Perhaps I was the only male over the age of thirteen to hope that Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion XL for the Xbox 360 was something more than a sloppy clone of Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. series of character-driven fighting games.
What can I say? I love cartoons. I've loved them all my life, and during the turn of the century you couldn't find better cartoons than the ones on Cartoon Network. Shows like The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Dexter's Laboratory, Samurai Jack, and The Powerpuff Girls weren't just new animated television shows. They helped shape a changing perception of what a Western cartoon could be.
I realise I am in the minority here, and that the target audience for most of these characters are, at the very least, a third my age. I can't expect a game featuring the "kiddy" characters I love to be crafted to my level of appreciation.
Why the hell not?
Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion XL, actually an enhanced console port of a Nintendo DS game, treads the same territory as another 2011 cartoon-themed release, Nicktoons MLB. The Nickelodeon game also features iconic characters that have garnered as many (if not more) adult fans than children. Characters like Ren and Stimpy or Invader Zim and Gir have the potential to really draw in a crowd of fans, if not for the all-too-often correct perception that games like these are sloppy titles meant to make a quick buck of a character's likeness.
Is that what Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion XL is?
At first I was hopeful that it wasn't, but I'm beginning to think those initial pangs of excitement were nothing more than the neglected cartoon fan inside me shaking off the cobwebs. I mean, it's Super Smash Bros. with Ben 10, Codename: Kids Next Door, and Johnny Bravo; what could possibly go wrong?
Well for one, it's not quite Super Smash Bros. It sure wants to be, featuring the same percentage=based health indicators, similar off-screen death effects, and partner character cameos from a wide variety of Cartoon Network properties. But where the Smash Bros. series has always been at least a little balanced, Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion XL is more of a hodgepodge of unrelated things tossed into a fighting game engine to see what happens. Some characters work really well. Others are nearly completely useless in a fight.
These disparities drag down the game's lengthy story mode as well, only instead of being able to choose your characters as you do in fighting mode, here you're assigned characters based on what's going on in the story at any given time. This is great in say, The Powerpuff Girls level, and not-so-great in The marvellous Misadventures of Flapjack's stages. Not a big fan.
And who knows, perhaps I'd be a bigger fan if these characters would just say something. Aside from the ever-present Cartoon Network narrator, none of the characters have voices in story more, their bubbles of dialog accented with a short repeated sound bite. I understand that dragging all of the voice actors into the studio to record original dialog would cost any game development studio an arm and a leg, but part of me (admittedly an irrational part) would like to believe that the cost would be offset by older fans buying the title just for the chance to hear new content from these characters.
Of course I am fooling myself if I think what the older fan wants has any bearing on the development of a game like Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion XL. It's been farmed out to a dev studio that's made a name for itself by creating licensed shlock. It's not like Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon are going to be banging down BioWare or Ubisoft's doors anytime soon.
Perhaps one day a group of fans will band together to create the perfect Cartoon Network character game, like what Mane 6 is doing with My Little Pony: Fighting is Magic. It might wind up a sloppy mess with half-assed impersonated voice-overs, but it'll have the one thing Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion XL truly lacks: Heart.
I mean hell, it's got Captain Planet, shouldn't heart be in there somewhere?