Developer: Platinum Games
Review Platform: Xbox One
Release Date: May 24, 2016
If TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan does one thing right, its that it reveals its true colors from the get-go.
TMNT drops you right into a tutorial that immediately details how boring the game is going to be. You’re alone and it instructs you to jump to capture green floating orbs, with no narrative reason as to what the green orbs are. Then pressing X hits, but so does Y, and, hey, you can dodge out of the way. All in all, TMNT insists from the beginning that it’s as basic a game as one can ever expect, which is profoundly disappointing considering how great of a match the franchise is with developer Platinum Games.
Platinum has proven that depth doesn’t necessarily mean complicated. Last year’s Transformers Devestation featured giant robots fighting giant robots, with a rewarding combo system and flashy graphics. It felt like Transformers cartoons from the 80’s, from the presentation down to the story.
TMNT certainly attempts to recapture the feel and spirit of the classic cartoon. All four central characters are present, with April and Splinter serving as narrator and shop-keep respectively. There’s the typical cheesy pizza reference here and there, with some quips about how Don is the smart one, Mikey is the party-dude, and so on and so forth.
But none of this lends to a fun game. Platinum proved they could create a game that took a stupid show from the 80’s with little plot, and make it work as the fundamental building blocks of a game with moment-to-moment combat that made sense. Here, you’re given a vague description of the end-goal of a mission, and sometimes you run into Foot ninjas.
The first mission is particularly egregious. While it says you’re supposed to find Rocksteady, you’ll find yourself getting lost in the streets between a series of buildings that roughly resembles a city that resembles something like New York. Sure, clicking the right stick gives you an approximate idea of the direction you’re intended to head in, but there isn’t an indication of what you’re headed towards. I’d continually find myself surrounded by enemies, which in itself isn’t problematic, but I could always move around them and it became unclear which enemies I had to defeat to clear a section of the game, and which were obstacles to get to the next target. Luckily, later levels do away with much of this confusion, but bring up their own series of problems.
Perhaps most confusing is that it’s unnecessary to complete mission objectives. One mission tasks you with defending a pizza stand from being destroyed (it’s a particularly important pizza stand), and to my dismay, I was unable to do so. I expected to have to restart and retry, but instead the game pushed me forward, onto the next meaningless objective.
Each mission culminates in a battle with one of the franchise’s staple enemies. Bosses have seven layers to their health bar, and as they decrease in health, they seemingly grow more violent. Defeating each boss takes little in terms of tactic. Get in close and beat them up and dodge around to avoid attacks while reviving fallen turtles. These fights are far and away more exciting and entertaining than anything leading up to them, largely due to environments with small details (one has a train that can hit all the turtles and the villain, for example) and an increased difficulty.
Boss fights end up highlighting how shallow the combat system is in TMNT. Playing alone, you’re able to switch between the four turtles. While each character’s weapons look different, they don’t perform differently. The only difference comes in the form of Ninjutsu moves, which really is a fancy name for special moves. Holding the left trigger and pressing one of the corresponding face buttons triggers a special move. Each of these can be swapped out or upgraded by visiting the sewer lair. Visually, only one manages to be all that interesting. There’s a special “combo” move which, if close enough to an ally, can trigger the duo to do a move that does a significant amount of damage. What can be particularly fun is that each turtle’s special has a different effect- for example, Mikey causes the enemies to dance for a while (yes, just like Ratchet and Clank).
Combat ultimately suffers, despite a few interesting tidbits, due largely to a system that doesn’t encourage discovering new combos. Repeatedly tapping X gets the job done, and throwing in a Y barely gives the desired effect of a more powerful attack. There is a projectile system, but it doesn’t prove particularly effective on enemies that are more powerful than your traditional Foot ninjas. Where Platinum usually excels, making combat fast and with a deep combo system, they’ve completely failed. Ultimately, button mashing leads to boring gameplay that, even though the game is relatively short makes it feel much longer than it actually is.
Strangely, TMNT is missing local co-op, but does feature online co-op. Each player chooses their favorite turtle and then plays the same game as single-player. What’s strange is that, if a party has less than 4 players, the remaining 1 or 2 turtles are completely unplayable. They remain AI controlled through the entire level, with no ability to switch things up. When playing with one other person, it’s not uncommon to have to rely upon the AI controlled turtles to save you from perilous situations. Luckily, the AI is rarely frustrating.