Lacks Fire, but has plenty of Heart
I'm going to get this out of the way, I've never been a big fan of Cartoon Network's original cartoons. Aside from the Powerpuff Girls, I have never actually taken time out of my schedule to watch any of their shows. But somehow I have been able to be familiar with most of the characters, so Crave's Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion intrigued me. There are plenty of serious fighting games on the 3DS, but none for the casual market. Does PTE have enough Chemical X to make it a perfect Tennyson?
There are 18 playable characters in the game, each with a different moveset, no clones here. There are some characters that are put together as one playable such as Billy and Mandy, while others such as the Powerpuff Girls have their own character slots. Each has a flashy super attack called a Punch Time Explosion. The characters are from many different Cartoon Network shows, and a lot of shows are represented here. If you are familiar with a lot of their shows, then it will be great for you. This is more of a random selection than an all-star cast (No Ed, Edd, and Eddy?) and if you haven't been watching Cartoon Network in years, a lot of these characters will seem foreign to you, and there is no explanation of who these folks are.
The fighting in this game is similar to Smash Bros., one button for physical attacks, one for special attacks, all motions being one direction and a button. No life bars, but percentages of damage instead. There is even the assortment of items and assist characters (Can't get much better than watching Johnny Bravo ride in on a motorcycle). More often than not you're just randomly button mashing instead of trying to do something technical. If you are looking for a deep fighting system, look elsewhere, this is mindless fun. The game poorly uses the second screen for information. In four player matches, only one opponent's information (usually the one you are closest to) will be on the screen. Since almost half of the screen is used for your super meter, they had the space to have all the information, just failed to use it.
The story mode follows an omniscient narrator on his day off, looking for something to watch on TV. All of a sudden the shows he is watching start blending together. You'll start as Ben Tennyson from Ben 10, and go through nine different "shows" trying to make things go back to normal. If you watch some of Cartoon Network's shows, you will be familiar with the writing, and the humor in the game is similar to the writing on the shows. You'll unlock various characters along the way. While some characters are locked into place, most of the time you'll be able to select who you want to fight with.
A majority of the gameplay in the story is platforming , which isn't great. There are other sequences thrown in to break up the platforming and fighting , such as first person shooter and top-down shooter segments. The difficulty in the story is erratic. The generic characters all stand a chance of beating you in a fight, so most of your time is spent avoiding them rather than fighting. You only have four lives, losing them means starting all the way back at the beginning of the mission. This becomes a pain in longer missions, especially if you have to replay five sections to get back to where you died. There are a couple protection missions, which aren't too bad, but the boss battles resort to a rinse and repeat method. The story comes close to being good, but in the end, it becomes about exploiting the system. The final slap in the face comes when you find out that you cannot use any of the characters unlocked in story in Vs. play. You have to unlock them all over again.
The 3D is actually nice to look at, and despite all of the action, it stays pretty steady. The only time it gets out of hand is when the camera zooms way out, for a shooter sequence or to show an event happening on the stage. Although the graphics may not be the best, what goes on behind the scenes is impressive. A stage on a dock will turn to a chase along a pier. An alien spaceship will come and transport everyone to another entirely different level. Aside from a couple of technical hiccups such as freezing, the game keeps the action flowing. There are various sound clips used for characters, but they repeat far too often, especially the death quotes. After hearing Dexter say "Science! You have abandoned me!" for the fiftieth time is horrible.
In the end, this is a decent game by itself, but when compared to previous Cartoon Network licensed games, this game is amazing. It is a shock to see Papaya pull this off at all, much less in the fashion they did. If you grew up watching Cartoon Network shows, or have a kid who does, this game will not disappoint. The game is full of references in the items, assists and background characters. If you are unfamiliar with the shows or just don't care, then you might want to rent this one before spending $40 on it.