Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan for Xbox One
Platinum Pizza Power.
Just in time for the release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows in theaters comes… a game that has absolutely nothing to do with that movie — shy of being a part of Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, that is.
Now I have to confess: I don’t have a whole lot of experience with PlatinumGames’ renowned style of action games. I was supposed to review Bayonetta 2 (and its predecessor) for the Wii U, except I didn’t have enough space on the Wii U’s internal drive to fit the massive game download I was given a code for (and Nintendo wouldn’t let you “get” the game, even without downloading it, unless you have the room for it), and I wasn’t able to get my external drive before said code expired. I grabbed Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance from EBGames for a steal at $5, but that’s about the time my Xbox 360 was gasping its last breaths.
Fortunately, I did have the privilege of getting to review PlatinumGames’ Transformers: Devastation last year, and so far, that’s provided me with a pretty good frame of reference — for better or for worse.
At the end of that review, I had said that I would love for PlatinumGames and Activision to do for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles what they did for Transformers — that is, to take the original cartoon material and update into something just a little more modern while retaining that retro style. Well, they didn’t do that. Not exactly, anyway.
While Transformers: Devastation borrowed heavily from the Transformers: Generation One cartoon, from character designs to voice actors to general aesthetic and mixed in more contemporary elements which have been added to the franchise since, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan instead takes its cues from a different source: the comic book series from IDW, which itself (much like most if not all Turtles media these days) pulls a lot from the original cartoon and other sources, reinventing everything for a new version for today’s audience.
As such, there are many familiar elements. You have the four Turtles, April, and Splinter, of course, as well as the Shredder, Karai, and the Foot Clan. But then there is also General Krang, the duo of Bebop and Rocksteady, Armaggon, Slash, and Wingnut, all of which have appeared in some form or another in Nickelodeon’s current ongoing animated series, but these forms all hew closer to what fans would recognize from the 80’s/90’s run of the franchise (save Armaggon, who was a recurring character from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures comic).
The result is a version of the Turtles and their fellow cast members who are familiar, yet for a lot of people, just a bit different. To that end, everyone has different voices than the cast of any past or present cartoon or movie, even though pretty much everyone sounds the part (Krang’s is perhaps the most different from previous iterations). It all works, with the comic-styled look, the voices, and the unique musical score being tied together by writing from the IDW series’ own Tom Waltz that captures everyone’s personalities pretty well, if not perfectly. Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines, and so on.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a reader of the comics (though if you like TMNT, you should be giving them a look anyway) to keep up with what’s going on. Just being a TMNT fan is enough.
The action is more or less what you would expect from both PlatinumGames and, to some extent, the a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video game (keeping in mind that there have been a lot of different games to wave the franchise’s banner). Tons of enemies, from varying types of Foot Soldiers, Stone Soldiers, and Mousers attack you at various turns, and you basically hack and slash your way through them with a variety of regular and strong attacks, evasive and counter-maneuvers, the occasional shuriken and item, and your customizable/upgradable payload of Ninjutsu arts.
Where Transformers: Devastation allowed you to return to the Ark and swap between five Autobot heroes, TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan keeps all four of the Turtles on the ground at all times — save for when one’s energy has been depleted. In the single-player mode, you can swap between them on the fly, and instruct the others to behave in certain ways, from hanging back while you take on more delicate operations alone to having them form up to help protect you (such as when handling certain objectives, like diffusing bombs) to going all in and basically throwing everything they have at the Foot and Krang armies.
It’s a bit chaotic, as one might expect, and in some ways more than Transformers: Devastation — though not always in a good way. Stages span city streets, the tops of skyscrapers, and the sewer tunnels beneath the city, and when things pick up, it can be difficult to keep track of what’s going amidst all the chaos. This is doubly true when you’re in tight quarters, such as some of the sewer tunnels or an alleyway, and you have to adjust the camera just to see what’s going on past the walls and explosive effects.
Also difficult is sometimes trying to figure out where you’re supposed to be going, specifically in the more open areas. There is no map here, and on the occasions you do have something telling you which way to go, their instruction can be kind of vague at best. It was never enough to thwart my efforts, but there were occasionally times when I’d be wandering around blind, trying to figure out what I needed to do in order to proceed. Sometimes it’s finding a destination, others just one last enemy in a batch who needs to be defeated to go on.
