Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion
Developer: Papaya Studios
Publisher: Crave Games
Genre: Platformer /Fighter
Release Date: 06/03/2011
Punch Time Explosion is a strange duck. Not only is it a clone of the Super Smash Bros. series, but instead of primarily being a fighting game, 95% of the content is a platformer akin to SSB Melee’s The Subspace Emissary. This kind of threw me for a loop as I was expecting to being playing a fighting game, but that’s such a tiny part of the game. There are no Wi-Fi battles – only local battles and a downloadable mini version you can send to friends that don’t have the game. Even after beating Story Mode though, there were only eight accessible characters for the former and you can only use four in the latter which is…weird and underwhelming to say the least. I’m guessing the fact that no one unlocked in “Vs. CPU” (The game’s name for the fighting battles) for me is just another one of the many bugs or horrible design problems that plague Punch Time Explosion from beginning to end.
I was actually hoping Punch Time Explosion would be one of the better titles for the 3DS that I’ve played so far. I mean, how hard is it to ruin Super Smash Bros., right? Unfortunately, it not only turned out to be the worst game for the system in its short lifespan, but it’s up there with Thor: God of Thunder and The Tiny Bang Story as an easy contender for the worst game of the year. Are you ready to see how terrible the latest Cartoon Network game is?
Well, I can’t say the game is going to win any awards for storytelling, that’s for sure. The crux of the plot is that a remote control has not only become sentient, but it’s also EEEEVIL. It begins to combine all the Cartoon Network universes in a attempt to destroy/conquer them all – it’s never really says which, nor does it try to explain why. The remote control enlists some bad guys like Father, Vilgax and Mojo Jojo along the way too, although why these major bad guys go along with the remote isn’t explained either. As you can tell, there really isn’t an attempt to create a story more than, “give a slightly plausible reason for the team up.”
There’s a little more logic in why the good guys team up at least. It starts off with Ben Tennyson from Ben 10 who recruits characters and it goes on from there. You start with Ben, gain Chower and Buttercup and go from there. Eventually it’s “everyone is pulled together by Dexter” from Dexter’s Laboratory. You never are given an explanation of who the characters are or what they are about. The game just assumes you have watched every Cartoon Network original from the early 90s until today and if you haven’t, you are totally out of luck and have no idea who some of these characters are. A great example of this comes in Gamespot’s review of this game where they describe the narrator as “a CN voice-over guy” without realizing that the narrator is actually a cartoon character itself. It’s Space Ghost from Cartoon Planet and Space Ghost: Coast To Coast but the game never even mentions that. There’s just a very vague reference at the beginning of Story Mode and then…nothing. If you’ve seen the show at all, you’ll recognize his voice, but otherwise you’ll make that mistake like Gamespot’s reviewer. It’s not Gamespot’s fault either – it’s the damn game’s for not telling you anything about anyone in the game. You don’t even have a bio section to read about the characters and their cartoons. It’s terrible. It’s a disservice not only to the fans of these cartoons but to people who are new to some of them because they are too young/old/whatever to have caught them. Think about it with the Space Ghost problem. If they had included a bio for the “narrator,” Space Ghost could have been googled and some DVDs might have been sold by people who like the character’s voice and commentary. Same goes for any of these characters in the game. Samurai Jack has been out of production for seven years, Dexter’s Lab has been out for eight, and so on. How many ten to fifteen year olds, the core audience for this game, will have seen or even heard of these characters. It’s just horribly done all the way around.
From a thrown together plot without any characterization or real storytelling, you get forty-five stages of platforming and boss battles with only the barest of threads holding the various levels together. Ugh. So much wasted potential.
Story Rating: Bad
The visuals in Punch Time Explosion are a mixed bag. Backgrounds are acceptable, but there’s not a lot of detail to them. The fighting only stages tend to have more detail than the story mode platforming levels, but they’re also much smaller. Enemies also suffer from a lack of detail to them. Even the final boss, the living remote control monster, looks like something from the GBA era, rather than the 3DS one. The rank and files enemies are even worse. There are less than a dozen enemy types, and that’s including palette swaps. The best antagonist in the game is the two part Aku battle. Aku, in both his forms, looks great and is the only real visual that not only looks good, but like it was actually ripped from the cartoon.
