When talking about quality, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise is filled with anomalies. It’s a veritable roller coaster of highs and lows, of amazing stories and embarrassing character designs. It’s kind of a love-hate relationship. Kids of the 80s have fond memories of the original comic, cartoon, and movie. Opinion on the early 2000s cartoon was kind of split, as it is for the current iteration on Nickelodeon. The ongoing IDW comic, which recently released its 50th issue, has been incredible. The 2014 live-action movie resulted in a collective eye roll from the dedicated TMNT fan community, while this Summer’s sequel had many diehards enamored with its representations of favorites Bebop and Rocksteady. And let’s not even talk about The Next Mutation or the Out of Their Shells concert tour.
Much like the other facets of the franchise, the TMNT video games range in quality from amazing to downright boring. The original arcade game and Turtles in Time are arguably two of the best beat ’em ups ever made. The game based on the 2007 computer-animated feature is also a decent title. On the flipside, the first game based on the 2013 cartoon series was pretty much universally panned, and the first NES game was downright awful. Electric seaweed? Really? Even with the Game Genie, I couldn’t beat that damn game.
Which brings us to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan, the latest game in the ever-popular Turtles universe. Knowing the reputation of the franchise, I started this one up with a bit of understandable trepidation, as history shows that these games have potential to fall anywhere on the TMNT quality bell curve. After giving it my full attention, I can safely say that this one falls right there in the middle. Not quite a Cowabunga, but not a Shell Shock, either.
Platforms: PC, PS3, PS4 (Version Played), Xbox 360, Xbox One
Developer: Platinum Games
Genre: Classic Arcade Action for the Modern Era
Release Date: May 24, 2016
ESRB Rating: Teen
If you’ve ever played a Platinum-developed game before, then you have a good idea what to expect with Mutants in Manhattan. Like the highly-recommended Transformers: Devastation before it, their Ninja Turtles game focuses heavily on action, combos, and special moves. Before you start each level, you are given the option to choose your Turtle (Donatello FTW!), while the CPU takes control of the rest. Once you’ve picked your favorite, you can then choose their loadout, which consists of items and special moves. The items range from health-reviving pizza and poisonous smoke bombs to heat-seeking missiles and proximity mines. You then choose up to four special moves for your Turtles. These special moves can slow down time, heal your teammates, or give Michelangelo a cheerleading routine that stops enemies dead in their tracks (because why not). Once your terrapins are tricked out, it’s off to battle.
Each level is its own entity, and varies from the large, open-world style of the New York City rooftops, to more linear underground sewers. The goal of each level is to build up your Boss Meter by completing missions. As you play, April O’Neil will call you on your Turtle Comm and direct you to your next mission. Depending on the level, the missions are quite different. In one instance, you may be tasked with defeating a set number of bad guys within a specific time limit. In another, you’ll log-ride a giant sack of cash to a safe point. You’ll also diffuse bombs and protect pizza delivery trucks. Once the Boss Meter is full, you’ll take on that level’s big baddie. The bosses should be familiar to anyone who’s a fan of TMNT (and face it, if you aren’t, you wouldn’t be reading this). Bebop, Rocksteady, Karai, and others will put your teamwork skills to the test, as they are all very challenging.
Once you beat a stage, your profile levels up depending on the final grade you got for your missions. Leveling up not only unlocks new special moves, but also upgrades the duration or power of current specials. You’ll collect green orbs as well, which you can then use to purchase the previously mentioned items from Splinter.
Mutants in Manhattan is a beat ’em up at heart, but it also feels like an evolution of the genre. Like most Platinum games, there are a ton of moves at your disposal, and by combining your light and heavy attacks, you can take out swarms of enemies at once. Additionally, each Turtle can combine attacks with one of their brothers to really deal out some damage. For example, Donnie and Raph smash their shells together to create a huge explosion, destroying any Foot Clan members in its blast radius. Your character-specific special moves can also be combined. By using Leonardo’s Time Slow and then activating Raphael’s Rage Mode, you’ll effectively double or triple your damage output. Just make sure you use your specials wisely, as they take time to refill before you can use them again. You can also block and parry attacks, and if you press the block button just before an enemy hits, you can perform a really cool counter-attack. I was just barely able to avoid Slash’s claw swipe, and jumped on his shoulders, punching him in the head as he attempted to shake me off.
