I grew up on, among many other things of course, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
I remember watching the cartoons alllll the time. I had some of the toys, too. I was pretty into it back then. Anything new of TMNT is still generally geared towards kids, so it's hard to enjoy it now as an adult. The Michael Bay version just did not appeal to me. Even if you're ignoring the idea of what Michael Bay movies are like, it still looks pretty awful.
So I saw the trailer for this new game, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan. The graphics looked good. It seemed like the character art was based on at least some cartoon variation of the series, which was a plus compared to Michael Bay. It had Rocksteady and Bebop... and Krang. It was made by Platinum Games. Overall, it looked like it could be a winner. Sign me up!
After waiting so long to see something really cool made out of one of my childhood favorite series, Mutants in Manhattan was pulling at just the right strings to make me want it... At least to try, even if I was still a little skeptical. How could I not? If anything, they definitely got the tone right.
But maybe I was a little overly excited about the idea...
When I loaded the game up, I found the main menu has this kind of funky early 90s feel to it. A lot like the way I remember things when I was a kid. It's not the best laid out or most interesting menu system out there – it's basically all the stuff you need to have in the menu just slapped together. It works, nothing in particular to complain about, but it sure doesn't look as modern as I would have expected – but that could still be a good thing if you want the retro vibe.
I decided I'd start off with the tutorial, so I could learn how to play at least 'well enough' before getting into the meat of it. It's a good thing I did because that gave me an idea of how awkward some of the game mechanics and controls are. I definitely do not recommend skipping it, even if you're not a fan of tutorials – just do it, so you're not fumbling around when you start playing. It's not worth finding out in the middle of a battle how some things work. There's a control layout section in the options where you can see what the options are (basically 4 of them) and what the buttons will do, but you're really not going to know how it works in play or why until you try it.
On the plus side of that, it tells you right up front: 'You should be using a gamepad!' And you really should. Keyboard and mouse should technically work, but it'll be far more difficult for the average player to be effective that way. The buttons are still a little confusing on a controller, but having two joysticks to control camera and movement is much easier for this type of play. Platinum has a lot of experience with this type of game, so at the very least they've got the controls working very smoothly.
The story here, however, is extremely confusing.
The writing for the story, at least as much as I've encountered so far, is pretty haphazard. I've gotten about halfway through so far, since I've had trouble committing to finishing it all. I just don't know what the hell the actual story is or what's supposed to be going on most of the time except “they're attacking, and there's something about an invasion, possibly from space”. There are numerous plot holes and instances of plain bad writing. In the beginning, you're told “the Foot are attacking all over the city!” You get into a boss fight, beat him, and he says “this is just getting started!” - to which one of the turtles replies “what does he mean by that?” … I mean, really – it's pretty obvious what he meant – there's a lot more going on than just him, that's why they're attacking all over the city. That didn't need to be asked.
At one point, you're in the subway hacking into some computers that have been unceremoniously plopped on the ground in fairly random spots. You have to dodge trains and fight enemies, while trying to hack into these computers – which you're told is to learn the location of the next boss. Once you finish, it has you proceed to the next room, where that boss promptly shows up to attack you himself – so there was no reason to look for him anyway. He was out to find you. I don't know why they didn't just make the computers bombs for you to defuse – that would make sense. They're attacking the city, trying to blow up the subway, you stop them, so the boss shows up to put you down before you screw up any more of their plans. … But nope, the best they came up with was “he left these big computer things in the subway with bits of information about his location cause you need something to click on during a fight”.
You'll routinely receive radio chatter from April O'Neill, telling you whatever is going on around the city that you need to deal with – and it's random. Not as in randomly generated – random as in it's hard to figure out how anything you have to do ties into anything else. I got told to take out some enemies without being noticed, who turned around and spotted me about two seconds before I was close enough behind them to take them out, which prompted the game to tell me that suddenly everyone was after me. That sent in attack helicopters to shoot barrages of projectiles at me (which as far as I knew, I could only hide behind walls to stop them from hurting me) while I was supposed to keep taking these guys out on rooftops. I tried to take the helicopters out, but the only way to hit them was with shurikens, requiring me to aim the shot while standing out in the open – and those shurikens did essentially nothing to those helicopters. Then I was told to take out some turrets on top of these apartment buildings (what?). Those were firing barrages of projectiles at me that were basically impossible to avoid and were making it so I couldn't get close enough to do anything.
The AI turtles on my team really showed me up, though.
They easily took out the turrets by just running right up to them and beating the crap out of the guys operating them. That didn't work for me at all, so I had no idea what I was doing wrong, but figured it was over with by that point, so I moved on. But as I was playing, I found that to be a recurring theme – the AI turtles would run right up to any enemy and just beat them down. I was pulling my weight, but many times enemies would be dead and gone before I could even get close enough to hit them. That didn't work out so well once I got into boss fights – the AI dying numerous times because they were still rushing into the boss's face as if they could just pile on top of him like they did with everything else.