Protagonist models are a mixed bag. What’s here is decent. You’ll be able to recognize the characters and they are of decent quality for a budget game from this era, but not for a $39.99 full budget 3DS release. Some characters, like Captain Planet, look horrible and almost 16 bit in quality. His character model is so tiny and lacking in detail, it’s a huge disappointment to see that this is your final unlockable character.
Then there are the “Cut scenes.” You would think a game based on cartoons would have actually hand drawn animation scenes in it, right? Well you’d be wrong. Instead it’s either a series of static images with slight animations that come off like a motion comic, or just in-game graphics with characters standing around talking. This is just another disappointment and kind of a slap in the face. You’re getting budget level visuals for a full budget price and that’s sure to disappoint anyone who looks at the game with a critical eye.
Finally, there is the fact that the game suffers from noticeable slowdown at time, screen tearing, and an inability for the camera to keep up with the platforming levels, causing it to have to catch up to where you are. In some levels, this can lead to your death. All in all, the graphics is the game are simply unacceptable for the a full budget release and compared to what we know is possible in the 3DS.
Graphics Rating: Bad
You would think that this would be the best area in the game, after Papaya studios dropped the ball on the graphics, right? Well once again, you would be horribly wrong. Instead of actually having the game completely voiced by the actual actors that play the characters, only one character is actually voiced throughout the entire game, and that’s Space Ghost by George Lowe. Every other character gets about three lines in the game. One that is said EVERY TIME a dialogue box comes up, even though it has nothing to do with the conversation at hand (Yes, Blossom, we know who you are. You don’t have to say, “I’m Blossom!” several hundred times.), one for when they are smashed off the screen, and a third line that rarely comes up. That’s it. There’s no one liners during combat, or even any grunts or signs of pain when you are hit. Just three generic sound bites per character that are repeated over and over again until you want to kill someone. If I ever hear flapjack say “ADVENTURE!” again, I think I will have an aneurysm. At least George Lowe does a great job, but even he can’t save the game from being a massive disappointment in this category due to everything being half-assed.
There isn’t a lot for sound effects either. You mostly get the same generic sound when you attack, regardless of character. Special attacks have some variety, but it’s pretty generic noises that are forgettable and bland.
The music is the game is poorly done as well. You would think the game would use tracks from the actual cartoon, right? Again, common sense doesn’t prevail in Punch Time Explosion and instead you get dull, plodding tracks for each of the ten levels in story mode. Wouldn’t it make sense to have the PowerPuff Girls theme when you are in Townsville or the Dexter’s Lab theme when you are well…in Dexter’s Lab? They aren’t here. You seriously have to wonder if anyone at Papaya have actually seen any of these cartoons or how Cartoon Network approved this. My guess is CN was more concerned with getting some extra money rather than their characters being portrayed with some sense of quality.
Sound Rating: Bad
4. Control and Gameplay
This is one of two categories where Punch Time Explosion not only falls apart, but disastrously so. The game IS playable, but only just barely. The game crashed on me several times, and there are also multiple game killing bugs. In the final stage of the boss fight against the Remote Control, the control just NEVER SHOWED up. I sat there for five minutes trying to figure out what to do and then realized it was just a horrible bug. I had to kill my characters, restart the battle from the beginning and this time he showed up for the final bit. How the hell did that get through playtesting? My guess is there actually wasn’t any, because as bad at that bug was, there are ones that are equally bad littered throughout the game. Besides the having to restart the boss battle, you’ll have to deal with random game crashes, platforms not showing when they are supposed to be there, forcing you to start the level over from the beginning in hopes that they show up, slowdown issues, bits where the animation of the characters freeze and they will slide across the game in a specific animation, bits where you need to double jump where the game stops accepting double jump commands, bits where the game won’t let you throw what you are holding, bits where your character will just freeze up and not accept any input for a few milliseconds, bits where you will press right and your character will go LEFT, collision detection issues, bits where your character will phase through the opponent (or vice versa) and several others that I could mention but this is one hell of a run on sentence to begin with. Needless to say, this game is horribly designed from beginning to end. There’s no excuse for some of these bugs, and certainly none for the sheer number of issues that plague this game. Everyone involved needs to be ashamed of the final product.
There, now let’s talk about the controls. You have four control schemes you should choose from. The default set is pretty terrible and you should start the game by switching it to Type B, as it works the best for hand positioning and is the closest to the typical platforming game button scheme, making it easiest for you to play the game instinctively. The game’s controls are the exact same as the Super Smash Bros. series, at least in layout. In terms of actual precision, calling the game a fifth rate SSB clone is still insulting to Hal Labs’ series.
