Say that title five times fast!
Anyway, as we all know, knockoffs are nothing new. We see them in everything. Everyday household items. Appliances, and of course creative media. Including obviously, video games. Over the last thirty or more years we’ve seen Pac-Man clones. Space Invaders clones. Super Mario Brothers clones. Street Fighter clones. Doom clones. Basically, one could spend a lifetime talking about the concept alone before even getting to the examples. Some of which I’ve already reviewed. Many knockoffs aren’t worth a second thought. But as Mortal Kombat, Saints Row, and others have taught us, sometimes they are. Taking a proven formula, and putting their own spin on it.
PROS: Nice graphics. Decent mechanics. Controls well.
CONS: Saves can’t be brought to another system. Unbalanced.
CAPTAIN PLANET: He’s our hero! Going to take pollution, down to zero!
Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion XL does just that. This time the target is Super Smash Bros. The SSB series looks like it can easily be copied at face value. The core concept of keeping combatants off of your hill or out of your ring seems simple. You have a cast of characters who are unique, yet share a simplified movement set.
Moving beyond that, Smash has also employed campaigns in past games. Such as Melee’s Adventure Mode, or Brawl’s Subspace Emissary Mode. Smash has a ton of different items you could add in for random fun. Or assist trophies, that enable NPCs to help you win. Nintendo’s series even has a lot of individual mini game challenges throughout the series from target smashing, to sandbag beating. All with mechanics that hyper-competitive players find quite deep. Today, the series has hardcore fans, and countless tournaments where the best players win enough cash to live on. It’s one of the most watched series on Twitch. Its reputation has reached the heights of games like Street Fighter, and Tekken.
To say that CNPTEXL has some lofty goals is an understatement. Does it get anywhere near the pedigree of Nintendo’s mascot party fighter? No. But is it a bad game? Shockingly, the answer is also no. This game takes Nintendo’s approach to mascots, and applies it to Time Warner’s Cartoon Network. The game was published a bit before the channel’s power houses Adventure Time, and Regular Show. So you won’t be playing as Benson or throwing down with Finn. However the game’s roster does go pretty far back to the channels early days. Dexter’s Lab, The Power Puff Girls, Samurai Jack, and Johnny Bravo all make appearances with many of their characters. Some of the later hits like Ben 10 & The Grim Adventures of Billy, and Mandy are here. And even some of the lesser known shows are represented.
The game has a campaign mode in the vein of Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s Subspace Emissary mode. The story is told by a narrator (Voiced by Space Ghost’s George Lowe), which follows the convergence of all of Cartoon Network’s shows. This follows a formula similar to Brawl’s. You will go through side scrolling platformer stages with brawler elements. Depending on the stage, you can use a certain number of characters. When you get to the end of the campaign it is revealed that the narrator’s TV remote has gone rogue, and is responsible for the merging of the realities. Of course, this remote is the final boss.
Along the way you’ll also unlock characters for you to use in the other mode. Again, much like the Subspace Emissary. The difference is that you use currency to do it. CNPTEXL has a Store option where you will find not only the bonus characters, but stages, alternate costumes, and clips from the various Cartoon Network shows. Clearing the game or playing enough in the other modes will give you points that can be used to unlock them. Once unlocked, the characters, and stages can be used in the Story mode or the Battle mode. There is a vault where the unlocked clips can be viewed, along with the character models. It works kind of like a cut down version of Smash’s trophy room. You can get info on the characters, what shows they belong to, and their original appearances. It isn’t nearly as deep as what you will find in Nintendo’s games, but it still gives you something to look forward to if you are a fan of the CN shows. The clips are DVD quality, and most of the clips are from some of the better shows’ moments.
