Developer: Platinum Games
Publisher: Activision
Platform: PC [Reviewed], Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3
Release Date: May 24, 2016
Price: $39.99 via Steam, $49.99 console

Disclaimer: A copy of this game was purchased for review purposes. The game was purchased on PC via Steam.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time is one of the most classic games amongst the sea of turtle-titles. There have been many iterations over the years, most titles running on the fumes of nostalgia to muster up interest among fans. The newest Ninja Turtles game bears the same name as its theatrical counterpart, that being the “Mutants in Manhattan” tagline. The release of the game seems as though it was pushed through the development process to land right in time to coincide to its big screen debut.

Your favorite villains from the series' past make their return.

Your favorite villains from the series’ past make their return.

This wouldn’t be as much of a problem if the movie’s release didn’t provide a timeline for a renowned studio like Platinum Games, to be rushed to completion, if you want to call it that, in order to make sense in the end. But I digress.

Platinum Games delivered something remarkable in the most recent release of Transformers: Devastation. The art style of the game was the best representation of the roots of the cartoon of the ’80s, having flared, colored explosions drenched in the fast-paced combat that has been a staple of the studio and its games. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan seems to borrow that same stylized combat, if not the game engine, and hosts it as a recognizable foundation from which it was built upon. However, most everything else outside of that seems like a lot of good ideas strung together. In essence, a shell of a game.

There’s no doubt that the art direction and overall final outcome of TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan is a damn near flawless venture. There are instances when peering into the New York skyline that you realize how much resemblance the game bears to the actual turtles cartoon, having both a mixture of modern and classic styles infused in its design. However, these instances are short lived. When the scale of the city is taken into consideration, that is where the game shows most of its faults.

As I mentioned earlier, it seems that the majority of the game is filled with great ideas. From introducing light RPG elements to level up your quartet of turtles, there is something more than meets the eye when you start to explore the many facets within the game. Discovering scrolls can be assembled into Charms that can be attributed to each turtle, increasing things like “10% strength increase” to more rare ones that can be found to poison enemies that are attacked. More rare items are found by discovering gems of red or silver. Green orb-like gems are littered through each level, delivering items like pop-up turrets and pizza. Which, of course, staying true to the TMNT franchise, is a staple that usually indicates health power in some sense.

Here, you can cycle through turtles and add necessary items, upgrade and assign attacks.

Here, you can cycle through turtles and add necessary items, upgrade and assign attacks.

While these elements are impressive, I found the character management system to be tedious and not very intuitive. You can switch between characters while assigning them charms, upgrading attacks, and milling through your items that can be activated on the fly. But, much like the control scheme of the game, it would have benefited from a streamlined attempt to tie all of these elements together. This is especially important being that there are four turtles to manage, each switchable on the flyYou will find yourself wanting to play as each of them, that is, if you don’t jump into a multiplayer match or some sort of co-op venture.

Within the online multiplayer realm, I did find it difficult to find, well, anyone. I sat in the lobby waiting for someone to connect. At this point, I haven’t had the opportunity to play with anyone other than AI teammates. Which, you will find, becomes frustrating once your turtle is downed. You wait in your shell as the countdown timer runs thinking, “Oh, Raphael is right near me. He’ll stop trying to bash the Foot for a minute and revive me.” In most instances, the other on-screen AI came over to assist, but that was about 75-percent of the time. When you are downed, you are sent to the sewers to slam pizza. If all turtles are downed, you may have to start your run all over again. Once full Italian cuisine, you can jump back into the fight. I thought this was a well executed, whimsical attempt to have players continuing on in their journey and actually liked this element to the challenging game.

Stuffing your face will get you back in to action sooner. That is, if you don't burn your mouth.

Stuffing your face will get you back in to action sooner. That is, if you don’t burn your mouth.

With the visuals bearing much of the impressive weight, you might wonder how exactly Platinum Games sewed its combat into the overall design. I did find that the combat of the game was done exceptionally well. Team combos bring Michelangelo, Leonardo, Donatello and Raphael into a green fury as they blitz enemies together. These are also fluidly animated, delivering a comic book style congruent with the early cartoons. Combos are achieved in mayhem, as well as dodges that can be utilized as parries in order slide around the back of an enemy and pounce on them. But, when the scale is taken back, and you are in vast city-scapes, the combat feels disjointed, open, and confusing to your task at hand. To assist in minimizing the confusion, you can activate your Turtle Glass, a VR-type scanning device that can scan for enemies and waypoints. It would have been much easier to guide the player with simple beacons to the next waypoint instead of relying on this confusing system of scanning an open-aired city to locate things like a sack of cash waiting for you to ride it a couple blocks away.

Each level that you take on pre-indicates what boss you will be facing in that level. Characters like Scar are monstrous, powerful, and present a great challenge. Others, like Wingnut, are both powerful and agile as you must take to the ground and air to defeat him. In fact, the boss battles are some of the best combat areas. They are so good, that, the rest of the game feels more like filler events. When these boss battles occur, this is really the only time Mutants in Manhattan really, really feels like a genuine Ninja Turtles game. The game is essentially boss battles with levels in between, a diversion that in this context, I could have done without.

You might wonder where the feelings of a rushed development cycle of being came about. Each level will have you running through enigmatic tunnels, city buildings and sewers. But, even with the presence of enemies running a-Foot, the sheer number was bewildering.

The art style of the game is impressive in most areas.

The art style of the game is impressive in most areas.

In a bustling city, there aren’t any people or mobile cars. But, there must be enemies around every corner then, right? Sadly, you’ll find yourself in dead sprints down empty sewer lines or train stations only to be surprised by a handful of mousers or foot clan at a time. These become redundant, and oddly enough, start to become annoying. I would much rather have back-to-back areas flooded with combat instead of scaling a building or sliding on rails like a Tony Hawk game just to find a few scrolls for upgrades.

If you also pay close attention to some of the sewer levels, the same recycled cinematic video plays for two individual missions. That is pretty damning coming from a AAA publisher and developer.

The Bottom Line

After seeing the initial gameplay and screens for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan, I had really high hopes for it. I thought that the brilliancy showcased in Transformers: Devastation would easily be translated into another beat’em up in the same vein, both rekindling 80’s nostalgia. Instead, the game feels disjointed in many aspects, housing a lot of great ideas–but not really tying them together and executing them well.

There are some classic characters like Bebop and Rocksteady that offer an introduction to the cast of notable characters. But, the other exploratory elements to the game are often uninspired, lacking enemy challenges, and seem more of a filler prior to reaching a boss. The combat in these battles excels and exceeds expectations, and could have benefited from a more intuitive character management system.

If you are like me, you had to play the game for yourself in order to really have an opinion on the latest Ninja Turtle game. Having done so, I can say that even a $39.99 price point is a bit much. I scribbled in my notes prior to writing this review that the game feels more like a $19.99 title. And, having completed the game, I still stand by those initial sentiments. You might wait for the title to get a discount before buying, but I feel like it should be experienced nonetheless. A little more focused level design, improvement to the character management system, and enemy interactions could have made this experience feel less like a half-shelled attempt.

Greg Bargas
A console gamer gone rogue. Collector of retro games, lover of hardware. Part of the Class vs. Crass gaming podcast. Rocket League, anyone?

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