow-up question about the balancing act between the two. “When you make a game fun to play, anyone can have fun with it. This is very good for me, since I don’t have the mad skills like competitive players, but I can still greatly enjoy casual free-for-all matches in Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl.”

Nickelodeon has also given the studio a surprising amount of freedom in developing Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, so much so that the devs say very few of their suggestions have been nixed.

Every character’s moveset and fighting style, from SpongeBob Squarepants’ Patrick Star to Ren & Stimpy’s Powdered Toast Man, came entirely from the Ludosity team. If it has to do with gameplay at all, Nyström said, it was probably an idea that originated with them. And while they’re obviously not ready to talk about final roster size or DLC plans (“There is talk” about post-release support, I’m told.), Ludosity has even been able to provide input on character selection. It’s both surprising and encouraging that Nickelodeon is open to this kind of collaboration, a dynamic that bodes well for the success of the game outside its built-in licensed potential.

Despite being months away from release, Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl already has a lot on its cartoon-y shoulders. Not only is it a promotional vehicle for a ton of classic, beloved Nicktoons but also the added stress of appealing to a group of people for whom it seems nothing is ever good enough in the competitive fighting game scene.

While still blown away by the overwhelmingly positive reception earlier this week, the folks at Ludosity seem to be taking the attention in stride. The developers are still interacting with the burgeoning Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl community on Discord — they had to open a new channel to avoid the studio’s original space being overwhelmed with talk about the new game — and have a very clear picture of what they hope to achieve with this ambitious project.

“Nigel Thornberry edge guarding is a goal all to itself,” Forslind joked, referring to the character’s status as an internet meme, before adding: “I hope this game can also inspire others to keep experimenting with the platform fighter genre. It’s more than 20 years old now, but it still feels like a young genre, with lots of potential.”

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