We were going to start this review with a bit of a grumble about how Cartoon Network's not as good as it used to be, but then we realised it's probably just the rose tinted glasses playing tricks on us again. After all, we're a lot older now than we were, and Cartoon Network when we were kids came up with Ed, Edd and Eddy, and there's not much worse than that. Like it or loathe it, Cartoon Network has long known how to design shows that appeal to its "young kids" target demographic - and Cartoon Network: Battle Crashers comes packing almost all of its biggest names.
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A side-scrolling beat 'em up adventure, Cartoon Network: Battle Crashers blends all your (or, rather, your kids') favourite Cartoon Network shows together, as familiar faces join forces to fight against a common foe. When Uncle Grandpa somehow manages to drive his RV through time and space, he causes a rift between the dimensions that not only blends worlds together - but also creates a race of angry, mirror monsters, made out of shards. With Adventure Time's Finn and Jake, the Regular Show's Rigby and Mordecai, Steven Universe, Uncle Grandpa, Clarence, and Gumball in tow, it's up to you to team up together, fight across the Cartoon Network worlds, and get to the bottom of exactly what's going on.
Putting the slightly mental story aside for a second, though, Battle Crashers plays it much safer in terms of gameplay. A standard, side-scrolling beat 'em up, you'll have to make your way across 18 levels, spread across the game's six worlds, each of which is themed around one of the Cartoon Network shows.
With support for up to four players in same-console co-op, Battle Crashers is a game that's been designed from the ground up to be played together, as a group. In fact, if you play it on your own, you'll likely find the game a little bit on the dull side - not to mention a lot harder, as you attempt to fend off the hordes of enemies on your lonesome.
Each character has their own set of abilities and attacks to choose from, and there's a really surprising amount of variety on offer here, with each hero having their very own play style - some of which really switch up the button mashing gameplay. Take the Adventure Time duo, Finn and Jake as a great example. Finn uses his dog friend Jake as makeshift hammer by default, although once you've levelled him up a bit, you can switch to using him as a boomerang, or an elastic arm to drag enemies closer. Finn's secondary attack, meanwhile, transforms Jake into his Jakesuit giant/mech form, whereby he'll automatically smash anything. The Jakesuit was a lot of fun in LEGO Dimensions, and it's just as great here.
It's not Finn and Jake, either - almost all the characters here play in a totally unique, and often completely bonkers way. Uncle Grandpa can take his head off, and have it hover around on its own - or use it as a makeshift stick of dynamite; Rigby and Mordecai can fight off enemies through their guitar's power chords; Clarence fires spurts of coke at people; while Steven Universe spends most of his time blowing bubbles, and looking smug, before blowing said bubbles up, and wiping out anything nearby.
As each character has their own special selection of attacks, each is also strong (and weak) against certain types of enemies - and you'll often find your foes attack in groups designed to force you to work together. For example, Clarence can't really hit flying characters, but the Jake Hammer can smash them in the blink of an eye. Steven Universe is a godsend during boss fights, as his bubbles can be used as a protective shield, while Rigby and Mordecai's lightning bolts are great for taking on enemies from afar. Almost every batch of enemies, and every boss fight you come across is designed to be tackled as a team - and that means there's only one issue. If you're playing on your own, the game gets a lot harder.
When playing with a group of friends, you can arguably cover all your bases - you can make sure at least one character can take out flying enemies, or uses ranged attacks, etc - but if you're playing on your own, you're in a much trickier situation. While you can switch between characters using the shoulder buttons, the fact there's only one of you means it's very easy to find yourself swamped - or constantly having to run away. Meanwhile, it's a lot harder to have to keep switching back and forth between characters to take advantage of their strengths and weaknesses, than it is to just tell your friends to help you out. Having an AI companion would go a long way to fixing this, but there's no such luck here.
It's also a bit of a disappointment that there's so much backtracking involved. Although the game has 18 levels, you'll find yourself sometimes being sent back to do earlier levels again, as a character pops up to tell you you can't go any further until you've got (this item) from (this place). Usually, this sees you playing through the entire level again, before veering off into a previously locked side room, or something similar - a minor issue, but something that leaves you a bit disgruntled nonetheless.
Another drawback is that there's no real lives system in place. Far less forgiving than a co-op adventure like the LEGO games, the characters in Battle Crashers essentially form your lives, with each character only getting one shot at each level - once a character's been defeated, they're out until you finish the level, or restart. That means if you're playing on your own, you'll have as many lives as characters you've unlocked (up to the maximum of six, once you've unlocked everyone) - but if you're playing as a team, while the first two people who die can choose another character and carry on, anyone who pops their clogs afterwards has to simply sit it out until the end of the level.
Still, slight awkwardness aside, Cartoon Network: Battle Crashers is an entertaining romp through some of the most popular shows on Cartoon Network today. If you're a Cartoon Network fan, you'll love being able to team up with your friends, play as your favourite characters, and fight your way through hordes of enemies - even if it does get a little bit repetitive at times. With a budget price, if you've got a couple of big Cartoon Network fans who'd want to play together, this could be worth a look.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4