A wise man once said that you should never cross the streams. It appears that the folks over at Cartoon Network seem to have missed out on that memo, resulting in the newly released Cartoon Network: Battle Crashers. The brawler banks heavily on absurdist humor by combining the worlds of Clarence, Uncle Grandpa, Adventure Time, Steven Universe, Regular Show and The Amazing World of Gumball. While on paper this seems like perfect cross-branding, the resulting product reaffirms the old cliché that has existed since the dawn of game development: licensed games are usually bad. Sadly, this is no exception to the rule.
A Nugget of Fun
It is hard to deny the fact that most brawlers are extremely fun to play. Even the worst beat-em-ups have a visceral quality to combat that make them undeniably entertaining, at least in short bursts. However, if the game plans on having any sort of longevity, there needs to be an endless flow of new mechanics and enemies. This primarily helps keep the combat from becoming repetitive and stale. Someone over at GameMill Entertainment should probably take this into account before releasing their next game, because Battle Crashers ignores this logic entirely. The core game is a mindless, repetitive, button masher with very little depth or replayability.
With the combined power of six different Cartoon Network franchises, Battle Crashers should never be short of personality. Having this much of a back-library to draw from is a licensed game developer’s wet dream. However, before I had the chance to press a single button in combat, my proverbial Spidey-senses were tingling off the charts. The intro cinematic lacked any of the franchises’ iconic voice-overs, which in turn carried over to the entirety of the campaign. That’s right, not a single voice actor appears in the entire game. There is the occasional grunt or battle cry, but nothing that would distinguish characters from any other generic combatant. This immediately handicaps the potential appeal of each series’ characters, tenfold. Sure, these may look like individuals that I have a genuine affection for, but if they can’t be troubled to sound like them, part of the battle has already been lost. The worst part is, this conclusion was blatantly apparent before I even started playing.
Once you get into the core gameplay, things start to look up a bit. Each of the game’s six playable characters (actually eight, if you count the two duos) have their own vastly different combat mechanics, attacks and supers. These are also complemented by additional moves that unlock as a character’s level progresses. Initially you start out the game with only a single playable character in the party, but it won’t take long before the full lineup has been filled out. Throughout the span of each stage, players are allotted one life for each of the six characters in their roster. Once a character’s life bar has been completely depleted, they are unusable for the remainder of the stage. As you might expect, if all six combatants bite the dust, it is a game over.
More Than One Is More Fun
Probably the element that works the most in Battle Crashers’ favor is its four-player couch co-op. As is the case with damn near any kind of gaming, it’s ten times more fun in the company of friends. Each character’s abilities compliment the others in a way that even the worst player can help contribute to the team’s success. A perfect example of this is Gumball, who is armed with a back-mounted vacuum. Though the choice of weaponry seems odd, it can actually be used to nullify the effects of poisonous gasses that waft up through cracks in the ground. This clears the battlefield for the rest of the squad to attack with reckless abandon. It’s also important to get used to the idea of playing from the comfort of a single living room, because online multiplayer is nowhere to be found.
As promising as things appear under the the best possible co-op situations, it still doesn’t take long to see that there are countless cracks in the game’s armor. For one, enemies feel like they fall into one of four different classes, both combat tactics and ability-wise. These classes are essentially the same core shell, only with a palette swap of character models in each new stage. Also, the combat itself rarely changes up the brawling formula. Aside from the rare one-off stage quirk, the same bland button mashing is on full display, round after round. Eventually it becomes readily apparent that the monotonous grind is only being made worse by the enemies, which are apparently coated from head to toe in Kevlar. This is the only logical explanation as to why these damage sponges can take the amount of punishment that is necessary to dispatch a single unit. Sure, a character’s skills and stats may improve over the course of the campaign, but strikes never seem to register as being any stronger on anyone other than the smallest of foot soldiers.
It Just Keeps Going…
Despite already being a tedious grind, Battle Crashers compounds the problem by committing one of the dirtiest faux pas in all of gaming: length padding. The game is made up of a grand total of 18 stages, six of which are boss battles. When slogging through with a full coop group, it doesn’t take longer than a few minutes to conquer any given stage. However, instead of allowing the team to progress forward at breakneck speed, there are a roadblocks thrown in the way. In order to overcome whichever obstruction impedes progress, a previous stage must be replayed again in order to gather some missing item. It would be one thing if this were an object that was simply missed due to a negligent initial pass of a level. Unfortunately, this isn’t ever the case. These critical collectables are completely withheld the first time around, only being revealed when it is necessary to drive the storyline. Plus, just to add a little insult to injury, the enemies are even more resilient the second time around. Nothing makes your inner monologue scream, “are we done yet?” louder than playing the same repetitively designed levels for a second time.
By all accounts, Cartoon Network: Battle Crashers should be the hilarious mash-up that oozes fan service and charm from its every orifice. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the product that was actually delivered. Those that were unfortunate enough to pick this up on launch day were treated to a bizarrely constructed and painfully predictable slog that lacks any of the personality that the subject matter should inspire. Quite frankly, this feels like a Flash or Unity game, that someone decided to greenlight as a full console release. Even at the title’s budget cost of $29.99, it still isn’t worth the price of admission. Stick to watching the re-runs, because this bawdy brawler is dead-on-arrival.
Review code for Cartoon Network: Battle Crashers provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.