We were really hoping we could start this review with the following sentence: “If you’re looking for a mediocre Super Smash Bros. clone with your favorite Cartoon Network characters, look no further than Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion XL!” but, after playing Crave Entertainment’s cartoony brawler, we can’t bring ourselves to give it even that amount of acclaim.
XL is an upgraded version of the 3DS Punch Time Explosion from a few months back, and bumps the roster from 18 to 26. For many, the roster is going to be the biggest selling point, as it typically is in games that look to mash franchises together, and to that point it basically does its job. Characters like Johnny Bravo, Samurai Jack, and Captain Planet will be great for fans of ‘80s and ‘90s cartoons, while Mac and Bloo from Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends and a number of characters from Ben 10 will give younger gamers some faces they recognize. But while it covers a wide variety of series, it certainly feels like it should cover even more – especially considering how much double dipping takes place. Sure, the Power Puff Girls could all have their own move sets, but making them pallet-swaps in favor of adding two more varied characters would have definitely upped the value.
XL also cleans up the 3DS version’s story mode a bit and adds new enemies and bosses to the campaign, which models itself closely after Brawl’s Subspace Emissary by mashing together a bunch of Cartoon Network’s properties into one big, sloppy story.
And beyond being sloppy, it isn’t very fun. Players are thrown into different worlds and asked to fight against uninteresting enemies in uninteresting locations that only barely draw inspiration from the television shows they’re referencing. Platforming through the world of Kids Next Door should be much different than jumping along the rooftops of Townsville, but… it isn’t.
Only some of the levels are actually interesting, using unique mechanics to separate them from the other worlds, but the platforming and combat is too weak to fully take advantage of it. Even narration from George Lowe – the voice of Space Ghost – didn’t make us want to play through the entire campaign, and we’d listen to him read a phone book.
Though we’d have been more accepting of the lackluster story and less-than-stellar roster if the game was actually any fun to play. Brawlers should at least be dumb fun, but even without holding it up in comparison to Smash Bros. the combat is really weak and unfulfilling. Characters’ moves aren’t very creative, the controls feel sluggish, and the timing is all over the place. Once we saw all of the characters and got over the initial nostalgia of seeing Johnny Bravo riding a motorcycle we simply didn’t want to play anymore, even with friends.
Frustration with controls and poor gameplay meant that our main enjoyment came from rushing to use the game’s Assist Characters, who drop like items (think the Assist Trophies or Pokeballs from Smash Bros.), but even that fun was short lived – especially considering a majority of them aren’t very good, and some are actually just annoying. Cheese from Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, for instance, runs around and screams when he’s unlocked, and the noise is so annoying that it actually made us stop playing.
As fans of most of the games featured in the roster and big fans of the genre in general we desperately wanted to like this game, and from the description it sounded like there was a chance. There are unlockables, multiple game modes, and all of the typical bonuses you’d expect from a brawler, but the cool characters and interesting items do little to dig Punch Time XL out of the hole its poor gameplay burrows – not even Space Ghost, and we love that guy.
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