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Slightly better than turtle soup

Over the years, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have stayed in our collective consciousness through many of the same ways they originally permeated our culture when I was a kid: movies, cartoons, comics, action figures, etc. Some efforts have been better than others, but one area that has consistently failed the TMNT over the years has been video games. Not since the SNES days have we really had a game that got the Heroes in a Half-Shell right. So, it was with baited breath that I sat down to try Platinum Games’ take on the lean and green fighting machines in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan.

Mutants in Manhattan is basically your standard TMNT fare in terms of story, as Shredder and Krang have once again teamed up in an attempt to take over the world. They’ve enlisted the help of some evil mutants—ranging from canonical stalwarts like Bebop and Rocksteady to the lesser-known Wingnut and Armaggon—to lend a hand, and only four heroes named after Renaissance painters can put a stop to their plans.

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One thing that Platinum has consistently nailed when teaming up with publisher Activision to work on licensed games has been the art style. Whether the game as a whole was a hit like Transformers: Devastation, or a miss like The Legend of Korra, Platinum always brings these characters to life in a way that any fan can appreciate—and they do it again with TMNT. The art style blends the design that’s seen in the current Nickelodeon cartoon with a lot of hard edges and thick outlines reminiscent of Kevin Eastman’s comic book artwork, and it all looks absolutely great.

They also did a top-notch job with the audio for the game. The music and sound effects are exactly what you’d expect from a fast-paced action game, and even though they couldn’t get the cartoon cast to reprise their roles, a cavalcade of video game voice talent makes its presence felt. Nolan North, Steve Blum, Mick Wingert, Fred Tatasciore, and Ashly Burch highlight the voices behind some of the TMNT universe’s most iconic characters here. I could’ve done without the repetition of dialogue during and after every combat scenario—especially from Ashly’s April O’ Neill—but at least the lines had some gusto to them.

While it’s always appreciated when a game is easy on the eyes and ears, it’s unfortunate when that may be the highlights for a title like this. Mutants in Manhattan is broken down into nine levels, each culminating in a boss fight. Platinum once again provides an easy-to-learn, difficult-to-master combat system full of light and heavy attacks, dodges, blocks, parries, and special moves, showing their continued mastery of the hack-and-slash action genre. The issue is that you never really need to use any of the most advanced tactics until you reach that end boss fight in each chapter.

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Levels are set up as open arenas where players will have to race around and perform mundane tasks like protecting pizza trucks from the Foot Clan, returning stolen money to banks, defusing bombs, or get rid of weapons from Dimension X. Once a certain numbers of tasks are completed, you’ll get to fight the boss, but never do the tasks feel organic to the story—and once they start repeating, they quickly become tedious. This is compounded by the fact that all the foes you fight are nothing more than cannon fodder, even on the hardest difficulties. Whether it’s rock soldiers, Foot ninjas, or mousers, the enemies just drag down the pace of the game, doing nothing to force you to mix up your tactics. The levels themselves have nothing unique to them, either; every sewer, subway, and city building looks nearly identical, and when you have to return to certain places in later levels, the lack of creativity in the world becomes all the more clear.

As I mentioned earlier, the one saving grace for the combat is the boss battles. At first they shocked me with the difficulty spike they provided when compared to what led up to them. Each boss has myriad moves and patterns you’ll have to learn to overcome, and on harder difficulties, not only do they have more health and do more damage, but come at you with different attacks as well. That mix-up means you’ll have to always be on your toes, and actually put to use the dodges, parries, and special moves at your disposal.

One way to help overcome those harder difficulties is that Platinum actually included an upgrade system in the game. Between levels, you can spend battle points (awarded every time you enter combat) to improve each turtle’s special moves, or assign charms that provide a variety of effects including bonuses to item collection, attack, defense, healing, and more. It shows shades of the depth we expect from a Platinum game, making how inexplicably lackluster so many other aspects are in TMNT all the more surprising.

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Potentially the biggest mistake made with Mutants in Manhattan, however, is the fact that the game lacks local co-op. Yes, there is an online co-op option, and local co-op might’ve required a camera shift (that actually might’ve worked out better for the game in the long run), but TMNT games traditionally have been amazing local co-op experiences. Not to mention, when you’re not playing with friends, you need to drag around three, less-than-stellar AI-controlled turtles instead, making it so TMNT could’ve benefitted greatly from giving players more options to play together. Having a friend by your side to play this game might’ve also taken the edge off of how long and boring the base levels are.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan tries something a little new with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, but in the end, it failed to captivate me or grab my attention in any significant way. The large, open arenas were unnecessary, and Platinum might’ve been better off cutting the levels in half and having twice as many boss battles. There is depth to the combat, but you rarely need it. If you’re insanely into the TMNT, this might be worth a look just to fight some classic villains—but without local co-op, good luck finding people to play with. The rest of us are going to go plug our Super Nintendos back in and play Turtles in Time for the millionth time while waiting for something better.

Developer: Platinum Games • Publisher: Activision • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 05.24.16
5.5
Another misstep with the TMNT franchise leaves me wondering if anyone will ever make a good Turtles game again. As is, Mutants in Manhattan works, but it’s just terribly boring.
The Good Solid visuals that look like a cross between the comics and cartoon.
The Bad Listless enemies and repetitive gameplay. No local co-op.
The Ugly Why is my health bar in frozen personal pizza quarter-slices? No self-respecting turtle settles for Red Baron, especially in NYC.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan is available on Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Activision for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
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