Your health is represented by pizzas, and when your Turtle gets knocked out (or “Shell-Shocked” in this case), the other Turtles have a few seconds to revive him (a la Destiny). When playing solo, the CPU-controlled Turtles will immediately rush to revive any Turtle that gets knocked out. But if they don’t reach him in time, he is sent back to the lair for a set period of time before he can rejoin the fight. If your Turtle gets fully KO’d, you need to complete a button-mashing, pizza-eating minigame in order to get back into the action. If all four Turtles get sent to the sewers, it’s game over. I’ve found the most effective thing to do (and this mostly applied to fighting bosses) is to keep your distance when the other Turtles’ health starts getting low. Then, you can always rush in to revive them, or simply avoid the boss until they return from the lair.
While the fighting mechanics are solid and look nice, a problem I’ve found is that with four Turtles and dozens of bad guys in the mix, things get really clustered and confusing. I found myself button-mashing a lot and just hoping for the best, only to get knocked out by a Foot Soldier behind me. I wasn’t able to see his attack because of all the chaos that was erupting around me. Being aware of your surroundings at all times is critical to success in Mutants in Manhattan. Another downside is that sometimes, the missions feel kind of empty and forgettable, rich in style but lacking substance. Bear in mind that this is only in regards to the missions and not the boss battles.
I have been a huge fan of the IDW TMNT comic series for a few years now. To me, City Fall is one of the best comic stories I’ve ever read. And what happened in issue #44 was just heartbreaking (no, I won’t tell you – you’ll have to read it yourself). The reason I mention the ongoing comic is because Mutants in Manhattan borrows its art style directly from them. Everyone, from General Krang and Shredder to the boys themselves, look just like their comic counterparts. Personally, I would have loved to see cameos from some of the other IDW characters, such as Old Hob, Alopex, and the creepy-as-hell Rat King, but I’m still happy with what the game offers. The animation runs smooth, even at 30 FPS. Attacks flow seamlessly, and seeing the cool jumps moving from rooftop to rooftop is really sweet.
At the beginning and the end of each level, in-game cutscenes flesh out the story. They’re not terribly involved – world domination and such – but the Turtles games have never been that big on story. The production values are nice, and the voice acting is top-notch. A bit more variety in the characters’ banter would have really taken it that extra mile, though. There’s only so many times I could hear “It only hurts when I move, and breathe, and blink” when Mikey gets knocked out, or hear the same comments from April, before it starts to feel played out. I must add, though, that there is a lot of fan service, both to TMNT fans and fans of arcade beat ’em ups. Bosses start to flash red when their heath gets low, and you’ll hear plenty of popular phrases from past games. To me, Rocksteady just isn’t Rocksteady if he doesn’t tell those toitles to say their prayers.
And what Turtles game would be complete without multiplayer? The franchise lends itself to co-op, and Mutants in Manhattan is no exception. The only shortcoming is that this game’s multiplayer is online-only; there is no local play. That is a bit disheartening, as playing with a friend sitting next to you is part of the fun of these types of games. However, if you can find three people to play with online, the game is a blast. There’s a lot of strategic planning involved, and working together to string special moves and pull off tag-team attacks really makes you feel like you’re part of the action. Just hope that those you’re playing with are people that enjoy talking, otherwise you’ll see a lot of lone wolves. When you’re playing solo, you can give the CPU-controlled Turtles commands, such as protect, follow, or attack. It’s not as fun as playing with friends, but it works.
Mutants in Manhattan is a rather short experience – about seven hours if you rush through the levels – but there’s also plenty to do once you beat the game. In addition to leveling up and playing levels on higher difficulties, each level has its own secret boss. Triggering the secret boss fight is somewhat random, but the higher score you have, the better your chances are. The game also includes 50 hidden comic books, which unlock the cover art of the first 50 issues of the TMNT IDW series.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan may not be the best game in the franchise, but it accomplishes what it sets out to do. As I played through the game, I understood what it was trying to be: a retro beat ’em up for today’s gamer. While it still retains the basic idea of the arcade and 16-bit originals, Mutants in Manhattan offers a deep fighting system, RPG elements, and a host of hidden treasures to make the game more engaging. It’s a Platinum game through-and-through, and fans of the developer will be able to jump right in and play. Younger gamers may be turned off by its difficulty, but that’s why there’s an Easy Mode. It doesn’t do much to bring in new fans, but it does enough to satisfy the needs of TMNT loyalists. So if you can tell the difference between the boys without their masks on, or know who Wingnut is, you’ll get a lot of enjoyment out of Mutants in Manhattan.
Review Disclosure: A review copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan was provided by Activision for the purposes of this review.