In spite of the fact that I grew up watching the channel, I have to say that Cartoon Network is in a bit of a golden age right now. Programs such as Adventure Time, Steven Universe and Regular Show have been able to entertain children and adults alike. Despite the popularity of said shows, though, developers have struggled adapting these properties. This isn’t exactly a new problem for CN, but it seems even worse due to the slightly improved landscape of licensed video games. Rather than focus on one specific property, licensed game experts GameMill Entertainment tried a different approach with the multiplayer brawler, Cartoon Network: Battle Crashers.
Bringing together the properties of Cartoon Network is a tough task, but Battle Crashers accomplishes this with a single cutscene. Oddball Uncle Grandpa accidentally drives his UG-RV through different dimensions, which leads to him acquiring a few new passengers. Tagging along for the ride are Gumball (The Amazing World of Gumball), Finn and Jake (Adventure Time), Clarence (Clarence), Mordecai and Rigby (Regular Show) and Steven Universe (Steven Universe). Unfortunately, though, the dimension hopping had the adverse effect of shard monsters appearing, which now must be defeated by this motley crew.
I should have known from the outset that this was going to be trouble, as none of the characters are voiced by their respective actors. In fact, there’s no voice acting at all, which is a disappointment, to say the least. Hell, there’s barely even a plot here. None of the characters get to express their personality in any way, and the threat is poorly characterized at best. Where’s the absurdist humor of Regular Show? The dynamic adventures of Adventure Time? The emotional storytelling of Steven Universe? Without any of that personality, Battle Crashers is just colorful paint slapped onto a lifeless body.
Rather than take the same RPG direction past Adventure Time games have taken, Battle Crashers instead opts to tap into a different genre. The classic brawler/beat ’em up formula has worked well for licensed properties in the past, so trying to make it work here is not the worst idea. Up to four players can band together using the six different Cartoon Network characters. Each one utilizes a different style of attack, including being able to deal with certain environment hazards. For example, Gumball can blow away smog using his vacuum, while Steven Universe can use his Bubble Shield to pop enemy protection.
While each of the characters has their own type of attack, you’ll soon realize that most of them are kind of crappy to play as. After spending the first few levels trying to level up each one of them, I started to just stick with Finn and Jake for the later levels. They have the strongest regular attack by far, with the others ranging from simply weak (Clarence, Gumball) to useless (Uncle Grandpa). And while playing with friends helps alleviate the problems that come from dealing with constant environmental hazards, going at it alone proves to be frustrating. Switching between different characters is too clunky and slow to be worth keeping up with; you’re better off just sticking with one character until you either die or the level ends.
Even if each playable character was worth using, I’m not sure it would help with Cartoon Network: Battle Crashers‘ biggest issue: it’s extremely boring. Beat ’em up’s can be tough to pull off due to their simplistic nature. The best ones either have excellent level variation or deep gameplay mechanics. GameMill Entertainment’s brawler has neither of those. Each of the 12 regular levels feels pretty much the same, outside of cosmetic differences. The six boss battles aren’t much better, with most of them following the same, basic pattern. Mashing faceless goons quickly becomes a lesson in tedium.
It doesn’t help that Battle Crashers is unnecessarily padded out. Combining regular levels and boss battles, there are technically 18 stages in the game. A decent length for a beat ’em up, although not one that costs $30. In order to counter this, GameMill Entertainment makes you return to previously conquered stages in order to get items that weren’t there beforehand. And these levels don’t end once you acquire said item, as you’ll have to fully complete each stage again just to be able to advance. Again, these levels aren’t particularly fun the first trip through, and going through them again made me want to run my head through a wall.
The lack of voice acting is a major issue here, and to make matters worse, the game doesn’t even do a great job of illustrating any of these cartoons. To borrow a comparison I saw in a different review, the visuals look about on par with something you would see on Newgrounds. Stiff animation that never varies from the same minuscule amount of frames. The enemy designs somehow look worse than the main characters, which I didn’t think was possible. And, as mentioned before, the levels may look different from each other, but they all follow the same basic layout. It’s lazy, borderline incompetent design work.
Every time I think licensed games might be taking a turn for the better, a trash-heap like Cartoon Network: Battle Crashers squashes that notion. In many, many ways this is the worst type of licensed material out there. There’s no passion for the assorted properties, and that lack of passion leads the title to feeling completely soulless. You could take the framework of this game, slap some Nickelodeon characters on it, and more or less have the exact same experience. Children and fans of Adventure Time, Steven Universe and all of the other shows featured here deserve better.
This review was based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
Cartoon Network: Battle Crashers is the worst type of licensed dreck, soullessly designed with absolutely none of the charm or creativity of the shows it depicts.