Even at a brief glance, it isn’t hard to see where Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion draws inspiration from. That said, when the game’s official website states that it “wears its Super Smash Bros. influences on its sleeve”, you can at least respect the developer for being honest.
In essence, it is similar in all aspects. A four-player brawler set across Cartoon Network-inspired multi-tiered 2D stages, on which characters bash each other to pieces using unique move sets, items and assist characters.
Compared to its console counterpart the Nintendo 3DS version has a marginally smaller character roster, although this doesn’t prove too detrimental despite the notable absence of suave ladies man Johnny Bravo. Each, as can be expected, is plucked from Cartoon Network’s most cherished animated series, the likes of Ben 10: Ultimate Alien, Chowder, Codename: Kids Next Door, Dexter’s Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, and Samurai Jack all included.
Each can perform Normal, Knockout and Signature attacks, differentiated by pressing the Control Pad (or Circle Pad) in a certain direction whilst pressing the corresponding attack button. Signature attacks are the clear highlight, Ben Tennyson transforming into his alien forms, Dexter zapping enemies with his ray gun, and The Powerpuff Girls whizzing across the screen.
There’s also the game’s namesake ‘Punch Time Explosions’, unique to each individual character and performed by collecting Power Cubes that fill a gauge on the touchscreen. Once full, a quick tap will see you character launch into their PTE, with Flapjack, for instance, calling an enormous octopus that deals widespread damage before hurling a shipwreck toward the screen. These form the most visually impressive moments within the game, if not ridiculously similar in style to the ‘Final Smash’ in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, enabling you to regain, or maintain, an upper hand.
Seeking to grant combat variety, the roster proves a mixed bag. The more popular characters seem to be the most balanced, or better thought out, whereas those lesser-known are inconsistent in design and noticeably weaker.
With the majority of characters initially locked, this forcibly necessitates a playthrough of Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion’s core Story Mode. The loose plot, an attempt at providing a reason for the Cartoon Network characters being brought together, sees the channel’s TV announcer take the day off to watch his favourite television series. Yet, in doing so, he discovers that a dimensional disturbance has caused the characters to be transported to each other’s programmes, who must, therefore, race to discover the cause before they are wiped from existence.
Level design is a repetitive bore, the handheld’s functionality hardly implemented beyond firing projectiles from catapults using the touch screen Angry Birds style. Frequent bouts against enemy AI heighten frustrations with inconsistency, the only motivation knowing that your reward is to unlock the game’s best characters.
Replay value beyond this proves just as troublesome. Battle Mode grants the chance to fight against local players, Download Play or against CPU, though lack of customisation depth makes these instantly forgettable. Aside from that, there’s nothing else to occupy your time. An inexcusable, poor reward for your efforts indeed.
Fans will enjoy seeing their favourite characters going head-to-head, yet Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion proves a disappointment. It’s a shame to see such a strong IP once again have to endure such a lacklustre release. Even as a self-confessed Super Smash Bros. clone there’s potential here, it’s ideas are never fully realised.