One of my watchers recently reviewed TMNT Smashup as part of a series on the developer, Game Arts. This got me thinking about another Smash Bros Clone that I haven't played in a while: Cartoon Network Punchtime Explosion XL. If you're like me, you were probably leery of this 2011 party brawler due to the obviously low budget quality of most Cartoon Network games, but now that it's ten bucks or less, should you pick it up? If you're a CN fan, then yeah, knock yourself out, but if you're looking for something to compete with Smash, then steer clear of this one. Why, you ask? Well, have a look for yourself. I can't get the video to embed correctly, so skip to 2:18 for the actual fighting.
GRAPHICS - Not bad, considering this game probably had a tiny budget and was ported to consoles from the 3DS. Characters look good and are creatively modeled to match each show's distinct art style, while their animations are extremely fluid and capture each character's personality flawlessly. There are even bonus costumes that reference specific episodes such as the RowdyRuff Boys and Flapjack's fish costume. Stages look equally impressive, and recreate the unique atmosphere found in places like Endsville, Dexter's Lab, and Stormalong among many other locations. One gripe you may have with the visuals is that they're not cel-shaded, but that's really more of a personal preference than anything.
PRESENTATION - Pretty darn good. Menus may be simplistic, but they're very reminiscent of Cartoon Network's ads from 2010. I really wish they had gone further with this commercial theme to make it look like you were watching TV while on the menus, but I'm just happy they're easy to navigate and that everything is where you'd expect it to be. Story mode is also narrated by George Lowe (Space Ghost) as he watches the cartoon world go to hell in a handbasket, which I thought was a fun way of relating the events instead of everything just sort of happening.
GAMEPLAY - Although it's headed in the right direction, it manages to be horribly awkward nonetheless. The gameplay is appropriately fast and frenetic with nearly identical mechanics to that of Smash, but the AI is so frustratingly aggressive that you have to begin an attack well before the opponent gets close to you in order to land the hit, and charging those attacks is practically useless because of how quick your opponent is. It doesn't help matters when your attacks can't create any space between you and the enemy or they simply turn around every time you roll past them for an attempted sneak attack. Most items are useless, but you'll be making a mad dash for assists, health power ups, and the energy cubes you knock out of other players to charge your special meter. The stages are equal parts fun and irritating with my chief complaint being that many are too small or have restrictive walls that prevent KOs. The two biggest offenders are Mt Fondoom because it's nothing but three shaky platforms over a boiling sea of queso, and the inside of Bubbie the whale's mouth since you can't score easily even when she opens it. All that aside, PTE features a decent story mode that includes some light platforming elements and minigames similar to Brawl's Subspace Emissary, but after you've completed it, there's really not much left other than going for the achievements/ trophies.
SOUND - It's all just really weird music that would fit the shows perfectly, but it doesn't set the mood for a fast paced brawler like this. In addition, many of the characters don't have their original voice actors, so now Dexter sounds more like The Fairly Oddparents' Timmy Turner since Tara Strong provides his voice. You'd think they could just rip voices straight from the cartoons since they're all out-of-context one-liners, but there must be some some kind of licensing issue at play here.
CONTROL - Tight and responsive, control is one of the few things that was handled correctly. Everything does what it's supposed to do, so I have no criticisms on this point.
ROSTER - A lot of people have complained about the roster in this game as it doesn't represent a very wide variety of series, but when you consider that it has 24 characters and no clones, that point seems more like whiny bitching rather than a legitimate complaint. Sure, there's no Courage or Ed, Edd, n' Eddy, and some vital characters like DeeDee are lazily thrown in as assists, but this game has more unique playable characters than Melee did, so I'm willing to cut it a little slack in this department. My biggest issue is that certain shows like the PowerPuff Girls are over-represented with five freaking characters.
EXTRAS - Not as extensive as Smash, but more so than a lot of games these days. You'll gain points from battle that can be used to purchase content such as characters, costumes, stages, and a ton of video clips featuring memorable CN moments like Dexter's "My hair is on fire!" segment, or my fave, Billy's "Destroy us all!" rant.
FINAL VERDICT - As a general fan of Cartoon Network, my personal opinion of this game remains somewhat high despite its shortcomings. It feels like a game that was on the right track, but was rushed out the door during the beta stage because the publisher wanted to make a quick buck rather than give people something they actually wanted. Playing the game makes you realize just how much potential the Cartoon Network license has for a game like this, and if they could somehow secure a big budget crossover with Nicktoons and give the developers time to work, I would be all over that game.