Punching a Powerpuff Girl in the face is always a welcomed experience. So is hitting Dexter in the head with a giant candy cane, or drop-kicking Samurai Jack off of a cliff. In Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion all these things happen and more, as numerous Cartoon Network franchises come together to duke it out in an Super Smash Bros.-inspired fighter.
Actually, “inspired” is underselling it a bit, as everything in this game is ripped straight from the SSB text-book. Double jumps, chargeable smash attacks, butt-saving special moves triggered by pressing Up and B: it's all here. Players can block and roll, do grabs and pick up items (one of which is a star wand), and there is even a trophy-like item that calls in assists from lesser-known Cartoon Network characters. Yet while the game takes all these Smash Bros elements and covers them in a Cartoon Network veneer, the pieces just never really come together in the same way.
There is no Ganondorf or Ike here, no range of speed and power in the roster, just a bunch of fighters with different moves that all feel the same. The attack animations are very loose, and fighting has an intangible, airy feel to it. Movement lacks precision and speed, and there is no satisfying weight to you character, no drop to the jumps. This is likely due to the strange physics engine that runs the game, which causes the characters to float about the screen in a silly, uncontrollable manner, lowering the strategic qualities of the game.
Still, learning each character's special moves, abilities and smash attacks is always fun, and before long you'll find a character you can settle into comfortably enough. Learning which special attacks are best for softening-up your opponents and which are best for knockback is pretty much as deep as it goes however. Hitting opponents causes blue gems to be knocked out of them, which when collected earn players a unique “Punch Time Explosion” attack, operating like a Final Smash.
For Cartoon Network fanatics, there is loads of fan service poured into Punch Time Explosion. Characters from old favourites like Dexter's Lab and Powerpuff Girls are all playable fighters, and thanks to a SSBB-inspired trophy item, assisted attacks come in the form of cameos from characters left out of the fight like Johnny Bravo, Stickybeard and Ben 10's Kevin Levin. Less widely-known shows are given love as well, with the game featuring Flapjack and Captain K' Nuckles from The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, and Chowder and his pet fart Kimchi from the cancelled show Chowder, among others. Eventually players will even be able to unlock Captain Planet.
The main problem is that most of these characters feel too much alike; sure, they all have unique move sets, but for the most part they all have the same feeling of speed, weight, power and knockback. Dynamism in fighters comes from a truly well-balanced roster, but here the special moves of each character are too alike, and in and of themselves are not diverse enough to add much depth to the gameplay.
The game features no traditional fighting-game story mode where you battle through a series of increasingly challenging matches before facing a final boss. Instead, you play through a side-scrolling platformer mode much like Super Smash Bros. Brawl's “Subspace Emissary.” Here, Dexter's “travel machine” (that's what they call it) goes into various Cartoon Network universes, where players will have traverse platforming segments before recruiting the protagonists of each show, usually done by beating them up. Together, they battle back the evil force causing all the chaos in the shows' universes.
The side-scrolling story mode is a little slow, as all the levels are quite easy and serve mainly to bring you to a boss battle. The worlds you traverse are inspired by various cartoons, but feel pretty uninspired, consisting of bland backgrounds, easy enemies and phoned in 3D effects. Aside from periodically layered foregrounds, there isn't much 3D to enjoy here, and you may turn find yourself turning off the 3D effect just to follow the action on the screen.
At the end of each level in Story Mode you battle a boss, who usually joins your roster once defeated. These boss battles prove fun, but mostly because they play just like exhibition matches, which are the funnest part of the game. You likely know the drill here, as the goal is to stay on the stage while attempting to knock your opponents off the screen.
If this were the only way to unlock new characters, that would be a pretty big bummer, but thankfully, you can just jump into Battle Mode and set up fights to earn new characters. Here you fight up to three CPU opponents at once, adjusting things like difficulty, time and lives to your liking, as well as the amount of items that will appear. Simply winning these battles unlocks new characters, so if you are turned off by Story Mode you can still flesh out your roster by winning exhibition matches.
Worst of all there is no online mode, a feature that would have undoubtedly added a lot of value to the package. Still, the game has a basic multiplayer mode with Download Play included too, so if you have a pal with a 3DS you can sync up wirelessly and do battle with just one copy of the game.
The graphics and sound in the game are well done, and character models are spot on. The environments aren't treated to the same amount of detail, but some exhibition stages shine, like Flapjack's ship level, which uses foreground ships and pieces of cardboard cut-out water to create a theatre-like effect. There are tons of voice samples and one-liners too, like Numbah One yelling “that was an adult sized fall!” each time he gets knocked off screen. Even the 1950's styled, all-American announcer from Powerpuff Girls narrates the entire affair, peppering the game with some much welcomed bouts of humour.
Without an online mode, the amount of enjoyment you'll be able to glean from this game will depend highly on the amount of people you know who own a 3DS. If you've got some nearby pals to play with, you can all join up to battle using only one cart; if not, you'll have to rely on CPU matches and the Story Mode to stay entertained. Sadly the game's side-scrolling Story Mode is disappointing, as the main attraction of the game is its fights, which can just be easily whipped up in Battle Mode. The game treats you to some impressive character models and voice-overs, and there are plenty of inside jokes with nods to characters' shows. But everything from the story to the moves to the items are ripped straight from Smash Bros., and the pieces just never come together into a similarly quality experience.