Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a phenomenon in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I was one of the many kids that fell in love with the series. I read the comics, watched the “kid friendly” show, and even owned the Coming out of Their Shells VHS. I was a fanatic. Since Turtles in Time landed on the Super Nintendo, I have yet to find a TMNT video game that has scratched that itch for a great turtle experience. After playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, I’m still waiting on that next great TMNT game.
It starts off well enough. The title screen features a nice backdrop with the turtles posing just like the cover of the first issue of the original comic with the nice beat of Partners in Kryme’s Turtle Power playing. It reeks of pure nostalgia. Well, that quickly changed when I hit start.
Based loosely on the new Nickelodeon show, Out of the Shadows has players taking control of their favorite heroes-in-a-half-shell as they take on Krang, the Purple Dragons and of course, the Foot clan led by none other than the Shredder. Displaying most of the cut scenes in a comic book style, it offers up a standard TMNT lore.
I never enjoy comparing a game to another one, but TMNT plays a lot like Batman Arkham Asylum if Bruce Wayne was blind and had only one working arm. The combat focuses on stringed combos with both weapon attacks and kicks. The tutorial claims that kicks will break an enemy’s guard, but it doesn’t really matter due to the fact that breaking an enemy’s guard will potentially knock them down. Knocking a bad guy down is one of the worst things players can do.
Since attacking adds to a hit counter, even if they are blocked, and after the counter hits every ten increments it allows for the player to perform an instant KO, it is crucial to keep the enemies standing. Knocking an enemy down will make them invulnerable to any attack with the exception of a special ground attack that isn’t even available from the beginning. Dropping combos will result in players having to start over in order to take out the bad guys. Now, enemies will go down without the instant KO attack, but it takes a very long time to accomplish.
The attack aiming is way off at times. Too often I was going into a nice combo only to have Leo slashing at air because the enemy shifted a few steps. That means, yep, I dropped my combo. There is also blocking and countering that works only half the time. By pressing B when an enemy attacks, the turtle is supposed to block, and if timed correctly, even counter the blow, but if I’m already in an animation, I’m going to get hit. Guess what happens when a character gets hit. Yep, dropped another combo. For a game that relies on a hit counter for most of the special attacks, it sure does throw a lot at the player to keep them from ever getting them.
Aside from counters and standard attacks, the turtles can also use a special attack which requires a gauge that fills up over time. There are three attacks that can be used, each using up one, two or three sections of the special meter. Now these are nice and can hit multiple enemies for high damage, there’s only one problem: they are activated with motions on the right analog stick. A level one attack takes a quarter circle motion, level two a half circle and a level three a full circle. These are the most awkward motions to use for an action game. It makes no sense and it’s pretty much impossible to combo into them. It’s almost like the game is fighting against me.
Out of the Shadows features a leveling system where every enemy defeated gives experience points. At each new level, I received ability points I could distribute to each turtle. These attributes may be increasing defense, attack, counters, new attacks and combos and much more. It is actually very extensive and fleshed out. Unfortunately, the combat holds it back from seeing its full potential. Aside from the leveling, after completing levels and other modes, players are rewarded with weapon upgrade points as well. These allow Donnie to create upgrades for the team’s weapons that give a little more variety, but not by much. Most are activated through the special attacks that are a chore to pull off in the heat of combat.
The game is not a cakewalk either. Not only are the enemies hard to knock out, but they can put out some damage as well, and when the player is surrounded, they are in for a very bad time. That’s not even talking about the boss fights where not only are multiple regular enemies are attacking, but also a giant hard hitting boss that can stun lock the player’s character into oblivion. Another enemy of the turtles is the awful camera that will decide to move into walls or right up on a character to where I couldn’t see anything on the screen. I haven’t seen a camera this bad since the original PlayStation.
Finally, there are glitches. Yes, this game has some wonderful glitches that go from “That’s kinda weird.” to “Holy crap game, why are you doing this to me?!” Too many times to count, I saw items, bodies, and other pieces of the environment floating in mid-air. That’s not too bad. I can look past that. Well, three times during my play, I had one of my AI partners doing absolutely nothing. He was taking no damage or hitting anything. Come to find out, once all my usable turtles were dead, I switched to the last living turtle and saw why. He was in a totally different part of the level that was not only out of the way, but completely blocked off so I couldn’t get anywhere, and had to restart at the last checkpoint.
There is also local and online co-op where players can join with friends and random people and be frustrated together. I do have to mention that the online at least worked and with almost no lag, but that’s like polishing a turd at this point. There’s an arcade mode where the players take on multiple waves of enemies and fight the bosses of the story mode the only difference is the camera is that of a side-scroller which helps some, but this mode offers nothing in terms of progression, and the levels unlock after playing through the story mode.
The visuals look decent at times and god-awful at others. I do like the gritty, more “realistic” look of the turtles themselves, but it can only go so far. The voice acting is decent, but the constant repeating of one-liners grated on my nerves within the first 20 minutes of the game. There is also concept art that can be unlocked.
Now, I know you readers may be thinking I’m just tearing into this game. Well, I am. As a huge fan of TMNT, it is a disgrace to see this have the potential to be great and end up being an unpolished, unfinished mess. I can see how the developers tried to have a decent experience with the level progression and how deep the customization could have been, but in the end, the action and combat are hindrances that can’t be overlooked. This game was a chore to play, and it blows my mind that it was one of the flagship titles for the Summer of Arcade. Aside from about fifteen minutes of nostalgia and the title screen, there really is no need to play this game unless you are some kind of sadist. It pains me to say this, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time is still the last great TMNT game.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.