Xbox 360 Review: Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion XL



Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion XL should be a no-brainer success: Take a roster of popular characters from a host of Cartoon Network shows and drop them into a Super Smash Brothers clone where you can beat up The Powerpuff Girls with Johnny Bravo or take on Samurai Jack with Dexter from Dexter’s Lab, and so on. “Who could beat who in a fight?” debates are a staple of playground discussion, so it’s an easy sell for kids, and the quality of writing and cross-generational humour in most classic CN shows means that there’s plenty of appeal for beat-’em-up-loving adults, too. Sadly, Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion XL squanders that immense potential pretty quickly, resulting in a merely serviceable brawler that won’t appeal to those over the age of 11.

As Super Smash Brothers did with beloved Nintendo characters, so Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion XL does with the Cartoon Network cast: A multiplayer platform arena fighting game, you’ll pick a selection of your favourite animated CN heroes and villains from Ben 10, Johnny Bravo, Dexter’s Lab, Samurai Jack, The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Chowder, Codename: Kids Next Door, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack and Captain Planet and have an all-star four-on-four brawl. Along with the main draw of the local multiplayer mode, there’s a single player or co-op story to work through to unlock new characters, in which a great evil is destroying the universes of Cartoon Network shows, leaving Ben Tennison and his newfound CN pals to team up and save their world from destruction.

The story mode does offer a reasonably lengthy campaign that offers plenty of environment variety as it jumps between the world of each show. The gameplay offers a pretty diverse array of fun, too, and while it’s mostly a simple parade of side-scrolling beat-’em-up levels, there’s a host of cleverly-designed boss battles and a simple, but fun selection of mini-game sections, from mine cart rides to Space Invaders style shooting range levels to first-person tank segments. Most levels allow you to choose a few characters from the line-up and cycle through them at will as you fight through the stage, using your favoured skills whenever you need to. The option to play through the story with up to three friends locally only makes the campaign even more enjoyable.
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There’s fun narration from Space Ghost Coast to Coast star George Lowe to tie together the story, but the unfortunate lack of funny writing on par with the actual stable of shows means the slight story won’t hold much appeal for adults. It’s a problem solidified by the absence of wider voice acting for the game – none of the original voice talent are present, and the sub-par soundalikes (a now manly-voiced Buttercup sounds strangely like her testicles just dropped) only provide a sentence or two of catchphrase dialogue that gets annoyingly repeated ad nauseum. Older gamers who’re looking for the all-ages giggles and slightly subversive humour that you’d expect from characters like Johnny Bravo will be sadly disappointed as “Ohhh mama!” gets yelled at you over and over. With so much potential for a sharp, smart and funny story, the lack of a substantial plot is irksome and the missing original voice actors and dialogue greatly dampens the enjoyment of finally seeing your favourite characters team up or face off against each other.

Things fare slightly better on that front in the multiplayer mode, where the lack of writing and dialogue is to be expected and ignored, but there the gameplay shortcomings become even more apparent. The fighting is comprised mainly of familiar beat-’em-up foundations: You have a set of directional attacks, blocks, dashes along with fun character assist pickups which bring computer-controlled familiar faces like Fuzzy Lumpkins or Dee Dee in to lend a hand, along with weapon pick-ups and a meter which slowly fills with successful attacks, allowing you to trigger special devastating unique assaults specific to each show’s star.
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It’s mostly simple to get to grips with and easy enough for gamers of all ages to jump right into, with quite a bit of the manic, chaotic fun you’d expect from a Smash Bros. clone and the amount of content between the story campaign and the local muliplayer mode means it’s a rather generous package. After a while, though, the cracks in the core gameplay start to show, signalling that you won’t be grabbing this off your shelf any time friends pop in. You’ll tend to stick with a few select characters not because they’re your favourites, but because the attacks of so many of the line-up prove ridiculously underpowered, rather than having unique skills provide the strengths and weaknesses you’d expect from a beat-’em-up roster. The end result is the arena-based multiplayer fighting feeling woefully unbalanced as a select few characters boast incredibly powerful attacks while the collective abilities of most are about as powerful as a gentle summer breeze.

If you’re just looking to jump into the multiplayer mode, you’ll be irked to learn that you have to play through the single player campaign to unlock the wider roster of characters, as only a few are available from the outset. Visually it’s a fine, colourful game, even if it does have a budget-level feel in the looks department, but the decision to render all characters in 3D is an odd one considering the cartoon source and the proud heritage of 2D beat-’em-ups in gaming history. Choosing to go with 2D animation on par with the shows it borrows from would’ve been a much more welcome decision. The strange, slightly obtuse choice of damage indicator is a bit unfortunate, too. Instead of a decreasing health bar, there’s a percentage gauge which climbs higher as you receive more damage, making you more likely to fly farther when you’re hit, eventually flying off the map and dying. It does its intended job okay, but it’s never as easy to quickly eyeball how close you are to death as with the age-old health bar.
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With no voice acting from the familiar actors you remember from your favourite Cartoon Network shows, the fun of seeing your favourite characters in an all-star team-up loses its appeal pretty quickly, especially as you realise how unbalanced the roster actually is when it comes to the beat-’em-up action. But while the lack of laughs and finely-tuned gameplay mean it won’t be of much interest to beat-’em-up fans, the varied single player campaign and generous, diverse selection of characters mean that less discerning younger gamers will find Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion XL an enjoyable enough Smash Bros.-style brawler.

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Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion XL is available to buy now for Xbox 360, PS3 and Nintendo Wii.
Click here to buy the game from Amazon.co.uk.