There is a command system in the game to be able to tell the AI turtles what to do, but I honestly kind of preferred having them rushing in and dying. It kept the boss from focusing on me, and the other turtles would automatically revive after so many seconds of being dead. I was able to hang back, throw a bunch of shurikens, rush in close to use special moves when they were charged up and almost entirely avoid getting hit.
But, back to the story – after dealing with the turrets, I was directed to the bank, to stop the first boss who was in the process of robbing it. When I got to the waypoint I was given, it was a giant (like half the size of an intersection) manhole into the sewer. There are a lot of those giant manholes. In the sewer, I had to shut down some force fields blocking my path by fighting some Foot soldiers. Hanging out in every section of the sewers just in case the turtles go through that way is clearly the best use of your henchmen in an attack on Manhattan, by the way. So I took them out, got through the force fields, and found myself in the bank.
Upon completing the fight in the bank, I started the next level, where I was sent to the subway. There I was told to defend a pizza stand from Foot soldiers. Everything caught fire, a heavy enemy showed up and decided to stand in the fire, where the AI turtles chose to stay to fight him, and I had little choice but to jump in there, too, taking damage while we attacked him. Then it was down to the lower levels, where the trains were running, and the boss's computers were strewn about on the ground. Plenty of enemies walked in front of the trains and got killed, which was pretty funny – certainly made things easier on me. I 'learned the location' of the boss, and then he showed up, and was promptly defeated. By this point, it felt like I was just playing through a list of encounters.
Unfortunately, it was far from over.
The game then sent me to the sewers, where a bunch of Foot had invaded the lair of Slash, the giant mutant turtle with hardened spikes and claws everywhere. I fought through the random droppings of Foot until I reached Slash, and then beat him down until he decided that he liked me. One of the turtles took the friendly opportunity to ask him why the Foot were in his part of the sewer, to which he replied that they were smuggling space guns. Space guns. Oh, NOW it makes sense. Of course. They had to smuggle the space guns through the sewer, because the easiest way to get space guns from outer space to a hideout on the surface of the Earth is through the sewers. It was the only way to avoid the cops. And they needed those space guns for their invasion (which April and Donatello tell you they've heard about in radio chatter from the Foot).
If you haven't gathered by now – the whole thing is pretty ridiculous. None of it makes sense. As much as I'd like to see a well-thought-out plot, all I can think is that they must have built a set of specific fights, built the levels around those fights, and threw some objects into the level to imitate some form of gameplay. The voice overs do little more than tell you vaguely where to go next and the general concept of what you're supposed to do there – though the turtles do interject one-liners quite often, with their signature lame humor. The voice actors did a fine job, really – but the lines themselves are about as tone-deaf as they come.
One odd design choice is that you can play any level you want, any time you want, to beat that boss, without having to get through any of the previous levels. Want to fight Shredder right away? Have at it. Apparently he's easier than the first boss, Bebop, who's supposed to be one of his minions. Maybe he's paying top dollar to get minions that are better than him at everything? It certainly makes for a poor progression system. You're supposed to play through the different levels to earn experience and upgrade the turtles, which would seem like a great idea except for the little factoid that you can beat everything without upgrading anyway. So why bother upgrading? It seems like that would make everything easier and even more boring.
So how about those graphics from the trailer? They were good, right?
Well... the promotional stuff really focused on the characters. Those characters are very well-made. They're not the best-looking models or textures in a game, or anywhere near it, but they look good for what they are. Everything is meant to look kind of like a cartoon, and it does. In that regard, it suits the franchise perfectly. But while it has the look, and the characters look GREAT, the levels are extremely sparse. In the city, I didn't see cars anywhere. There were hardly any stage props. The only people around were Foot soldiers. Buildings were flat and lifeless. It didn't feel like an actual city at all. Sewers likewise had basically nothing in them. They were just a brick tube with a little sewage river in the middle and walkways on the sides. In the sewers at least that makes sense (minus the Foot soldiers spawning all over the place to fight you), but the subway was empty save for the pizza stand, the 'computers' and a few trains that were barreling past to create a hazard. The fire was the most active thing there, and I don't know what the hell actually caused the fire.
I honestly don't know what to think of all this, except that it's not as good as I would've liked. So far, I've mostly been confused and bored while playing. It's generally not challenging, but slow and poorly thought-out. Surprisingly slow, really – the turtles are supposed to be ninjas, aren't they? Why does this go so slowly? Looking now at what some people have had to say about the game, it seems like most people who've tried it share this sentiment. That's unfortunate, considering how awesome the whole 'Ninja Turtles' thing used to be, way back when. At least, it was when I was a kid. Maybe that's the problem, though – maybe this one really is just for kids. Maybe I was the wrong audience, playing something that wasn't intended for me. I think I'll go with that, since it at least sounds a little more sensible than the company not caring enough to make something good. And young kids would probably like it better than I do.