In 1987, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles burst onto the scene and immediately gained worldwide popularity, starring in everything from their own cartoon series to a trilogy of movies. They even had their own concert tour. In the world of video games, Konami has almost always owned the rights to the franchise, releasing their first TMNT game in 1989 for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Sequels followed, across all media, and by 1993 the turtles had seemingly worn out their welcome. In 2003, Fox revived the franchise as a Saturday morning cartoon and Konami once again acquired the license to adapt the new animated series into a video game franchise resulting, in recent years, in a series of unmemorable titles. Now the Turtles’ fourth feature film has been released, entirely in CGI this time, and Ubisoft has stepped up to the plate to produce a video game based on the animated feature. In fact, Ubisoft’s Montreal studio, known for crafting Prince of Persia and Rainbow Six: Vegas, not to mention the upcoming Assassin’s Creed, was put in charge of making the game so that means it has to be good, right? Wrong.
TMNT gets off on the wrong foot almost right from the get go. I haven’t seen the movie so I can’t say whether the game follows the same plot, but I do know that some of the cutscenes are taken directly from the movie so clearly there is some kind of a relationship there. I hope the film doesn’t unfold like the game, however, because the game is difficult to follow. It plays out as a series of flashbacks as each of the turtles recount adventures in the past that have led them to the present. For example, Leonardo reminisces about his time in South America (the initial training level) while Ralphael tells of his escapades as the Nightwatcher. By the end of the game, lessons about family are learned and a supernatural evil is defeated but how we got there is still a bit of a mystery to me. There are many reasons for that but one of the main ones is that during each of the flashback missions, the story is constantly being told by the turtle in question, and it’s difficult to listen to what Splinter, Donatello, or whomever it is reveal the story while I’m trying to make a series of acrobatic leaps without falling to my demise.
The gameplay doesn’t really hold it’s own either. TMNT is essentially a platformer interrupted by unimaginative fight sequences. You’ll jump, double jump, wall jump, wall run, and flip your way through until you reach an area with enemies. You’ll know its time to fight because the word “Fight” will appear on the screen in big letters. When you defeat the enemies, you’ll move on the next section where you’ll jump, double jump, wall jump, wall run, and flip your way to the next fight. You get the picture. So what’s wrong with this formula? The acrobatic portions of the missions are not unlike recent Prince of Persia fair, which certainly isn’t a bad thing, but while some of these platform sequences are exciting and challenging, there are just as many that are bland and repetitive.
Speaking of bland and repetitive, let’s talk about combat. The fighting sequences are entirely underdeveloped. Each of the turtles is equipped with their signature weapon but there’s basically only one attack button. Mashing that button will result in a combination but you’re better off holding the button down for a few seconds and releasing it for a charged attack. That’s basically all you have to do to win a fight. Press and hold the attack button, release. Press and hold the attack button, release, until all the enemies are defeated. Sure, there’s a button to spin kick, but it’s not really useful, and you can jump and attack, for a ground punch, but it only staggers opponents for a moment, so it’s not really worthwhile either. Just keep pressing and holding the attack button and you’ll be just fine, not to mention bored. The enemies you fight? If they’re not members of a street gang, they’re members of the foot clan. If they’re not holding baseball bats, they’re holding samurai swords. It’s all the same though, the enemies are interchangeable and with the exception of a few bosses, the enemies simply aren’t challenging.
In most of the missions you’ll control just one turtle. Besides their signature weapon, each of the turtles also has a special ability for the platform sequences. Leo can shadow warp through walls, Mike uses his nunchucks to create a helicopter spin, Raph has the ability to power climb walls and Don can vault from one ledge to another with his bô. In some missions you’ll get to control all four turtles. You can switch from one turtle to another at the press of a button. Figuring out which turtle is best for a given situation adds a little extra dimension but the game often helps you along, with one of the turtles chiming in “I think this is a job for me.” The turtles can team up for a handful of special moves. In the platform sequences, it’s a "Brother Throw" for those long-distance jumps, while in combat there are four distinct Super Family Attacks, depending which turtle you activate the move with. This is where the game starts to get interesting, but it doesn’t go any deeper than that.
So, the question everyone is asking: Does TMNT support multiplayer? No, it does not. Why? I imagine because of the platform sequences. It’s one thing for multiple players to team up during combat but for more than one player to make the acrobatic leaps necessary in this game would be a synchronized feat worthy of the Olympics. That doesn’t make it any less disappointing however. TMNT is an ideal property for multiplayer. Couldn’t you just picture an action-RPG in the mold of X-Men Legends? Back to reality, this TMNT game does feature some extras in the form of VR-style challenge maps and clips that can be unlocked using coins you accumulate during the singleplayer story but by and large, you’ll be done with the game in under 6 hours. There are achievements though, 1000 points worth that don’t come any easier.
From a visual standpoint, TMNT offers a nice artistic style but for an Xbox 360 title, it doesn’t look all that great. This game was clearly made first and foremost for the previous generation consoles, PlayStation 2 and GameCube, and then ported to the Xbox 360 with a few added enhancements (emphasis on few). There’s no camera control in the game and although you might think that to be a bit of a problem, it surprisingly isn’t. The audio has its ups and downs. The soundtrack is decent and the voice acting is corny, by nature, but listening to the same sound bytes repeat ad nauseam is a pain to say the least.
I wanted to like TMNT, I really did, but history caught up to it in the end. I know this title is aimed at a younger audience but I just can’t see them liking it very much. The combat in the game is underdeveloped, unimaginative, repetitive, and simply not fun. The platform sequences have their moments but it’s not enough to save the game, as they too eventually get a little repetitive. Unless you absolutely loved the movie, I advise you pass on the turtles’ latest adventure.