Save your money for some quality pizza instead
As a product of the early 1980’s, Teenage Mutants Ninja Turtles is a series that’s very near and dear to my thirty-something-year-old heart. In fact, growing up, my love for those Heroes in a Half-Shell was surpassed only by my utter addiction to classic arcade beat ’em ups. Having dumped countless quarters into Konami’s pair of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade games as a kid, you can imagine my excitement when I discovered that the modern masters of the genre, Platinum Games, were lending their talents to a TMNT -themed brawler. Considering the incredible job the studio had managed to do with last year’s excellent Transformers: Devastation, how could they possibly mess this up? After all, this is the team that brought us such unforgettable beat ’em ups as Bayonetta 2 and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. What could possibly go wrong?
As it turns out, quite a lot.
While the studio’s previous releases were finely-tuned romps brought to life with tight mechanics and slick production values, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan is a major departure from its predecessors. The combat is more loose and sloppy than a greasy slice of New York-style pizza smeared against the sidewalk. The missions are shallow and repetitive. And the whole thing is comically short, with the story grinding to a halt faster than you can say “Turtle Soup.”
That’s not to say the game is without its merits. Mutants in Manhattan sports some solid voice acting and a fun enough (if predictable) story. And let’s not forget plentiful boss battles, which feature cameos by numerous fan-favorite villains throughout the course of the game’s brief campaign. Trading blows with such iconic baddies as Bebop, Rocksteady, Shredder, and Krang provides some raw, nostalgic thrills. It’s just a shame the game’s lackluster combat and brain-dead AI leave so much to be desired.
Mutants in Manhattan’s story doesn’t stray far from what you’re probably expecting. The villainous alien Krang and Shredder are once again plotting to take over the world and begin by setting their sights on New York City. Dispatching some of the biggest and baddest villains in TMNT’s history across the Big Apple, it’s up to Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo to fight their way through a variety of urban environments and save the world from annihilation. These areas range from such exciting locales as barren city streets, winding sewer tunnels, rooftop arenas, and high-tech lairs. Sure, these are the types of environments you’d expect to find yourself in in a TMNT game, but each of Mutants in Manhattan‘s stages is empty and lifeless. Rather than having players fight their way through hordes of baddies to progress to the boss of each stage in a linear fashion, players must perform a set number of random tasks before they’re able to ultimately battle the stage’s boss and move to the next level.
The problem here is the tasks themselves. They’re randomly assigned by April, who acts as support throughout each mission, and they repeat themselves constantly over the course of the game – sometimes even multiple times in one stage. These activities generally have the player make use of the T-Glass (think Batman’s Detective Vision from the Arkham games) to scan for your next objective, which usually amounts to something like battling a set number of enemies, disarming bombs, or hacking terminals. “Hacking terminals”, you ask? Yes, dear reader. I’m afraid so. Truth be told, so many of these chores seemed so out of place for the turtles that I had to wonder if the developers had ever thumbed through a TMNT comic or sat through an episode of the show before. Each mission felt weightless, and usually amounted to something as simple as escorting an object to a certain location on the map or holding a button for a set period of time to defuse an explosive or interact with another gadget. One mission even tasked my quartet of deadly mutated amphibians with defending a pizza stand from marauding Foot Soldiers. Doesn’t that sound exciting? Yeah, I didn’t think so either.
