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Cartoon Network Punch-Time Explosion Review

By Matt Cabral, 6/22/2011

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Nintendo 3DS owners sick of punching and kicking their way through core fighters such as Street Fighter 3DS and Dead of Alive: Dimensions, and craving a more casual beat-’em up, may want to put up their dukes up for Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion. Yes, it’s a blatant rip-off of the Smash Bros. series, and no, it’s not nearly as polished as Nintendo’s mascot mash-up, but it still packs plenty of personality and fast, accessible action. Sporting a robust story mode, local competitive play, and more Cartoon Network fan service than you can shake an Omnitrix at, CNPTE is worth checking out for anyone raised on reruns of The Powerpuff Girls, Dexter‘s Laboratory, Samurai Jack, and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, among other CN staples.

The lengthy, side-scrolling single-player mode brims with Cartoon Network flavor and charm, as well as tons of gameplay variety. A simple story sets the stage and provides some wacky justification for why all these animated stars have joined forces--obviously, the sinister plotting of some evildoers has brought them together. You won’t be too concerned with narrative depth, however, once you begin brawling through the story’s varied environments with a diverse cast of CN stars. While players begin their journey as Ben Tennyson, they’ll soon unlock an impressive roster of nearly 20 animated butt-kickers---including Dexter, Jack, Bill and Mandy, Grim, Chowder, and Buttercup--as they battle, platform, and puzzle-solve through settings based on the characters’ respective shows.

The straightforward controls include standard and signature attacks, as well as the title’s screen-clearing namesake, Punch Time Explosions; unleashing these bad boys, which are earned by collecting cubes from fallen foes, yields an over-the-top attack complemented by an exaggerated, animated cutscene. Throws, blocks and double-jumps are also tossed into the mix, injecting a bit more nuance into the button-mashy melees. When not beating on baddies, players are sent through obstacle-riddled stages or taking part in one of many mini-game diversions. There’s some on-rails segments, as well as challenges that make creative use of the 3DS’s unique control options; you’ll be tasked with moving objects by blowing into the microphone and thumb the touch- screen to fire projectiles.

Of course, your cartoon crew will also be called upon to thwart level-capping bosses, some of which are more frustrating than fun to face-off against. This same sentiment can also be attributed to other areas of CNPTE’s sometimes undercooked production. For example, frustration will also find you when poorly placed checkpoints force you to repeat several minutes of gameplay, or when floaty controls and suspect hit detection leave you wondering why you, not your opponent, just got owned. The worst offenders don’t pop up often, but when they do, some of the fun’s quickly sapped from the experience.

Visually, the title pleasantly pops off the screen even when the hardware’s 3D slider is turned off. Colorful levels, packed with Cartoon Network call-outs, well animated characters, and some surprisingly detailed set pieces, ensure the experience is graphically engaging throughout. Save for a few especially chaotic, eye-straining moments, the 3D effect is also expertly implemented. Because the game primarily unfolds on flat planes, background and foreground effects--enhanced by the extra dimension--add some nice eye-popping zing. While the visual presentation will have you appreciating your new Nintendo hardware, the audio work is hit and miss. Smashing sound effects nicely support the baddie-beating action, and the narrator’s pretty damn entertaining, but the overuse of character catchphrases gets grating fast. Hearing your defeated avatar repeat the same few lines every time they’re booted off screen is a salt-in-wound punishment alleviated only by turning down the volume.

CNPTE’s severely lacking online options are another sticking point. Ratcheting your buddies’ hit counters just before sending them flying from the stage packs a frantically-paced Smash Bros.-flavored addictiveness. However, unless you go with the extremely limited Download Play options, you’ll need at least one local friend who’s also shelled out the cash for a copy of the game. Sure, it supports up to four players, but is anyone actually blessed with a trio of friends that aren’t ashamed to admit they like the Powerpuff girls?

Solo fighters can also duke it out with the CPU, but the real draw here is CNPTE’s surprisingly fleshed-out story mode. Lightning-quick combat, loads of unlockable characters, fun stages that effectively capture the flavor of the source material, and varied challenges should keep fans absorbed throughout. It’s not about to rob Smash Bros. of its championship belt, but it’s still a thumb-blistering good time for anyone who can claim to have spent a few couch-bound afternoons soaking in Cartoon Network’s unique brand of boob-tube fare.

Overall: 7 out of 10



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