There’s definitely a weird charm to Cartoon Network’s original programming that plays to the sensibilities of children today but also harkens back to animated shows of yore. They’re pithy in their delivery of laughs, willing to riff off of in-show in-jokes and are even a little iconic in their simplistic art styles. Rather than try and strike out with single show titles, publisher GameMill has opted to take an all-star approach to its latest game - Cartoon Network: Battle Crashers - by combining the likes of Adventure Time, Regular Show, Uncle Grandpa, Clarence, Steven Universe and The Amazing World of Gumball into an old fashioned beat ‘em up. Does it hold up to obvious inspirations like Konami's arcade renditions of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Simpsons or does it fall as flat as its 2D arty style?
While falling asleep at the wheel of his Winnebago, Uncle Grandpa’s stick shift gets moved to the “dimensional rift” setting by a mysterious adversary that has him careening to other cartoons and haphazardly picking up protagonists from other shows. Without much but a whim to go on, they band together to thump their way through various show-themed stages to presumably tackle whomever set this adventure in motion. Don’t expect much in terms of storyline here, as beyond the extremely sharp renditions of characters, there isn’t much plot to speak of or even voice acting to give life to it.
It seems very negligent to rob these otherwise energetic and talkative characters of wisecracks. They just feel like empty vessels under the guise of your favourite cartoons. There are various cameos as well but they feel slapped together and are similarly lifeless, even when given written dialog to give players hints or power-ups. Everybody and thing is just kind of…there. If it had nailed this aspect other things could have been glossed over as is typical in a licensed game, but Battle Crashers doesn’t even try to be the one thing people expect of it, which is borderline unforgivable.
There are some neat aspects to the game, but nothing that ever ends up being truly interesting. Each character has a jump and attack, but can expand their repertoire by collecting gems strewn about the level. Some of the additional attacks and perks such as shield-breaking and elemental blows seem to add another layer to the game, but you’ll eventually fall back on just jamming the punch/shoot button. You can swap between characters to maximize all their disparate abilities, but you’ll eventually just fall in line with the character whose attack fits your style and stick with them. Hit detection issues abound as watching 2D characters move in a 3D plane gives players a hard time lining up their shots.
Each different cartoon universe has three stages, ending in a boss battle, but without any visual panache or even looping theme music playing, they tend to bleed into each other as you go. Enemy tactics include running at the player and attacking, running at the player and attacking whilst also poisoning them and running at the player whilst also hitting them with an elemental attack. It’s droll, continual and more than a little boring. Boss battles add simple pattern recognition, but more often than not it’s simply a case of spamming your attacks and taking the hits as health is plentiful and, even if you lose a character, you just switch to another anyway. It’s worth noting you can have up to four players involved simultaneously, but in this reviewer's experience it didn’t add anything to the experience. It was just as bland with friends and family as it was solo.
While it has its brief moments of fun, Cartoon Network: Battle Crashers is a mediocre side-scrolling beat ‘em up that doesn’t do the genre or its license justice. While its visuals pop, the lack of plot or voice acting - along with a tepid control scheme - make the game feel more like a cheap cash-in and less like a competent gaming experience to all but the most ardent fans of the cheeky stable of Cartoon Network properties.