Captain Toonhead vs. The Punks From Outer Space (VR) Review: Worth Tuning Into
To say Captain Toonhead vs. The Punks From Outer Space takes me back would be an understatement. The bright neon colors remind me of late ’90s and early 2000s gaming and cartoons where colors were heavy and bold, and zaniness could be well married to some occasionally crude humor. It brings a very flamboyant aesthetic that I couldn’t pull myself away from. The witty, crude humor, the colorful enemy and environment designs, all brought to mind the earlier Nickelodeon games with a splash of something I’d see off of Newgrounds. But clear inspiration doesn’t always make for a sound game, so does this game make for a perfect Saturday morning? Or is it best to switch the channel to something better? Let’s find out!
No superhero is without an origin story, and this one’s told pretty quickly. After a squad of highly trained soldiers gets nuked inside the ship by an errant microwave, the only remaining survivor, the janitor, is promoted to leader. Seeing this as a time to shine and inspired by the cartoons he spends most of his time watching, he suits up with his colorful costume and TV helmet, then begins his journey to vanquish the evil Voorhees (no, not the guy with the hockey mask). Guided by his AI companion, Janine, he’ll be rescuing the natives of the planet Voorhees, a world filled with adorable little cubes that see Captain Toonhead as their god. And that’s it, pretty cut and dry, but exactly how you’d want it to be. More story beats arise as the game progresses, but they’re unique enough that I wouldn’t want to spoil them here. It’s nothing mind-blowing, but it really doesn’t need to be. The plot plays out like some of your favorite cartoons might, some shocking revelations here, a couple of plot twists there, all wrapped up in a neat little digestible bow.
As for the atmosphere, stellar work and honestly really well thought out. It’s very Ratchet & Clank-esque, with witty, self-aware humor that doesn’t hesitate to run a gag-a-minute. I could tell the writer had a great sense of humor and definitely had inspiration from 90s gaming and cartoons, something I can’t appreciate enough. It never takes itself too seriously and lends itself to fun jokes and shenanigans that add flavor instead of annoyance. Even when the jokes drop and actual dialogue and exposition come out, it doesn’t try too hard to change the mood, instead. The main problem I do have with the dialogue is it does sometimes try to do it in between waves mid-mission, and there’s just simply not enough time to deliver all the dialogue before the next wave starts. This wasn’t as bad on earlier, more straightforward levels. Still, when the difficulty started demanding my attention, my focus on the dialogue had to be dropped so I could concentrate. As a result, I missed out on some of the fun dialogue. It wouldn’t hurt to increase the wait times between waves, since the player, if feeling confident they can listen and fight at the same time, can prematurely activate the wave whenever they want.
And Knowing Is Half the Battle
Moving on to gameplay, it’s almost all good here. I only ever had one hiccup with my controls learning how to build, but once I was past that, it was smooth sailing. A definite plus here is that the controls are very simple, and this is extended to the systems and mechanics as well, meaning no screwing with controls to remember stuff while you’re mid-combat. The gist of the gameplay is you have these little electric cubes you need to protect with turrets (called Toonrets here) from enemies that spawn from gates. The enemies will try to pick up the cubes if they get to them and either fly off into the sky with them or run them back to their spawning gates. Captain Toonhead vs. The Punks From Outer Space offers just enough tools to feel fleshed out without being overwhelming. You gather scrap, build your Toonrets, and, in later levels, upgrade the Toonrets, yourself, and your ship using the cubes you rescue. You can even board your Toonrets for brief periods to really bring the hurt. The Toonrets, while only having a handful to work with, had plenty of capability, in that you could level them up for more power, and also take complete control with the Toonride mechanic. Some might be disappointed with the lack of depth in the Toonrets, but I could argue that the Toonrets are only half the equation here. Captain Toonhead himself is very potent on the field, with his own arsenal being vital to helping do what the Toonrets cant.
