Release Date: May 24th, 2016
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC
When I think back at the different iterations of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in video games I only find two that I can quickly and easily recall as games with redeeming qualities: Konami’s 1992 classic TMNT: Turtles in Time and Activision’s 2013 downloadable TMNT: Out of the Shadows. With Konami’s classic, you were a part of the cartoon, even though it was a simple beat ‘em up. The different stages, the challenging boss battles, the music (the music!) and the fact that you could utilize the second controller for local multiplayer are some of the best reasons you kept playing your SNES even after future consoles came into our lives. Activision’s 2013 “sleeper” took a few pages out of the Batman Arkham series and encouraged a stylized combat system that remained unique to each turtle. As well, turtles could upgrade their weapons, combos, and finishing moves which pushed players to continue to work hard at becoming a master ninja…turtle. For someone like me who enjoys different styles of combat, it won me over after a few minutes of playtime. Yet, does this mean now that Activision has published another Turtles game that it will be included in my roster? Well, not really.
This review really is two-fold in the sense that there are actually a lot of good things that come from TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan but only younger audiences will reap the benefits of it. A seasoned fan of the Turtles and video games will find hiccups along the way. In terms of the good, this version of the video game has a unique art style that is strictly shell…er, cell-shaded giving the Turtles a distinct flair that isn’t part of the 80’s nor is it part of the TV show that is currently running on Nickelodeon. It looks cool, especially on certain levels like the construction site fighting the foot, and the TCRI building where the neon colors really pop and compliment the style and structure of the bosses. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Foot soldiers appear in billowing grandiose smoke and charge headlong into battle in the classic colors with beady red eyes fixated on their enemies.
A redeeming factor that I really have not seen in terms of a turtle game which is the wide open areas rather than the linear progression most of the games take. Each level has the Turtles completing mini-objectives and defeating enemies in order to have a progression bar at the top of the screen increase until it reaches a “filled” point. Once completed, the player is allowed to head toward the stage boss. It was something I was not prepared for and I actually liked it. It allowed me to not rush and find the boss as quickly as I could. In between impromptu battles, I could climb to the rooftops, search for collectables or even search for the secret boss of each level.
As a gamer who has always thrived exploration, I found this aspect quite enjoyable. What made the levels enjoyable, as well, is on the harder difficulties, boss battles are not just one enemy but rather tag teams. On easy, Bebop’s stage is just him as he attempts to rob a bank, but if you play the same stage on a harder difficulty, Bebop teams up with Rocksteady and the two powerhouses attempt to bring the Turtles down. This tag team factor is definitely more for the hardcore gamer than the kids, but still, it’s a great feature that I haven’t seen since the arcade version of the Turtles.
What I found hard to digest though was the core of any Turtles game, the combat. Whereas in 2013’s Turtle game which utilized customizable combo and actual skill to implement the combos, TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan basically leaves it all to button mashing. It is truly a disappointment due to the fact that the button mashing aspect of gaming showcases a level of apathy in my opinion. While you can customize different “special” attacks in between stages, those special attacks are pulled off by holding the left trigger followed by the corresponding button and the Turtle automatically pulls it off. It feels like a let-down especially since Master Splinter continue to berate you throughout the game to “keep honing your skills” and to become a “true ninja”. It’s kind of hard to do that, Master, when I’m left on the side lines each time I team up with Mikey to pull of my combo attack. My inability to truly block, parry, and counterattack like I could in TMNT: Out of the Shadows makes me feel like the developers did not believe I was a strong enough gamer to pull off combos and defensive moves on my own. Ultimately, it left me wanting more out of the game.
Another area where I wanted more was in terms of variety with my levels. Yes, it’s a double-edged sword here, while I enjoy the openness of the stage, the same stage shows up again later on in the game. The reusing and rehashing of the stage levels makes things dull and feels uninspiring when you play through the game. I liked seeing all the familiar places I’m used to seeing in Turtles games: the city streets, the construction site, the sewers and the subway system, but each of those stages come back later on with no real substantial change to the environment. Manhattan has more than just those aspects and I was hoping for a bridge stage or a docks/pier stage. Those missing elements makes it feel like it isn’t a true Turtles’ game and it left me wanting so much more than just nine stages lather, rinse, repeat.
The one thing I definitely wanted but was astounded not to see was the local multiplayer aspect. How, in this day and age, do we continue to make games that require team participation yet it has to come from online play only? I mentioned that this game will win kids over, but how the shell is little Jimmy going to play with his neighborhood buddy when he comes over to spend the night? It sounds silly to harp on something like this, but it is necessary. Konami got it right when they designed their game back in the SNES generation (yes, I know, no internet in 1992) but Activision seems to believe that all friendships only exist on the online gaming world. It continues to not sit well with me and I feel something is lost when kids/adults cannot share a game like this with the local multiplayer.
Ultimately, TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan has both good and bad qualities, with little gamers probably enjoying the gameplay more than the seasoned veterans. It has charm and appeal but the replay ability factor isn’t entirely there unless one is trying to platinum trophy or complete all the achievements. When you tamper with the core of the game which is the combat aspect, you’ve turned what could have been a great work into something the falls along the mediocre line. Which for me is heartbreaking as I am a HUGE Turtles fan and I want to like this game all the way through, but it becomes harder and harder the more I revisit stages and bland fighting styles. You may be dining on turtle soup tonight, but at best, it’s going to be lukewarm.