“Punch Time Explosion XL” doesn’t just take inspiration from Nintendo’s “Super Smash Bros.” series. Rather, it’s as if Dexter, Samurai Jack, and a bunch of their Cartoon Network buddies staged an invasion to oust Mario, Link, and the rest of the Smash Bros. gang from the land of zany multiplayer brawlers and claim the territory as their own. The Cartoon Network crew makes a spirited effort, and they give Punch Time Explosion plenty of personality. But once the superficial and short-lived pleasure of seeing Blossom and Ben Tennyson battle each other in Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends wears off, the shallow combat and frustrating platforming quickly grow tiresome. Though this updated version for consoles adds a few new modes and a number of new playable characters and stages to those featured in the original 3DS release, these additions don’t make the gameplay any more exciting.
Hell hath no fury like a possessed Powerpuff Girl.
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Like the games that it imitates, “Punch Time Explosion XL” is a fighting-focused party game in which up to four characters clobber each other on a 2D plane. There are a total of 26 playable characters; eight of these, including fan-favorite Johnny Bravo, are new to this version. As you take damage, a number displayed as a percentage increases, and the higher this number gets, the farther you’re liable to go flying when hit. You lose a life when you’re knocked from the stage or fall from it. Each character has standard attacks and a number of signature moves at his or her disposal, as well as a special attack that can be performed once a meter is full. A variety of weapons – flyswatters, magic wands, and so forth – spawn frequently, and if you’re quick enough to grab them before an opponent does, they can significantly increase your power. In addition, special items show up that, when collected, summon non-playable Cartoon Network characters like Panini and Valhallen to lend you a hand for a short time.
The playable characters exude all the charm of their TV selves; Flapjack’s absent-minded, goofy grin is infectious, and Buttercup’s glare tells you she means business. But a small number of voice samples that repeat much too frequently make the game’s sound design grate; hearing Ben Tennyson exclaim “I should have picked a flying alien!” for the umpteenth time as he’s sent soaring off the field in defeat may push you to turn the voices off altogether.
The environments in which you do battle contribute to the craziness. One arena has you fighting on the rooftops of Townsville while a giant robot smashes the buildings under your feet. Another finds you in the mouth of a giant whale who sometimes belches huge amounts of water and dead fish into the sea, threatening to expunge you as well. The result of all this is a chaotic game in which the unpredictability and zaniness generate some short-term fun as you discover what happens on the various stages and what the various items and supporting characters do. But whether you’re playing against CPU opponents or friends, this chaos also makes it difficult to take much satisfaction in victory; so much happens all the time that the ultimate outcome seems as dependent on chance as on skill. You can opt to play with fewer items or no items at all, but stripping away these distractions only makes it more clear that the underlying combat is shallow and that attacks have no sense of impact. Characters tend to come together and dish out their attacks willy-nilly until one is sent flying.