You have a button to jump with, a button for regular attacks, a button for signature attacks, a button to grab and huck, and both triggers allow you to block. For regular attacks, you have one attack if you simply press the button, one for if you hold down a direction and then press the button and one for if you hit a directional command at the same time you press a button. In theory this gives you eight different attacks (Left and right are the same attack) and four different signature attacks. Unfortunately (I’ve been saying that a lot with this game, haven’t I?) while this works in theory, getting the game to actually respond to the commands is another story. The same holds true for signature attacks. Let’s use Flapjack as an example. I can’t tell you how many times I tried his candy cane boomerang attack (Signature attack plus left/right) and got just a candy lob (Just pressing the SA button). Now I tend to be insanely good at fighting games. I can count frames, I perfected Nightmare Geese. I finally perfected Galactus after months of trying and so on. As such, it’s pretty safe to say that it’s not me having a problem with the controls, especially since they are so simplistic compared to other fighting games. To make sure I popped in the other fighting games I have for the 3DS and was pulling off moves with ease. This just shows that the input detection in Punch Time Explosion is crapulence, pure and simple.
As I said at the beginning of this section, the game is playable – but only barely. Any fighting game fan (especially SSB ones) will be aghast at the engine and the multiple problems that Punch Time Explosion suffers from. This game should never have been released to the general public in this state and certainly not with this price tag.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Worthless
Well, there’s no reason to replay story mode once you have finished it, but if you choose to, you can do a level select instead of going through the whole thing over again. Be sure not to choose “New Game” though, as it will erase everything you’ve unlocked. “Continue Game” is your friend, even after you’ve beaten the thing.
Unfortunately nothing that you unlock in Story Mode also unlocks in Vs. Play, either against friends or the CPU. This is insane on multiple levels. And just the realization that you have to unlock everything all over again should annoy you to the point where you won’t even try to. You’ll just swear at the game YET AGAIN, take it out of your DS and trade the piece of crap in. Or take a hammer to it, your call.
If you do choose to unlock everything again, god have mercy on your soul, you’ll need to go through several dozen battles and win all of them to unlock everything. Otherwise you and your friends are stuck with eight of the eighteen characters only, or four of the eighteen if you only have a single cart. This boggles my mind in terms of how piss poor this was planned out. Unlocking characters in story mode ONLY? Sigh.
Finally, there are records and stats that are kept, but even this is half assed. It only gives rudimentary info, like length of time on a stage, number of wins, number of Kos and that’s it. There are specific stats for each character or ay info/biography on them, so don’t bother looking.
In truth, due to how horrible the game is to play and insane decisions like not unlocking characters in Story Mode and multiplayer AT THE SAME TIME, Punch Time Explosion almost goes out of its way to make itself a “one and done” title. If you choose to persevere, you can get a modicum of replay value out of it. Otherwise it’s the worst fighting game I’ve ever seen in terms of replay value.
Replayability Rating: Poor
Balance is another area where Punch Time Explosion goes to hell. First, the platforming levels are some of the worst I’ve ever seen. Now part of this is because of bugs that can keep necessary platforms from appearing, but part of it is simply level design and yet another part is due to the weirdness of checkpoints. Sometimes there are checkpoints that you start over on if a character dies, while sometimes you start all the way back at the beginning of the level. It’s a bit nonsensical. The same thing happens with some boss fights. Let’s say you have to kill twenty five stooges as a boss fight. If your character dies in it, you MAY have to start the counter back at 0/25 with the new character or it may stay where you were. It depends on the fight, the character and sheer randomness. This is either a bug or there wasn’t communication in any of the stages where this occurs. Either way, it’s a sign of a horribly made game.
Then there is character balance. In truth there is one character that is pretty nigh unstoppable compared to the others, and that’s Blossom. She is the only character that can outright fly around the stage instead of a leaping attack, which makes her pretty easy to keep alive. She’s also the fastest character and has a half screen melee attack and a distance attack with her freeze breath so anytime Blossom is used, either in story mode or in multiplayer mode, she not only wins, but she dominates insanely. I loved her in story mode just to end the damn thing, but she made everything too easy where some characters would have to make a double jump just to clear the distance some characters could with a single jump. There was obviously no attempt to balance the game as some characters are just downright awful in every way (Captain K’nuckles) while two other characters (Captain Planet and FlapJack) are extremely powerful compared to the other playable protagonists (save for Blossom). Again, it doesn’t feel like any playtesting went on AT ALL in this game. Characters and their moves, jump distance and power levels are all just thrown together. It’s really, really sad and again, it’s indicative that there was little to no play testing nor any real attempt at making anything of quality.