The nine stages that make up Mutants in Manhattan‘s campaign take about four hours to complete, and each one is capped off with a battle against one of the series’ familiar antagonists. While these are the most compelling parts of the package, they never realize their full potential due to a twitchy combat system that mostly misses its mark. Every fight plays out essentially the same, with you and your three AI-controlled heroes rushing in to deal as much damage as possible while unleashing powerful Ninjutsu attacks whenever they’re available. These battles devolve into MMO-style chaos, as you simply run around in circles wailing on your foes with weak standard attacks until the cooldown counter for your special abilities is replenished. Unfortunately, the enemies themselves tend to just stand still and take the abuse, only attacking occasionally as you pile on the damage. To make matters worse, each of these bosses brings with them a whopping seven health bars (double that for foes with multiple forms) that you’ll have to whittle away. It doesn’t take long for these encounters to wear out their welcome. Any semblance of nostalgia is quickly replaced with boredom as you slog through these tiresome showdowns. While they’re less than exciting to tackle, it’s worth nothing that at least these iconic villains at least look great, and they’re brought to life with some entertaining voice work that would sound right at home in a Saturday morning cartoon. There are also hidden bosses you can encounter on several stages, which add a new dynamic as you tackle some pretty ferocious tag teams. It’s here that things become even more hectic, as these fights become chaotic cacophonies of spinning shells, explosions, and showering neon particle effects.
As if the shallow enemy AI wasn’t bad enough, your sidekicks don’t fare much better. It’s not uncommon to see one of your computer-controlled allies hop repeatedly in place while you’re being ganged up on by multiple foes. Additionally, you’ll frequently see them tumble from buildings or even wander right into traps without a care in the world. To make matters worse, each stage has multiple manholes that allow you to access your HQ to stock up on precious weapons and healing items. The thing is, while you’re busy shopping, your allies are still running amok in the stage. This often leads to them taking a beating while you’re just trying to pick up a few pizzas from Splinter’s shop. Thankfully, the game does allow you to customize your team’s AI a bit by issuing commands, which can help alleviate things somewhat. Of course, you can always take the fight online with a few pals, which does manage to make things a bit more entertaining. Though it’s baffling that couch co-op isn’t an option, especially when considering the game’s humble visuals, which seem to stay at a mostly-steady 30FPS. However, the frame rate does take a bit of a plunge during the game’s more frantic melees.
Mutants in Manhattan affords the player a bit of freedom when it comes to customizing each of the turtles. Each one can equip four cooldown abilities at a time. You can also upgrade these skills in Splinter’s Dojo by spending BP that you collect during missions. These upgrades reduce the cooldown time for each skill as well as increase their potency. Sadly, none of these abilities really feels specific to any of the characters (in fact, they can be swapped between turtles), which seems like a bit of a wasted opportunity to take advantage of the personalities of the main cast. In addition to the various skills you can set for each turtle, you can also find charms hidden in each level. These handy trinkets award characters stat bonuses when equipped. There are some cool power-ups you can collects as well, such as rocket launchers, gun turrets, and a number of different grenades and other tools of destruction that can help level the playing field during boss fights.
A solid soundtrack goes a long way towards making a beat ’em up more enjoyable. There’s just something about pounding beats and thumping bass that goes hand-in-hand with pummeling legions of baddies. Unfortunately, Mutants in Manhattan falls short in this area as well. Each stage is accompanied by unremarkable synth tracks and grinding industrial guitar riffs that seem to loop over and over again. Combine these uninspired tracks with a title screen tune that sounds ripped from a late night piece of Cinemax programming and you’ve got yourself a recipe for what could be one of the most forgettable soundtracks of this 2016.
I really wanted to love Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan. It’s just a shame that it seems like so little effort was put into this licensed brawler, especially when compared to last year’s Transformers: Devastation. From the uninspired visuals and music to the repetitive mission structure that plagues the entire experience, Mutants in Manhattan serves to remind us of why licensed games are frequently met with such grudging skepticism in this industry. While it may be tempting to drop $50 bucks to relive your childhood by battling the game’s impressive stable of iconic villains, you’re better off blowing your cash on a couple of delicious pizzas and renting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze to scratch that nostalgic itch.
Final Verdict: 2/5
Available on: PS4 (reviewed) Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, PC ; Publisher: Activision ; Developer: Platinum Games ; Players: 1-4 ; Released: May 24, 2016 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $39.99 (PC) $49.99 (Consoles)
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PlayStation 4 review code provided by the publisher.