|Dev: Papaya Studios|
|Pub: Crave Entertainment|
|Release: June 6, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Cartoon Violence, Crude Humor|
by Sean Engemann
It's hard to believe that few games have tried to replicate the alternative fighting style that made Super Smash Bros. a hit series. Its intense platform-pummeling and unique combat are a refreshing take on an otherwise formulaic genre.
To say that Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion borrows a few elements from SSB is a gross understatement, as the game is nearly a mirror image, with popular Cartoon Network heroes replacing the Nintendo mascots. Since SSB has yet to grace a handheld system, Punch Time Explosion satiates your fighter fix on the go. But with such similarities, fans who have poured countless hours beating up Mario, Link, Kirby, and all the others will easily find that where Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion strays from the blueprint is where its flaws are the most obvious.
More accurately, Punch Time Explosion takes its recipe out of the Super Smash Bros. Brawl cookbook, which is easily identified by the inclusion of a single-player Story Mode. The premise is actually an interesting bridge for the various cartoons, as evildoers from the shows have found a way to travel through transmission broadcast signals, using their nefarious tools to dominate all the cartoon worlds. An even more sinister malefactor is trying to send all the shows back to the static, and SSB aficionados will be shocked at the final boss's Master Hand similarities.
Starting as Ben Tennyson from Ben 10: Ultimate Alien, you'll soon find yourself transported into the world of Chowder, trying to chase down Vilgax and save your new friends and the cartoons themselves. Your quest takes you through many famous series, with Samurai Jack, Dexter's Laboratory, Codename: Kids Next Door, and The Powerpuff Girls, just to name a few.
Using standard and special attacks, you work your way through the platforming stages, battling baddies and launching them off the stage. The main combat grows tedious after a while, but is fortunately broken up with various special tasks that make good use of the different 3DS functions. You'll use the touchscreen to slingshot explosive barrels, blow into the microphone to raise a platform, and hop into a laser turret to blast away floating mines. There's also some primitive first-person shooting and some on-rails sequences à la Powerpuff Girls.
Surprisingly, the Story Mode has a decent length for a fighter—you'll easily rack up over five hours from start to finish, and completing Story Mode unlocks the maps used in the Battle Mode. Some levels and bosses are particularly fiendish, which become frustrating enough that you may want to slice up your 3DS like Samurai Jack. The frustration is heightened by the poor checkpoint system, which has your redo the entire level should you happen to lose all four lives.
The characters you unlock from the story are only available in the Story Mode, so you must pummel through many a match in Battle Mode to play as your favorite toon. It's a good thing the blended stories keeps you interested, because trudging through enemy peons is more of a chore than a pleasure. Going from cutscene to cutscene is sadly a thin experience. This becomes a moot point after unlocking Blossom, as the pink Powerpuff can soar past most obstacles, cutting your clear time by a sizeable sum.
The Battle Mode has all the basics you'd expect. You'll duke it out in an arena-style map, building damage percentage in an attempt to connect that knockout strike that sends your opponent off the screen and into oblivion. Each character has four color choices, from their standard scheme to an undead pattern, giving a clear distinction if four friends want to battle as Numbuh One.
Using the Circle Pad or D-pad, you have an assortment of attacks at your disposal, with the up special acting as that often-used extra jump to reach a ledge. Each character has a unique arsenal, all authentic to their respective series, as well as variations in mobility, with The Powerpuff Girls being considerably more nimble than larger choices like Captain K'nuckles.
The combat itself suffers from a lack of fluidity and control, as well as a camera that needs some retooling. Combat is too chaotic, which makes victory less about skill and more about luck and button-mashing. Items are occasionally (depending on the setting you've chosen) flung on screen to be used as weapons or to provide healing, but the mapping is so poor that you have to be smack dab on top of an item in order to pick it up. Even then, you're sometimes denied.
Some items come in the form of character assists, replacing Pokémon from SSB with lesser characters from various Cartoon Network shows. They are certainly game-changers in any match, but they tend to overstay their welcome, causing opponents to cower out of attack range for far too long.
Another game-changer is the Punch Time Explosions, a virtual knockout attack which can be unleashed after enough power drops are collected to fill up your PTE gauge. Like the assists, the cutscenes for the Explosions are a tad lengthy, and they break up the pace of a frantic match.
Another disappointment is the lack of match customization. Besides adjusting the length of a match, the number of lives, and the item drop rate, there is no way to tailor your match. Forget super-sized characters or even team battles, because they're nowhere to be found.