Balance Rating: Worthless
Punch Time Explosion is a Super Smash Bros. copy cat, albeit it a terrible one. It copies every aspect of the game, from the “character mashup” philosophy to the platforming story mode, to the exact gameplay style and layout. The only two things that separate the two is that Punch Time Explosion is that Punch Time is horrible and it features Cartoon Network (or Time Warner in the case of Captain Planet) characters instead of Nintendo ones. PTE is utterly devoid of originality, quality and anything that might make the game stand out from the SSB series. It’s an ever bigger clone than the numerous hack and slash RPGs that piggybacked on Diablo in the 90s.
Originality Rating: Bad
Playing against the computer in the “fighting game” mode was dull and boring, regardless of the number of opponents and difficulty setting. There just wasn’t much to do and the thought on unlocking every character again just turned me off touching the game again. Story mode was cute at first as you saw how all the characters met, but it quickly become a chore due to the bugs, horrible level design and the fact Blossom could circumvent the entire game like Mario with a P-Wing in SMB3. Honestly, I did keep playing and beat the entire story mode in a single afternoon only because I kept hoping it would get better…but it never did. Once I beat that, I knew I’d never want to touch this game again and that it was nothing more than trade-in fodder. I hate playing through most of the game, but honestly, if they had tweaked character balance, level design, and cleaned up at least half of the bugs, it would have been a mediocre affair. Instead, it was just painful to play through from beginning to end.
Addictiveness Rating: Bad
9. Appeal Factor
Super Smash Bros. is popular. There is no denying that. There is also no denying that all of the characters in Punch Time Explosion were popular at one point or another. Because of this combination, Punch Time Explosion will no doubt sell to a decent number of gamers. God knows I fell for the hype and premise. Sure, most gamers will be appalled by the final results, but some will still champion it, not only because every game is someone’s favorite, but because the concept of the pairing is enough for some to overlook the litany of flaws this game is filled with. At the end of the day, those that are easy to please or who manage to find local friends (remember, there’s no online gaming with this title) who also have a copy of PTE, will get a decent amount of fun out of it, even though no one will sit through Story Mode a second time unless forced. Still never underestimate the power of licensed properties, the plagiarism of something popular and the sheepishness of people in large groups.
Appeal Factor Rating: Mediocre
As with all 3DS games, our miscellaneous section is devoted to both the quality and the relevance of the 3D visuals in the title. Like most 3DS titles, the 3D visuals don’t really add anything to the game. It’s merely a fluff perk. You won’t gain a perspective advantage nor will it impact how you play. It’s just Punch Time Explosion in 3D. One thing you will notice is the graphics do get slightly, but noticeably grainer as you raise the 3DS’ slider. There are also times where the camera is playing catchup after slowdown or outright freezing where you’ll get a double image. This lasts for only a second, but between that and the lowered visual quality (on a game that isn’t that hot to look at in the first place), and you’ll end up keeping the game in 2D for the majority of your time with it. Really, Punch Time Explosion would have been better off on the regular DS. The 3D is not only a gimmick here, but It doesn’t add anything to the overall experience of the game in any way.
Miscellaneous Rating: Mediocre
Control and Gameplay: Worthless
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: BAD GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
To call Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion a third rate Super Smash Bros. clone, is not only an insult to Hal Labs’ fighting/platform hybrid series, but it’s also an insult to actual third rate games everywhere. The game’s bugs are plentiful, the visuals and story are subpar, it suffers from button and collision detection issues galore and somehow the game made it through play testing with Blossom being the absolute best at everything instead of a balanced roster. Factor in the lack of any real voice acting save for the same two or three lines of dialogue per character, some truly terrible platforming levels and the fact you can only engage in multiplayer via local play and you have a game that is in no way shape or form worth its $39.99 price tag. Whether it’s the revelation that characters you unlock in story mode are not also unlocked in Multiplayer or the fact that the game is basically a Bizzaro World Smash Bros where everything that game does right, Punch Time Explosion does horribly, this is a game for burning, not playing. At least the narrator is Space Ghost. That’s the one positive thing I can say about Punch Time Explosion.