Nicktoons Unite! is once again another boring game published by the defunct THQ with no attention-grabbing traits past its recognizable faces. I once ragged on THQ in my The Incredibles (Video Game) review (one of my most popular reviews) because during the years that they were functional, THQ often published nothing but vapid, desperate attempts at appealing to a generation of Nickelodeon fanboys. It’s no wonder they thrived for as long as they did because I was one of those stupid fanboys who countlessly replayed and bought their games anyway.
Nicktoons Unite! is a 4-player, 3D beat-em-up that is not much different in the sense that it was capable of attracting many cartoon-watching kids in my generation. And like many of these games, Nicktoons Unite! only lives today through inadvertent nostalgia. I played this many times as a kid for no sensibly justified reason (and sadly never with four people) and it is a shame that adult-me had to see this vat of monotony for what it really is.
The notion that three game companies had a hand in developing Nicktoons Unite! unfortunately does not work to its success. The only element that really does (from an external point of view) is the titular Nicktoons: Jimmy Neutron, SpongeBob Squarepants, Timmy Turner, and Danny Phantom. But internally, one comes to find very quickly Nicktoons Unite! is not all its cracked up to be.
On paper, the game is very simple. You are not asked of much past defeating a never-ending onslaught of enemies with “puzzles” thrown in on occasion (you will see why I air-quoted puzzles later in the review). As the common saying goes, “simple is better,” but simple does not always equal automatically great, for Nicktoons Unite! fails to be remotely exciting at all.
Enemies are frequent but far too easy to beat, especially since levels contain health packs that are nearly as frequent as the enemies themselves. If the player were to lose a life (which are collectively shared by the team), I would find it hard to be the player’s fault because of the inept CPU allies who can barely hold out on their own (especially boss battles in particular).
Individual levels are long, linear, and languid. There is no sense of pace in the gameplay; every level is as stultifying as the last. Most of this due to the fact that the devs never quite figure out how to design a compact space nor when to end their levels. There is also a fair lack of polish with camera problems, graphical glitches, and irritating hitbox issues all acting as common occurrences.
So the big question is: how’s the combat, the most important aspect? The answer is: it’s not the greatest. It should probably be no surprise a game like Nicktoons Unite! barely accounts for any rhythm, or heck, even difficulty in its sloppily programmed combat that can be button-mashed through across the entire game with ease. The player is bestowed the ability to shield and stun but neither of them are really necessary because common enemies aren’t awfully dangerous.
If there is one glimmer of creativity to be found in Nicktoons Unite!, it would have to be the special abilities system. Throughout the adventure, the gang encounters ability pods that give a specific character either a new weapon or a new ability. These new weapons and abilities can be utilized in crafty ways during combat at the cost of power from the characters’ individual power meters. These abilities can then be upgraded through the game’s currency at specific spots. Even for how truly haphazard the combat presentation is, the ability and upgrading system is genuinely the best part about the game, and it uses currency in a rewarding way (a way you have to actually earn the upgrades) that even some mainstream games lack.
These acquired abilities are also what make the foundation for the game’s “puzzles,” or lack thereof. The problem with the puzzles is that they’re not really puzzles but areas in which you obviously just have to use a character’s ability at a certain spot in the level. The player isn’t really prompted to think (there’s literally one point which requires a bit of thinking), hence why the “puzzles” in this are barely puzzles and are more like just mere hurdles.
If there’s a period where the combat has a sense of rhythm, then it would be the boss battles. The boss battles aren’t bad — they can actually be a tad harder compared to common horde battles and require a bit of thinking and strategy. They might come off as repetitive sometimes but at least each one is unique and the slightest bit more strenuous than the main game. The only time the main game truly becomes strenuous (mainly due to your dimwitted CPU allies) is when the game decides to make you face about fifty enemies at once in the Timmy Turner levels.
Nicktoons Unite!, though, is mostly just drab. The only way it might come off as fun is if you’d be fortunate enough to couch-play with three of your best friends because this game, although fairly short, is one energy-draining slog with nary a spark of allure nor demand for intuition.