For example, some enemies will come with shields that have a sole weak point on them. Those need to be taken down by your pistols before the Toonrets can start chewing through the actual unshielded units. It’s a duality that I immensely enjoyed, and never once did I feel one side took over the other. The Toonrets, even when properly leveled up, still needed you around to work through the mechanics the game presents, while Captain Toonhead can’t handle all of the onslaughts of enemies yourself and will need the Toonrets to soften up the horde. It’s a really well thought out system that helps spice up the combat, and really shows off the sum of all parts as the difficulty of the levels starts to ramp up quickly. Sadly, the game leans a bit to the shorter side, getting about 6 hours if you’re not aiming to perfect a stage.
Something I really enjoy with the combat is that it has a variable difficulty, in the form of additional enemy backups. Sometimes, during a wave, you’ll see where you can optionally spawn additional enemies from another entry point for some additional scrap you can use to build and upgrade your Toonrets. If you feel your setup can handle it, you can have the game pop in those enemies and be rewarded for the diligence. As mentioned earlier, you can also prematurely spawn in enemies if you’re done with upgrades ahead of the wave timer. It lets you play the way you want, and I can definitely respect that. I think if there’s one major improvement they could do with adding, it’s a freerun mode. Right now, you can only move your character to already-built towers, meaning you can’t even teleport to a spot where you could build a tower until you actually build one there. It’d be nice to either teleport to a spot that doesn’t have a Toonret on it, or just be able to roam around anywhere.
Let’s talk about the graphics here. If you are not one for highlighter purple or neon green, you’re going to wanna avert your eyes entirely for this one. The color scheme is absolutely blinding at times, but I argue that aesthetics works in its favor. Its colorful, cartoonish colors lend it the vibrancy it needs to pull off such a bold and brash atmosphere. I absolutely wouldn’t blame someone for not liking the color scheme and how the UI looks with it, because this is a very striking design choice. Something I did notice that bugged me a bit was that the textures in the ship sometimes didn’t like to load properly. Ultimately minor, and will probably be pieced together in a patch, but very apparent when it does show up.
Moving on to the designs for the enemies and characters, they have a rough (in a good way), general, almost rust-punk look to them. All the bizarre design work paid off when coupled with the vibrant color scheme, and even with Captain Toonhead’s more subdued colors, it has a level of pop that I really enjoyed. From little flourishes like the snowman on top of the Snow Turret to the little booties on the Coptercats, I always had some new flourish to check out. The only detractor here is that the level designs come across as just a little bland sometimes. I really wish there’d have been as much detail in the maps as there are in the rest of the game.
Now, onto the audio front. All of the voice work featured in Captain Toonhead vs. The Punks From Outer Space is hugely entertaining. It was easy to tell the VAs had a blast recording this stuff because every funny joke and emotion conveyed was done with crystal clear intention. I’m not going to mince words: it’s hammy and often over-dramatic, but for the cartoonish, childish style it’s emphasizing, that’s the best way to handle it. It makes it feel authentic to the theme it wants to convey. So A+ effort there on the voice acting. The music, and sound effects as well, tend to lend themselves to the background ever so slightly, but I don’t reckon that hurts it much since it takes more of a backseat to the action of the voice acting.
So, all in all, would I recommend tuning into Captain Toonhead vs. The Punks From Outer Space? Absolutely! But there are a few things to keep in mind. The game’s eye-searing color palette, the crude, childish humor, and lack of length and depth are going to be a hard swallow for some. But, if none of those deter you, I can confidently say that the gameplay’s fun and well thought out, the story is short, sweet, and to the point, and, most importantly, it is oozing with charm and heart. It’s easy to see Captain Toonhead vs. The Punks From Outer Space was made as a product of passion, and I can think of no better way to spend a Saturday morning than letting your inner child run wild in this cartoonish VR playground.
Final Verdict 4/5
Available on: Oculus Store/Steam (Reviewed); Publisher: Teravision Games; Developer: Teravision Games; Number of players: 1 (campaign); Released: November 11, 2021; MSRP: $24.99
Full disclosure: The developer provided a review copy.