A Smashing Okay Time.
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.
The largest failure of the game is its lack of online multiplayer support, which in this age should be the first order of business. The best matches are always when four players can unleash carnage on a tiny map, with the prospect of being sent flying across the screen adding to the intensity. But unless you have four friends who also have a 3DS and are Cartoon Network junkies who’ve also purchased the game, you’re pretty much stuck playing against the A.I. If you’re lucky to have a 3DS-toting friend, you can use the Download Play feature, but you’re severely limited in your options, making the lack of any online play even more disappointing.
The 3D display is a double-edged sword for Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion. Despite the action being confined to 2D platforms, the depth of the backgrounds is well-detailed. Even distant buildings give the condensed play area a more expansive landscape.
The global destruction occurring as you progress gives a great sense of the urgency of your mission. The downside is that during frantic battles against bosses, you must keep a close eye on your character at all times, much like a ball-in-a-shell game; take your eye off the action for a second and you’ll lose. With the 3D effect on, trying to keep your eyes adjusted to the screen is as difficult as battling some of the bosses, and you’ll inevitably switch it off after the umpteenth failure because you lost the sweet spot. The character animations and cartoon vistas are both translated well and look gorgeous on the 3DS. The only small complaint I have is that the game is basically a single canvas for several cartoons, all with their own unique style on television, making the game feel too conjoined.
The Story Mode narrator does a good job mixing the anxiety and humor of the adventure, as well as providing hints throughout. The combat and item effects are all crisp and engaging, which adds an extra punch when successfully landing a knockout. The music, however, is poor, with an unoriginal blend of synthesizers crucifying the ambience of the action. Thankfully, it can be turned off, and the game is much better without it. The character voices, which although authentic, are limited to only a couple sound bites, most of which want to make you rip your ears off after hearing the same line a million times.
Plainly, Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion is not nearly on the same level as the Super Smash Bros. series, despite having a grossly similar gameplay style. More custom options for matches, better multiplayer features, and a more diverse soundtrack may have put it close. Also, the lack of collectables and achievements makes for poor replayability after you’ve unlocked all the maps and characters. But it’s still the closest thing to SSB on a portable, so if you just can’t wait for Nintendo’s first-party entry, or are a diehard Cartoon Network fan, this game is right up your alley.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.8 Graphics
Nice landscapes and character animations present a lot of action in a small space. The 3D effect hinders the gameplay though, so you’re likely to keep it off while battling. 3.0 Control
Poor item mapping and bad camera controls make it more of a struggle to be victorious in battle. The variety and responsiveness of character moves are the only saving grace. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Music and character voices are best left silent. Battles are great with just the wonderful clashing sound effects. The narration is great though. 2.4 Play Value
So much more could have been added, from online features to trophies and other collectibles. Sadly, after finishing the story and having a few battle rounds, Punch Time Explosion has little more to offer. 3.1 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best