Platinum Games have established themselves as being key developers of high quality hack’n’slash games. Last year, they released Transformers Devastation. Surprisingly, for a licensed game, it received good reviews. It was highly praised for its slick combat, captured the essence of the classic show, and was only stopped from getting higher scores due to its brevity. Based on this, many Turtle and Platinum fans undoubtedly had high hopes for the studio’s latest title: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan.
Its story sees the turtle brothers, Leo, Donnie, Raph, and Mikey having to stop the nefarious Krang and Shredder’s secret plot. April and Splinter are simply there for moral support. It’s an irritating, one-dimensional, uninteresting plot, that has the turtles constantly wondering what to do next. Bizarrely, some of the cutscenes even decide to repeat themselves, and you also get the impression that many could be swapped around, as they often seem pointless. Depressingly, the last scene is tedious, and beating the extra boss doesn’t even give you a different ending. Sadly there is also no Casey Jones, only a brief mention of his name.
The only decent part of the story is that it introduces some of the banter that the turtles have, and gives the villains some time to shine. While there isn’t nearly enough of this, the essence of the turtles brotherhood is captured brilliantly. They each display their unique personalities perfectly: Donald is a nerdy tech wiz, Raph (my favorite turtle) is a complete hot head, Leo is the honorable leader, and Michaelangelo is the goofy pizza maniac. Their one-liners can be hilarious, and Michaelangelo’s video game references often had me grinning “all your base belong to us”. The heroes, villains, and stages also look impeccable, and the cell-shaded graphics do homage to the franchise, reflecting the action-filled comic it often feels like. It’s enough to make the game reminiscent of Transformers Devestation.
At any point you can switch between the turtles, and each controls uniquely: Mikey is fast; Donnie’s attacks reach far; Raph is the strongman; Leo is well-balanced. They can each be equipped with four special moves, each with a cooldown time. The special moves can be showy and fun, such as Mikey’s ability to make all the enemies stop to dance, but many of them lack precision, and the AI often has your uncontrolled characters using them haphazardly. It turns the combat into a mess, and makes it hard to even know what’s going on. Basic weak, strong, and ranged attacks lack importance and have no fluidity; there aren’t even many combos to master. The block/parry system is also overly complex and rarely feels useful; it’s a shame when placed beside other Platinum titles such as Bayonetta 2 and Metal Gear Rising. Instead of deftness, you’ll find yourself flailing around special moves, and waiting for them to recharge.
Watching the other characters health so you can heal them is awkward, and switching between them is clumsy. In order to switch, you have to hold down one of the shoulder buttons and then use the d-pad; this is extremely cumbersome on the flow of combat. Oftentimes, for convenience, you’ll find yourself sticking to the same character. This isn’t too much of a hindrance in regular brawls, since they’re very easy, but the boss battles can be quite challenging, and thus the interruption to flow can be irritating. Boss attack patterns can be chaotic, tough to cope with, and the special attacks flying around can be an annoyance on your focus. Every battle is also ranked, and despite my sometimes poor performance, I received an unbelievable amount of S and A ranks in my first playthrough. My turtles might have been getting knocked out, but that didn’t seem to matter.
Levels are organised around the bosses, and you need to clear a series small tasks to get to them. Typically, these involve protecting something, moving something, or beating up bad guys. Oftentimes they can become extremely monotonous, especially when the turtles and April keeps spouting dried-up phrases. Some missions also expose major issues. During one, I had to disarm some bombs. The task was incredibly easy on normal, but after setting the difficulty to hard I faced the game over screen about four times. I hadn’t died until then. But why was I dying you ask? Because the AI decided to flop around again. It was extremely irritating.
The turtles have led to some of the most hilarious situations I’ve ever seen in a game. In another mission, I had to go fight enemies atop a jet, but my buddies decided that they would rather jump up and down a wall in an empty building. After my fight, I went to stare at them for about five minutes, and they did not seem to be going anywhere, even when I tried switching between characters. I also found Donatello (I can’t call him Donnie here, that’s how much he annoyed me) running in circles on a certain spot for several minutes. This kind of bug-riddled nonsense is simultaneously hilarious and head-wrecking. It’s wondrous that they didn’t decide just to have you choose a single character to play as, and reserve other characters to multiplayer.
Speaking of the multiplayer, it has its own shortcoming. Many will be disappointed to see that TMNT has no local co-op, and instead you get the inferior experience of playing with random people on the internet, or with any friends you have who made the mistake of getting the title. There are no special modes in the multiplayer. The mode doesn’t feel like it a major addition to the title either, which is a disappointment, since the franchise is built around ideas of brotherhood and teamwork. It’s a far cry from the classic arcade/NES title.
Outside of fighting, exploring certain levels can be quite fun. The first level in particular sees you grinding on rails atop buildings, gliding through the sky, and finding hidden items. Some of these are weapons, and others are health. While useful, you can only carry four, and extras can only be picked up by returning to the lair. In comparison, the collectibles you can find throughout levels are enticing, and contain cover images from TMNT comics. However, while the early levels will feel rewarding to explore, it can become easy to ignore them later on. Many levels simply re-thread old ground, while others see you dragging the turtles through monotonous corridor-like sewers.
It’s a pity that nearly every single aspect here – other than the graphics and script – has some sort of issue. The combat is messy, the story is boring, levels are uninspired, and the AI is some of the worst I’ve seen in any game. What’s truly a shame is that there is a decent game in here. If more time was given to improve what could have been innovative combat, this game might have been fantastic. The source material is wonderful, and nobody right now knows hack’n’slash games better than Platinum. However, this game seems blatantly rushed out in order to coincide with the disturbing Michael Bay film. Mutants in Manhattan has just been left to the wayside with its gameplay unrefined, ready to seep down into the sewers. Master Splinter would not be proud.
An uninteresting story, manic combat, and unforgivably bad AI spoil what could have been a great turtle outing