I grew up with the very first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, I never started with the original graphic novels or comics featuring the more violent set of brothers, each sporting a red bandanna and I believe they actually killed Shredder during their first encounter. The heroes in a halfshell I was used to were the hilarious, upbeat and pizza loving variety. Various cartoon series would come and go, a few movies here and there and numerous attempts at making a video game across generations of console and arcade hardware would see the Ninja Turtles rise and fall in their popularity.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that the property was up for sale and then purchased by Nickelodeon. Their new take on the cartoon was great. The voices were fantastic, the writing was spot on, and the brothers felt like the turtles I had known for years. All my favorite storylines would see a revamp to fit this new format and after a couple seasons in, it may be my favorite iteration yet.
There is a wealth of concepts that make for perfect video games, subjects that with the right people behind it can excel and show us something truly wonderful. You would think that an adventure featuring a group of mutated turtles who practice the art of ninjutsu would make for an excellent video game, but here, in this particular case, you’d be dead wrong.
There is very little to like about TMNT: Mutants In Manhattan that will keep you wanting to play, or at least replay, as the game is as mediocre as it gets. Generic bad guys, poor writing and rinse and repeat missions plague this title as nothing you do comes across as any real fun. While some of the dialogue from the turtles is okay, most of the best stuff comes from Michelangelo, the voices don’t sync up with the animations of their mouth or their gestures and makes it extremely awkward to watch the cutscenes play out.
It’s obvious that the game had some sort of development crunch to release it in time with the new movie, as the game clearly is lacking all across the board. The story is flat, offering no build up until the final few missions, and even then it’s forced upon you and ends with extreme dissatisfaction and comes off as nothing more than a lame cop-out. The story sees Shredder and Krang scheming about some sort of portal and possible invasion, then ignores it completely until the final two levels. You’ll visit the sewers, the subway, the TCRI building and some rooftops battles again and again, aside from the subway level, you’ll revisit each location at least twice. I was excited during the first level to fight the foot clan, only to have them completely disappear until the final level, being replaced with mostly generic soldiers and rock men, even the mousers are barely used here.
All the brothers are here; Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael and Donatello. The supporting cast of April and Splinter are here, and even Casey Jones is ‘mentioned’. You’ll encounter a variety of the villains from the turtles’ history, such as: Shredder, Bebop, Rocksteady, Krang, Slash, Wingnut and more. Aside from the central characters and enemies, there isn’t a single sign of human life anywhere.
The inclusion of so many greatest hits of villains would be great if their fights were anything more than pummel-fests as every boss can be destroyed by just mashing the buttons, except for Wingnut, who requires a bit more finesse and strangely is the hardest boss in the game by far. Shredder and Krang are ridiculously easy and take just a few minutes to be put down. One level, later on, just before the game gets back into its basic story, sees you fight all the bosses all over again one after another for no real reason what-so-ever.
Missions are small compact objectives that garner you a ranking based on your performance. A, B, and S rankings are all I have seen so far as the game is fairly easy on its first two difficulties. These missions are basic, seeing you complete things like destroying all enemies to returning money bags to an objective marker. No mission is hard, nor requires any thinking in the slightest. Each level is structured as so: enter area, hear April comment about enemy activity, fight waves of enemies until April tells you to do something, and eventually you get to a boss, then pummel the boss and hear April cheer for you. That’s it. There is no turtle van chases, no sewer surfing or anything fun from the great games of turtles past. In fact, the entire reliance on April’s ‘updates’ make it appear that the turtles just can’t do anything themselves, as the story is set up in such a way that there is no real narrative here, it’s just a bunch of environments strung together with no real sense of connection.
Combat is mostly a two button system with regular attacks and strong attacks. You also can outfit each turtle with 4 special attacks that are where most of your damage is done. Each of these attacks are upgradable and can be swapped out with other attacks you purchase via Battle Points. You can dodge, block and parry, but aside from the dodge roll, I never bothered with Block or Parrying attacks. The combat is basic, repetitive and rarely that fun. You can jump up walls, or the side of buildings and glide via a turtle cape type mechanic. You also have a vision mode that shows you where enemies and objective markers are, because every game these days seems to have such a mode.
As you play through the 6-8 hour long adventure you’ll earn Battle Points to upgrade your turtle, or buy items to assist you in battle. I never once had to buy items, so all my points went towards upgrades. You can purchase new moves to outfit your turtle with better skills like spin attacks and dash strikes. You can equip charms that give you further boosted stats like health regen or exploding throwing stars. If you play on Hard or Very Hard you can equip more charms as normal and easy lets you equip just one. If you don’t like any of the charms you earn, you can spend Battle Points to dismantle them, hoping to earn a better one in the process. Playing on Hard make boss fights a real chore than anything resembling fun and unless you go into it with a well equipped turtle, you’ll die a lot. When you fall in battle, you’ll appear in front of a mountain of pizza and must eat enough to get back in the fight. Speaking of Hard mode, I attempted the first level with two other players and we spent almost half hour on Bebop and then since the battle was taking so long, because of multiple health bars and all of us dying every minute, it unlocked Rocksteady as the secret boss and it became a nightmare of death upon death.
While Mutants in Manhattan does offer multiplayer, it is only online and there is no splitscreen or local Co-op option at all. I spent around 25 minutes trying to get a full team of four, but we settled on three when it appeared that no one else was going to join us. Most of the time trying to search for a game was met with connection issues, time outs and just no one playing. You can pick the turtle you prefer and then your second favorite and hope for the best. While the game is more fun with real players, it’s less so if you don’t know who they are. After a few levels of no one chatting and everyone keen to just do their own thing, I opted out of Co-op and played through the story solo. The AI is ok and will save you should you go down, and they are fairly okay at fighting enemies and bosses to where you don’t have to baby sit them or revive them every few minutes.
Cel-shading is the name of the game here as the visuals are similar to that of something like Borderlands and The Wolf Among Us. Thick black lines and a more drawn approached to the turtles works for the most part, I just couldn’t get into the designs for their heads, they just look weird. April looks fantastic while Splinter is not that impressive at all. The bosses look great, but Shredder is fairly low res when close up for some reason. The effects are fairly okay, and don’t really distract when the action gets hectic. Environments are poor, with only the TCRI locations looking anywhere close to decent.
I was really looking forward to this game as I’ve wanted a good turtles game for quite some time. For me, the only enjoyable games in the series were the side scrolling arcade ones, and the remakes of those same games on the Xbox 360. Mutants in Manhattan just suffers from being repetitive and boring with no real story here to keep my interest. The levels and bosses just keep on coming as if to just pack the game full of as much turtle lore as possible with no real reason for it. Combat is okay, but coming from Platinum games, I expected far better. At full price I just can’t recommend anyone even attempting to purchase this game and strongly suggest waiting for a massive price drop. Online Co-op isn’t as ideal as this structure of game would have been far more enjoyable having 3 other friends sit on the couch and kicking some serious shell. As it stands, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan is average at best and no amount of pizza can make it better.