If you grew up in the 90s you probably remember the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They were spunky comic book turned Saturday morning TV show heroes on the half shell. TURTLE POWER! I still hear that in my head every time I read the name. Now nearly 20 years later, like all things ripe for nostalgic re-makes we are getting a set of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies, rebranded as TMNT (to sound cooler?) and as with most movies these days we are getting a tie in game. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan is that game. Created by developer Platinum Games (who also did the Transformers tie in game) and published by Activision this game takes a cell shaded look at the what a game that is meant to be the successor to all time classic beat em ups like Turtles in Time could be.
So let’s get this out of the way to start with, this is not a great game. I personally enjoy it because I am a HUGE fan of Ninja Turtles, Simple Combat, and two button beat em ups in general. Unfortunately not even I could look past the slew of problems that this game presents to call it a “good” game. Featuring 4 player co-op of AI controlled teammates this is a team brawler game. Co-op is limited to online only play, which is a HUGE mistake as the best part of previous 4 player turtles brawlers was playing with your friends. Its all about beating up huge numbers of enemies in Manhattan, around an open world concept then fighting a boss at the end of each level. there are 8 levels in all, and in between each level you will be able to use currency to upgrade your turtle and its abilities.
Let’s start with the premise, it’s your standard Saturday morning cartoon style plot. Villains want to take over the world (or just Manhattan I guess?). This time is Kang and Shredder they have brought along with them a host of other characters, from well-known ones like Bebop and Rocksteady to some that will make you scratch your head and go who are they, like Wingnut and Armaggon. This rather diverse case of villains will use all of their knowledge of well telegraphed attacks, millions of generic enemies, and simple obstacles to try and stop you from saving your beloved home.
The first thing you are going to notice when you boot this game up, is the art style. Its cell shaded just the Transformers game was, so if you don’t like that style, then probably stay away from this game. Personally I loved the look of the game, its lines are dirty, and in that cell shaded style so popular these days, the characters look like they rolled right out of the a comic book on to the screen. The heavy nod to the origin of the characters (comics came before TV shows kids of the 90s) made me feel like maybe the game was going pay homage to the original and that I would enjoy it, sadly this was not the case.
The art style was basically the end of my enjoyment of this game. Beyond here this review is going to go quite heavy handed in to criticism of how the game plays, whats going on with its mechanics, and why it doesn’t work with the idea of my beloved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so if you don’t want to see your favorite team of green renaissance artists getting put to the sword, probably stop reading now. I will tell you that if this game ever goes sub 20$ its probably worth picking up for the story and dialog and art alone, since it does feel a lot like playing a comic book.
Ok disclaimer over, now let’s talk dirty. Remember Turtles in Time? The great classic arcade beat-em-up from the 80s? That’s what clearly inspired this game, I get it Platinum Games I do, there is a powerful market for nostalgia and you want to tap it. Sadly this is not how you do that. This game is at its core a two button beat em up. You will spend your time pressing either X or A (on an Xbox controller) or using what ever fucked keyboard combination Platinum decided on using instead. Oh, you were thinking of using a keyboard to play this game? No, that’s not a good idea at all. With a control scheme almost as dense as Dark Souls, it really seems like you should be able to figure out how to map TWO KEYS to a keyboard. However, Since your turtles also have to dodge, use combos, hit a button to bring up a a HUD, use parry’s, and do half a dozen other actions, instead of two buttons there are like twelve! A two button beat em up, HAS TWO BUTTONS! I dont need a button to lock on to enemies, or a button to make me go in to my shell, and dont even get me started on the stupid HUD thingy.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not berating games with complex combat systems – this game doesn’t have that – instead it has an incredibly simple combat system (light and heavy attacks, one button activated combos) with a bunch of useless shit you wont ever use tacked on. I have the option to block or parry, but why would I? Instead I can just hack my way through whatever I need to hit and hope I don’t die trying. The game should have been rescued by an arcade style combat system, and indeed it does have nice arcade scoring (counting combo hits etc) and pretty slashing motions, but that’s it. To activate combos you don’t need to press a set of buttons, you just hold left trigger and then press on button. This triggers an almost cut scenes like piece where you combo whatever is in front of you. which leads to some hilarious moments where I found myself using a combo, with no one to hit because my AI teammates had killed them already. The tedium of this combat is made even worse by the fact that every single enemy is just a sponge. No matter what you are fighting, and the game does have a bit of diversity for its enemies, featuring rock soldiers, foot ninja, and even some mousers, you will be able to just hack it apart with no skill needed. Enemy diversity is mostly limited to the three aforementioned types with a lot of pallet swaps, and some weapon changes.
