Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan
Developer: Platinum Games
Release Date: 05/24/2016
Video games based off your favorite licenses can be such a tease. If a big name publisher or a respected developer get their hands on the license, that tease only gets more brutal. You start to hope, and that’s how disappointment happens. Mutants in Manhattan is the latest of those disappointments. Platinum Games has a solid reputation among fans of action games, and have crafted numerous appreciated titles throughout the years. When it was announced they were developing a game based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it was a clear sign that we might finally get back to the glory days of the old school beat-em-ups we played as kids… or so we thought.
The game includes two modes based off the same set of nine levels. You can either go through each stage on your own, or take the fight online with up to four players. Local co-op is unavailable, which really should have been the first red flag. Anyway, the game is designed so that you’ll replay these nine stages repeatedly. There are four different levels of difficulty and the objectives are random each time. At first, it seems like a complete lack of content, but there’s a decent amount of play time here assuming you’re not just going to play each level once and call it a day.
As for the story, there really isn’t one. Each of the stages is bookended by scenes that introduce and close out each level. Supposedly, there’s a plot involving an alien invasion and all of the baddies working together, but it never materializes beyond “go beat up some bad guys”. The closest thing to a plot device the game has is a running gag about Michelangelo not being able to eat some pizza. It’s kind of a shame, because the voice actors and animations go a long way to selling this version of the characters. They just don’t have anything to work with.
Visually, the game has a good sense of style, but is held back by dated technology. It uses cell shading to decent effect, and the graphics harken back to the old comic books rather than the more brightly colored TV shows. The turtles themselves look great and animate fluidly. The problems arise mostly due to low polygon counts and reused assets. Despite there being nine stages, there are only about five different levels. You’ll see rehashed versions of pretty much all of them. For example, Slash’s stage takes place in the sewer. When you later on go to Armaggon’s stage, you’ll fight in that same sewer. They add a few obstacles to try and freshen it up, but the pathways are identical. Poor textures also plague the game to the point where it feels like your playing a low budget downloadable title from last generation. It simply doesn’t reach the production standards of today.
If it were just the voice acting, Mutants in Manhattan would get a gold star. Each turtle is full of personality, and the bosses feel menacing enough. There’s a miss or two to be sure, but it’s mostly good stuff. However, the music is mostly awful. The generic rock tracks have no flavor to them and repeat bars of obnoxious music. Then there’s the sound effects. Because battle is a constant flurry of attacks, each fight is a cacophony. Between standard sounds such as metal clanging, laser blasts, and grunts, you won’t be able to hear yourself think. The turtles also each spout off the same line every time you use a special move. While it might be funny or cute the first couple of times, you’ll tire of it quite quickly.
Even if everything else was bad, good gameplay could have saved this game. However, the combat is repetitive and quite boring. When you play through the tutorial, you’re introduced to dodging, parrying, combos, and special moves. In a one on one fight, these things can happen, but that scenario is extremely rare. Instead, there will be a large group of characters bashing on each other. Any time you focus on a particular enemy, you’re bound to get hit from behind or sent flying from an attack off screen. Even if you can land a clear hit without worry of your enemies, you have to worry about your AI or human partners. It’s hard to land a specific combo or attack when another turtle runs in and hits theirs. The enemy can simply go flying or move out of the way because of this. Combat is simply chaotic.
Each turtle can equip up to four special moves. These can be used any number of times, but must recharge after each use. Almost every move can be used by any turtle, with only a small handful being unique to a specific character. For example, only Raph can use the stealth move. You’ll pretty much call on these to the bulk of your damage and/or heal you depending on when you use them. There are also combo specials. When one turtles uses a combo special, any other turtle can join in to create a more powerful attack. The kind of attack used depends on the turtle who initiated the combo. For example, if Mike starts the combo, then the special will involve making the foes dance. These combo moves are particularly powerful if you can land them.
There’s an upgrade system that relies on you earning training points from levels. As you level up, you’ll unlock new moves for purchase and the ability to upgrade your existing moves. However, upgrading a move simply reduces the cooldown time between uses. As such, you’re rewarded for sticking with a small group of moves and upgrading them rather than experimenting with new ones. The good news is that if you upgrade the move, it’s upgraded for every turtle.
Each turtle can also equip charms. The number of charms you can use depends on the difficulty. The higher the challenge, the more charms you’re allowed. These offer passive boosts that come in a variety of flavors. They can do simple things like boost damage, or more complicated things like restore health if you manage a stealth takedown. Charms can have multiple effects at once, and you can upgrade each effect by spending points and using items dropped from defeated enemies. The catch is that many of the items you need are rare. It’s likely you’ll need to farm drops, and often the upgrade isn’t worth it. You can also trash three charms to get a new one. However, the new one you get isn’t necessarily going to be stronger or more useful. It mostly seems like a complete gamble. The menu system for playing around with charms is awkward and confusing. You won’t even find out how dismantling works until you stumble upon it. It’s just not a well designed system.
Level design is one of the game’s biggest problems. There are a number of different objective types you can come across, and what you get is random each time you go through a stage. Many of these objectives are simply boring. For example, diffusing bombs/gathering intel from a terminal involve standing over the object and holding down the circle button until a meter fills up. These meters move slow, even if every turtle is helping out. It’s just dull. Completing the objectives fills up a boss meter. When it’s full, you get to fight the boss. These fights could have been interesting, but they tend to go overlong thanks to massive health bars and characters getting constantly knocked out.
Speaking of which, the game has an awkward system for getting back up after being knocked out. When your life drops to zero, you become “shell shocked”. During this, you slide about inside your shell until someone revives you or the timer runs out. If you’re revived, you come back with very little health and are likely to get knocked out again quickly. If you don’t get revived, you have to go down to the sewers and binge on some pizza until you restore all of your health. If everyone is eating pizza, you lose. The issue is that enemies will still attack you when you’re shell shocked. Their attacks will often send you flying, and there’s nothing you can do about it. A decent amount of the game is spent reviving people. If you don’t, the enemies will simply gang up on whoever is left, and the game simply isn’t balanced for that.
The game isn’t difficult, but it is obnoxious. There are plenty of times when you’ll be knocked out from one blow or juggled in the air by a gun toting foe. You are constantly having control taken away from you as a result. The worst sections are when there’s so much going on that you’re constantly being assailed by enemies or obstacles you can’t see. One section had me assaulted by missiles, bullet fire, lightning strikes, melee foes, and even a strong wind that constantly pushed me towards the edge of the building I was on. It was simply way too easy to get stuck in a loop of being hit.
If all you want to do is go through each stage once, the game will last a handful of hours. You’ll get three to four fairly easily depending on what difficulty you play on. As enemies get more health the harder you play, it will take that much longer. The game expects you to grind. You’re meant to want to get an S rank on each mission, as well as earn enough experience and drops to fully upgrade your turtles. However, the game is far too repetitive and monotonous to keep your attention for all that time. Even if you overlook the gameplay and design issues, the game simply can’t hold your attention long enough to do all of that.
All told, the game is functional, but not fun. Mindless combat, bad design, and repetitive levels sap any enjoyment you might get out of the game. It’s just dull.
Short Attention Span Summary
Mutants in Manhattan is a bitter disappointment. The production values are subpar, there’s a lack of meaningful content, and the combat boils down to mindless button mashing. It could have been a good game, and there are some decent ideas here. It just didn’t come together. If you really want to play the game, it isn’t broken, and it can get a way to kill time. Just make sure you look for it on sale. It shouldn’t be too long.
Tags: Activision, platinum games, teenage mutant ninja turtles: mutants in manhattan, TMNT