On top of that, I found that dodging didn’t seem to work quite as well for me as it did in Transformers: Devastation, and there were times (even on Easy) that I would just get repeatedly pummeled by the enemy with little recourse (you can’t swap Turtles when you’ve been hit, either). Fortunately, when your life bar is depleted of all its pizza slices, any other active Turtles can revive you if they can reach you before a timer counts down and you’ll be back with a bit of life to work with. If the counter does go down, you’re sent to a Pizza Room in the sewer, where you can then scarf down as much as you can before rejoining the fight — so long as there’s still someone fighting. That, or you’ll take over as another Turtle — I haven’t figured out what determines which scenario happens.
The main strategy, particularly where bosses are concerned, surround the Ninjutsu Arts. Each Turtle has four that can be swapped in and upgraded, and are triggered by holding the L trigger and pressing the corresponding button. Effects range from boosting cooldown time for others’ arts to restoring life to performing attacks that deal a good bit of damage. Ideally, you’ll want to perform what arts you can, then swap to another Turtle to use their arts while the other one is cooling down.
There are also some team Arts, such as performing Michelangelo’s Combo while near another Turtle, leading to a bit of a goofy disco dance-off that even the enemies get into. Others are simply a matter of stacking effects, such as Leo’s time freeze with Raph’s Berserk, Turbo, and Stealth abilities to turn the latter into a massive damage-dealing red rage machine. Throw in Mikey’s cheerleading to shorten the cooldown times, and look out, Foot!
At first, the Ninjutsu Arts seemed rather cumbersome, but as I got used to using them more, I came to appreciate them. There are a ton to unlock and collect as well, so while some of the initial arts might not be very appealing (I never found much good use for Donnie’s Jump art), there are a lot to find.
That said, replayability is the name of the game here. There’s no two ways around it: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan is a short game. Through a combination of Story Mode and Multiplayer, Normal and Easy, and a lot of just playing around on menus to tweak my Ninjutsu Arts and other things, I spent a grand total of seven hours and twelve minutes on the game, completing the Story Mode in that time. Some of the stages — Armaggon’s and the TCRI building in particular, took from 40 minutes to over an hour to complete, but others ran a bit shorter.
There are four levels of difficulty, and it keeps score of how well you did in each level at each difficulty with a letter grade. Ideally, you would want to get an S rank in each stage, which would require a lot of upgrading arts and perfecting your fighting techniques. On top of that, there are many different items to find, from Charms with various gameplay affects to covers from the IDW comic book series to view in a gallery.
Plus, there seem to be some other hidden secrets — I completed the game, but there are still a few gaps in my Movie archive. I’m guessing these involve hidden boss battles, which I’m not entirely clear on how you find, but are a bit of added fun. The one I found was during a fight with Slash when suddenly Armaggon popped out of the water and joined in. If you remember the team-ups of Bebop and Rocksteady as well as Tokka and Rahzar from the Konami arcade games, you know that these kinds of fights are more difficult, but also more fun.
Speaking of which, the scene shown above? I haven’t seen that, lending some support to my theory.
Adding further replay value is the multiplayer. Sadly, there’s no local co-op, but you and up to three other players can join up online for some ninja kick-butt action. There will still be four Turtles at all times, with the computer picking up the slack if no one else joins (even if that amounts to you playing solo). In addition to friends, you can join or start rooms of your own.
Interestingly enough, while you can experience the story in Multiplayer, it doesn’t contribute to your completion of Story Mode — something I found out firsthand after beating Slash in multiplayer, only to have to do it again in the Story Mode. More interesting is the fact that the levels seem to play differently for Multiplayer versions versus the single-player Story mode. If anything, I think the Multiplayer modes might be more condensed.
All in all, it seems that to get the absolute most out of the game, you can’t just beat the Story mode — you have to be willing to 100 percent the game.
In the end? This may not be a popular opinion, but I actually rather like this game. I think being a fan of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles helps a lot and being fond of the IDW comics version helps a little more, but I enjoyed myself for the most part (save for that Armaggon level, which kind of dragged on). Don’t get me wrong, though; the game feels a bit rough in spots, and I think Transformers: Devastation was better and maybe more polished overall. Even so, I had fun from beginning to end, despite the flaws.
If you’re a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I definitely recommend giving this one a look. It’s a bit short and could have maybe used a Challenge mode or something to provide more content, but if you’re uncertain about going in at full price, keep an eye out for a deal that makes you more comfortable. I think it’s worth playing, but not unreservedly so, and hopefully a sequel will come along that keeps what made this one fun while refining the other aspects.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan was released on May 24th, 2016 for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 at a price of $69.99, for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 at a price of $49.99, and for Steam at a price of $59.99.
A review copy of the Xbox One version was provided by Activision.