Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Originally written on 1/23/2011

The Best Game Never Played

Introducing the Genre

Like the Star Wars review before it, I’m divided on familiarity with the franchise and with the genre. Though this time the genre hasn’t changed as much over time. The TMNT games, except for the weird first NES one, are generally the definitive side scrolling brawling beat ’em ups. Sure there was Final Fight, Death & Rebirth of Superman, X-MEN, a couple Spider-Mans, but the Turtles were the most definitive.

I played all three NES TMNT games, and even got my hands on the arcade versions once or twice. I regrettably bought TMNT for the DS, that was a mistake and one of the few games I’ve traded away. I played Fall of the Foot Clan for the original gray brick of Game Boy. TMNT IV and Tournament Fighters for the SNES. And my last TMNT experience was one of the games based on the 2000 animated series. I was very unimpressed with that last one.

The new game both draws upon and differentiates itself from the past. It’s still primarily a brawler, but this time it’s over the shoulder 3rd and 1st person. I admit, I was worried about that at first.

Introducing the Game

Way cool! This is one of those games that so many people were waiting for. The first movie was amazing. The second and third movies were mistakenly aimed for younger and younger audiences. One of my other favorite series, ReBoot, actually grew with its audience and dealt with more mature subject matter. This game, like ReBoot, took into account the age of Turtles fans when they were first introduced, and made a game for the original demographic. Cowabunga! (Okay, even though it was made for an older audience, it still makes me feel like a kid again)

Gameplay

Bodacious! The game takes a clever cue from Left 4 Dead’s cooperative gameplay, so you will need to depend on your brothers to survive. Since the game heavily involves ninjas, there is a lot of combat. Thankfully the combat does not draw upon the insane 30 hit combos most “action” games do. It also doesn’t make the fights as cheap as Dynasty Warriors. You have all the moves available to you at the start, there’s no XP point climb, and no skills to unlock. After all, you’ve been training since you were on all fours.

Similar to the other NES games, the foot soldiers in this game come from everywhere. More cues from Left 4 Dead. The soldiers are spawned dynamically each time. Level 1 is never the same, but always intense.

There are missions which have the turtles all together. Some missions show off a turtle’s solo abilities and give you a chance to get a feel for them. But on those occasions when you’re with a partner, you can call on them for help. There’s a “call” button like an old LCD hand held game. That’s one of the secrets to the gameplay. You’ve got to depend on them and call on them to succeed. Anyone who’s doing a speed run will be using it frequently.

Story

Tubular! This is one of the most outstanding aspects of this game, or any other in the last few years. Usually the plot of a brawler is about as deep as a kung-fu movie. A turtles game will usually have Shredder causing trouble, April may be kidnapped, and the Turtles destroy hundreds and hundreds of Foot Soldiers in the process. But this is much more.

As I said earlier, this is a story that grew with the audience. It explores the meaning of family and brotherhood. It follows the questions the Turtles have about their own identities as they come of age. The action actually plays 2nd fiddle to a wonderful story. It’s like there just happens to be Foot Soldiers around. The Turtles are doing a lot of growing up in a short amount of time. That might make the action parts of the story sound a bit inconsequential, or pieced together. I guarantee you, it’s not.

I’ll throw out one example. Donatello and Michaelangelo are on a rooftop at night, overlooking a pet store near where Splinter first found them. They’re talking about the store, how the store gets it’s turtles and mixes them all together. There’s a good chance they’re not at all genetic brothers. Suddenly, they’re interrupted by Foot Soldiers. Vastly outnumbered, the two are overwhelmed. Mikey, being the most athletic of the four, is able to evade capture, but Donatello cannot. The following level is an intense “run for your life” level of Mikey running from rooftop to rooftop to keep ahead of the overwhelming amount of Foot Clan and make it back to the sewers. All the while, we’re treated to Mikey’s inner monologue about how much he wants to go back, but knows he’ll be captured, too. It shows that he’s not always thoughtlessly hedonistic, a side we don’t normally get to see. It’s amazing to see these famed characters from our childhood brought into adulthood.

It came with help from the mind of Peter Laird, the creator. He was consulted on the TMNT CG movie. Since there’s more than just 2 hours to work with, there was more depth allotted to all the characters. They’re all much more than they were in the movies or in the animated series. It’s as if they have grown too, with the passage of time. I suppose since turtles live for such a long time, they have a longer period of remaining in the “teenager” phase. The relationships of each turtle between each other turtle is explored in a way no movie or series had ever done. This story isn’t like the X-Men movies, which were seriously weighted to favor Wolverine more than anyone else. It isn’t just, Leonardo’s story or anything. It draws on elements from each movie and series, and combines them into a new vision still in line with Turtle tradition.

If I didn’t love them so much, and want to see more, I’d say this is a great send off. It may mark the end of the “Teenage” Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise.