The meat of the game is in its multiplayer. Battle mode is up to four players, and also allows you to use a variety of controllers. If you’re playing the Wii version you can use the Wiimote, and Nunchuck. Or you can opt for either a Classic Controller or a Gamecube Controller. As I’ve mentioned before, the core concept of CNPTEXL is the same as the Nintendo franchise it cribs from. Each of the game’s 26 stages will see players trying to keep each other off of the arena. You do this by attacking one another, to build up damage. The more damage you take, the farther you are knocked back with each successful hit. Each stage has a knockout zone around it. Going beyond it, or being unable to otherwise make it back to the arena results in a death.
The object of course is to be the last one with any lives left. The game plays as one would expect. There is a primary attack button, a special move button, a shield button, and a button for your finishers. Each of the main three buttons can be combined with directions. So as in Smash, you can get different moves based upon what direction is used with each. It also has smash attacks of its own. So pressing a direction with the attack button at the same time will dish out more knock back. The shield also allows you to roll out-of-the-way, and perform parries as in Smash. Many of the tactics employed in Smash like edge guarding can also work here. Even holding the shield for too long will break it, leaving you open to punishment. The finisher button is novel too in that you don’t have to chase down a smash ball. The one thing this game does to carve itself out a niche is the use of a gem system. Beating up on your opponent will cause them to drop gems. Collect enough of them, and you can use your finisher. Most of the finishers are pretty cool, and have anime inspired animations leading up to the attack.
In addition to the primary battle mode, there are a handful of variants. Choosing a custom match is similar to the way custom matches in Smash games work. You can turn assist trophies on or off, set the frequency of items, and set the time limit or number of lives. It does not let you go over each individual item however. Beyond the custom mode, there is a mode called Drones where the game will throw a bunch of NPC enemies into the match. Instead of scoring you on stock or knockouts, it instead scores you on whoever defeated the most computer controlled combatants.
There is also a variant called PTE mode, where you collect energy orbs. Think of it like the coin mode in the Smash series. Finally, there’s the arcade mode. This plays like the arcade mode in Smash. The game puts you in a ladder, against other combatants, and you’ll get a different ending for each character you beat the mode with.
As far as the look, and sound of the game go, the visuals are pretty nice, while the sound isn’t. All of the characters models look pretty good considering Papaya’s probable budget constraints. Backgrounds aren’t very detailed. Muddy textures cover most of the background objects, and small details are lost in the shuffle. Although one has to be impressed with some of the destruction, and transition that goes on in certain stages. Again, the finishing moves are actually pretty impressive. Especially if you’re a fan of some of these old shows. Audio is lackluster however. Aside from the voice samples, and quality during the unlockable clips, there isn’t much to recommend. Music isn’t all that memorable, and none of the effects will really wow you.
Despite all of the similarities with Nintendo’s games it still doesn’t hold a candle to Super Smash Bros. That’s the biggest trouble with Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion XL. The roster isn’t as large, and as great as many of these shows were, it simply isn’t as fun to pick up Johnny Bravo, as it is to pick up Donkey Kong. What’s worse is that the roster you do get isn’t really all that balanced. There are a handful of characters you’ll stick with if you do decide to play this with friends even remotely regularly. While every fighting game ends up with one or two characters that have more versatility, the best fighters still make everyone viable. This game really doesn’t. It was clearly made to be a Smash clone for people on a budget. Or at least for Cartoon Network fans who couldn’t get enough Smash-like experiences. Unfortunately while it does succeed on those merits, it won’t succeed in keeping you away from Nintendo’s franchise for very long. The fact you can’t unlock everything on your own, and bring it to a friend’s is disheartening too. Especially since, at least on the Wii, you can back up your save file to an SD card.
Still, if you do like some of these classic cartoons, you might want to check the game out anyway. It is by no means a terrible game, and it is a fun ride as far as licensed games go. But you aren’t going to drop Super Smash Bros. for this. Nor are you going to fool yourself into thinking you’re playing Super Smash Bros. if you pick it up on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. It’s average. But sometimes that’s enough.
Final Score: 6 out of 10