Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the colossal juggernaut of toys, cartoons and movies from the late 80’s, is seeing a resurgence in all three forms these days, thanks to a highly successful Nickelodeon show and a second movie produced with Michael Bay’s typical pyrotechnics. In what seems like a match made in heaven, the new game’s development rights went to Platinum Games and the minds behind some of the most insane spectacle fighters of the past few console generations.
So where the heck does Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan go so wrong?
It sure as heck isn’t the story or the visual design. Plenty will compare TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan with Platinum Games’ last partnership with Activision, Transformers Devastation, thanks to the choice of cel shaded graphics for the art style. This arguably works better here, as it gives the game a comic book feel which suits it down to the ground. Then there are the little things such as how LED light on the PS4 controller shows the colour of the turtle you are currently controlling, which is a cute touch.
The plot seems like it’s ripped straight out of any of the cartoons, combines nicely with the light-hearted humour and fleshes out the presentation nicely. It features all the usual suspects in the voice acting world: Ashly Burch, Nolan North (playing three vastly different characters), and Steve Blum. If I had one criticism, it’s that the musical interlude between chapters and completing the missions – which we’ll get to soon – is hugely repetitive.
Platinum Games’ philosophy seems to be “make games where beating things up is fun.” While this has largely been very successful for them in the past, TMNT marks the first time that this is largely not the case. While you do have plenty of skills at your disposal, which are upgradeable by collecting currency during each chapter, you can pretty much win most battles by mashing buttons.
Yet this is mostly down to TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan’s biggest failing: The level design. It’s very dull, and sometimes makes next to no sense as you are herded from place to place by April O’Neill to beat up bad guys. Each level has a bar at the top of the screen, which when filled will trigger April to lead you to the boss battle.
This process soon becomes monotonous, with rare instances of deviation from just beating up bad guys. With relatively featureless levels aside from grind rails, explosive barrels, running water in sewers, and more bad guys to beat up, Manhattan feels lifeless.
Combat itself is not without its flaws either. Yes you could just mash the buttons, but you’re actively encouraged to hot-swap between each turtle, using their charged up super moves to deal the most damage. However you could easily stick with one turtle and wail on enemies until they die instead, if you want to.
Dodging enemy attacks can result in parrying, negating damage, or being able to counter attack depending on how well you time your dodge, but that’s as deep as the combat gets. It can also get a little too frantic when you’re unable to lock onto smaller enemies properly, meaning that you’ll take unnecessary damage from exploding enemies or the occasional mallet smash.
Things soon become a little more involved when you get to the end-of-stage boss fights. The usual suspects are present, with appearances from Rocksteady, Bebop, and even the likes of Slash and Wingnut. They’re a nice bit of fan service, depending on which era of TMNT you grew up with.
Fighting them isn’t especially difficult, but you’ll certainly be making use of the turtle’s ability to issue basic commands to the others, as well as picking them up when they’re downed. Should you miss the opportunity to pick them up, they’ll withdraw to eat tons of pizza in order to build up their strength before getting back into the fight. Should all four turtles withdraw at the same time, it’s game over.
While you could certainly rush through the main game in around five hours the first time around, you do have multiple difficulty modes on offer, with one unlocked after completing the game on hard. Multiplayer is also present, allowing up to four players to team up, each taking the role of one of the turtles, to beat levels found in the campaign, but this is the only other variation on offer.
There is a little replay value in the guise of rankings for each mission, collectable covers from the real-world TMNT comics, and the very rare instance of a boss being joined by another boss mid-fight. This certainly changes up the dynamic and makes the game more taxing, but it doesn’t change the game’s fundamental level structure problem.
Given how much I was hyped for the game, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan is a bitter disappointment, meeting only some of the expectations I had and feeling like it was heavily rushed through development to meet a deadline. It’s not Platinum’s worst by any means, as it certainly looks and sounds the part, but the combat and level structure leave a lot to be desired. This is a classic case of a game that is more of a cowa-bummer.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4