The fighting genre is a tough one to break into and change. Games like "Street Fighter" and "Mortal Kombat" have long and illustrious histories, whereas newer games like "BlazBlue" and "Marvel vs. Capcom" are trying to bring a new look and feel while still maintaining many elements of the classics. However, there's one relatively new game that was able to break the mold, and really introduce something new to fighting games, "Super Smash Bros." Combining cartoony graphics with precision gameplay has spawned a whole sub-genre of brawlers. With its highly recognizable roster the latest game to enter the fray is Crave Games' "Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion XL." Can it really throw down against such fierce competition?
Worlds are colliding within the Cartoon Network universe, and the only one that can save everyone is Dexter, and his inter-dimensional traveling ship. Watching from afar is the channel's Narrator, telling players the story of what's happening on shows like "Ben 10" and "Samurai Jack," as players try to put an end to the evil that is seeping into their worlds.
"Punch Time Explosion XL" is a 2D brawler, staring 26 characters from 13 different Cartoon Network shows. Players can fight their way through the story mode, which should feel fairly like the Subspace Emissary mode in "Brawl," or jump right into fighting with friends in the games assortment of arcade mode variations. Up to four people can battle it out on the same screen in both co-op and competitive multiplayer.
The Assortment Of Characters
Variety is the spice of life, and "Punch Time Explosion" offers an amazing variety of spice, as it pulls characters from over 22 years of animation history, each with their own fighting style and special attacks. Digging deep into their archives to resurface characters like Captain Planet and Johnny Bravo should bring pangs of nostalgia to older gamers, while exposing the younger set to some true cartoon classics. No other game out there lets you use Samurai Jack to beat the life out of the Powerpuff Girls and Numbuh 1.
Play More, Get More
Forcing players to actually play through games to be rewarded with content is a practice that seems to be occurring less and less in modern day games. "Punch Time Explosion" uses the old-school thinking, and rewards players with characters as they are introduced in the game's story mode, with the rest available for purchases with points accumulated from completing matches. Adding another character or multiplayer stage to your roster comes with a special sense of achievement that doesn't always make an appearance in today's games.
"PTE XL" adds eight new playable characters to the game, but it also introduces six additional assist characters, bringing the total to 22. Assist characters appear on screen after grabbing and throwing a Cartoon Network box. Layered on top of that, each playable character has an assist partner, meaning that if the right character pops out of the assist box, they team up for an even more explosive attack.
Where's The Online?
It seems like developer Papaya Studio, and publisher Crave Games didn't get the memo about how fighting games are more fun when you're playing them against another person, or else they may have actually included online multiplayer in "PTE. " If "Smash Bros. Brawl" was able to do it three years ago on the Wii, it seems like a massive oversight on the Xbox 360, and PS3, two significantly better online platforms.
The characters in "Punch Time Explosion" have some of the most recognizable voices in cartoons history, and it's a shame those voices don’t play a bigger role in the game. Instead, Crave opted to write out all of the game's text, and have their characters spout out one-word catchphrases, Pokémon-style, when it's their turn to talk. Needless to say, the reading and catchphrases get old quickly.
Could Have Been Cell-Shaded Heaven
Bringing together this many cartoons, all in one place, means that a lot of different art styles are going to be colliding head-to-head, so it's relatively understandable that the characters do not retain their classic look and feel. Unfortunatly, the option to level the playing field makes it look like all the characters came from "ReBoot."
"Punch Time Explosion XL" builds on the 3DS release from earlier this year; however, it still lacks some key features, particularly online play. Outside of that, for gamers that don't own a Wii, "PTE" stands as a competent replacement for "Smash Bros.," especially if you're a big Cartoon Network fan. It has the right idea, solid franchises to support it, and a nice mix of nostalgia blend together for a fun experience. Possibly, if "Punch Time Explosion" was given a bigger budget, and some additional development time, this game could have been at the top of the ladder with its genre defining counterpart, but, instead, it's a rung or two below.