Even the levels are repetitive, each level is semi-open-world, which basically means you run around a closed off level area doing something, until you finish it and then you come back and fight the areas boss. This format is terrible, and honestly makes me think im just checking boxes. While there is a story here and its fully voiced and features a nice cast of characters, its just lost among the repetitive boring gameplay. After playing just three levels, I was already feeling fatigued, and the game has 8! Each level longer than the last!
One such mission early in the game found me spending three minutes protecting a pizza stand. Imagine the worst escort mission ever, and then make it even worse. I stood on top of the pizza stand as my AI controlled team mates killed wave after wave of easily disposable enemies, then the boss of the area spawned INSIDE THE PIZZA STAND, making it so I could neither see him, nor damage him. So after 3 minutes of standing around doing nothing while the AI killed enemies, I lost the mission to an enemy I could not see, because he was inside the missions objective.
Each mission is formulaic and they all end up felling like a tedium after the first couple. I would rather have had a long hallway full of enemies I needed to beat up to get to a boss than the current format. That would make sense in a classic beat-em-up sense. Instead, each level features a limited pallet of subway, sewer, and city buildings, which all start to blend together as you go on. Despite the amount of unique architecture in Manhattan, you will see none of it here, and the tallest buildings seem to be just a few stories so my hero’s can easily climb them. The game also has an odd nonsensical system of rail riding, where you can ride a series of rails that are inexplicably on the top of every single building, or across power lines strung from building to building. But be careful, random motes of electricity (i think?) roam around these trying to knock you off because reasons? It really doesn’t make any sense at all and I just stuck to the ground to avoid it entirely.
The game is saved from total mediocrity by the combat system. Yes, you will press A and X until your enemy dies. The monotony of this is broken up by a ninjitsu system where you hold a trigger and then press a button to fire off a combo, or a ranged attack , or a heal. These abilities make things interesting during combat and in particular the boss battles. Bosses have a lot of health, and you can’t just hack your way through them. They are the only enemies in game that require even a ounce of strategy to beat. One warning to those who would come face the bosses, the spike in difficulty is severe. Imagine going from say, walking one mile to running a marathon overnight. I liked it, but I’m a bit of a masochist. More easily frustrated players could easily get fed up with the spikes in difficulty and end up quitting.
Platinum have tried to help with this curve by giving player an upgrade system where they can spend the games in game currency on more powerful combos, weapons, and items, but it all feels sort of hollow. I haven’t beat the game yet, but I’m more than 80% of the way through and the enemies difficulty curve is very flat, so as soon as I started getting upgrades and figured out which items and combos were best, it started to just get too easy for me. Bosses are now the only thing that really offers any sort of resistance to my blades (I chose Leonardo to play of course!).
Overall this game feels like it could have been great, but it just lacks something. It has such a high bar to meet, the Turtles have starred in some of the best beat em up games of all time after all, and it just doesn’t make it there. I don’t mind the two button combat, the skill ceiling, or the upgrades, but I do mind the way the levels are laid out, the forced open world, and the lack of coherent plot. If this game ever drops to the 10-15$ range it would be a great value for a fan, but at 40$ it feel a bit like your getting taken for a ride.