Graphics

Awesome! The graphics are a breath of fresh air. The games that came before were all based on the animated series. Instead, this game draws upon the grit from the original comics, New York’s look from the 80s, and the art direction of the first movie. That goes along with the design goals of “growing” with the audience, there aren’t as many bright colors as the animated series. There were some comparisons to Arkham Asylum’s art style. Everyone familiar is given a new design, but still recognizable.

There’s also a few cosmetic-only graphical options to change the Turtles’ appearance. You can keep the game’s art or make them all the same color green(80s cartoon), red bandannas(original comic), or the comic shading of their skin tones.

Music

Bossanova! All the music brings back great memories. The greats are back in full remastered glory, the classics, the ones any turtle fan ought to know, and a few surprises. The soundtrack from the first movie is drawn on extensively. From the opening menu screen, you know the game is going to be great. It opens with a remastering of Turtle Rhapsody, the intro song from the first movie. The camera even tracks through a sewer tunnel as the credits roll, just like the first movie introduction. The music combined with the image get me psyched up, recalling the same feelings of the time I saw the movie when I was younger. The final battle with you-know-who’s musical theme actually intimidated me. I was tense, I seized up a bit, I wasn’t performing as well as I had been. I’m sure I’d have been less intimidated if I’d turned the music off. That song actually gave me chills, more than One Winged Angel or The Imperial March ever will.

Sound

Radical! It’s a little hard to get used to a new voice actor for a character you’ve grown up with. Though each of these characters has been interpreted so many times, they all have multiple voices; the 80s cartoon, the 2000s, the 5 movies, and the video games. But besides the voices, it’s primarily the writing which conveys the characters. Each character speaks, and its the words and dialog that carry the weight more than the voices.

The combat sounds are noticeably slightly over the top, but that’s good. Smacking a Foot Soldier is all that more satisfying when you can hear very blow land. Whenever you’re on an untouchable streak, landing hits without taking any, or call on the assistance of a brother, you’re rewarded with one of their characteristic exclamations. Everybody needs a little “Cowabunga!” now and then.

Controls

The controls remind me of TMNT IV in regards to their depth. There were a ton of different moves you can perform and you had them all at once. Once I mastered them, I felt there was a certain flow. After playing level 1 a few times, not trying to win, just experimenting and jumping around, I seemed to get the hang of Leonardo. Everyone plays just a little differently. They’re not just palate swaps of each other like the NES games. Some are faster than others, stronger, more maneuverable, longer range, handle crowds better, lunge farther, defensive, etc. For every tactical situation, there is a turtle which excels at it.

Something I haven’t seen too much of in brawlers is the AI of allied characters. Besides each turtle being able to fight alone, you become a real powerhouse when you work together as one. Consider your four turtles as a unit, using team attacks via “call button” is a secret to success. It’s kind of like a finishing move or block breaker. The turtle drops what they’re doing and surprises your target, landing a critical blow.

There’s so many animations detailing each turtle’s interaction with another, it feels very dynamic. For example, the team up between Raph and Don is different, showing off their character, compared to the team up with Mike and Raph. There’s some overlap, like the “California Roll” and the “Shell Shock” which might randomly proc. The animations are also dependent on the angle the assisting turtle approaches from, like one turtle rolling over another’s shell to deliver a punishing hammer kick. That really helps the game feel fresh, since when you call for help, you don’t always know who is coming to help, from what angle, and what they’ll do.

Multiplayer

What would it be without it? Of course there’s multiplayer! On local consoles, there is a split screen function that only splits when one player wanders off. It merges when they close the distance with each other. Most of the gameplay requires cooperation, so it’s beneficial to stay close as often as possible. Online, friends can join in missions where there is more than one turtle, or join in special challenges.

There’s also a versus mode that’s a bit hectic. It reminds me a bit of the first Double Dragon. There is a real neat feature that let’s you play as some of the bosses just for fun. You can mix and match characters and environments, not just recreating the level in which you fought the boss. Or have bosses fight each other like a 4 player battle royale between Tokka, Rhazar, Rocksteady & Bebop.

Depth/Replayability

Even when I memorize it, I’ll never get tired of it. I could play level 1 a hundred times(I think I have). It’s just so enjoyable! You can replay different sections with different turtles if you want to try something new. I went through the game 4 times just so I could explore each Turtle’s storyline as much as possible.

Personal

I can’t get enough of this game!

Rocksteady never scared the crap out of me like he did in this! He was always portrayed as a buffoon. In this he’s actually terrifying and given some character depth. I’m so glad that the boss battles aren’t as predictable as traditional “action” games. Rocksteady wasn’t just a “charging” boss you had to dodge in the last second and then hit from behind.

Rat King, Leatherhead, Baxter(in several forms), Tokka & Rhazar, Rocksteady & Bebop, Slash, Krang, and lots of others all appear in the story, not just as cameos, guest stars, or 1 boss fight appearances. It really brings the universe together and makes it alive!

I love the fighting. It just seemed to flow for me, especially with Mikey. I love how everyone’s personality is more developed than before. Raph is more than just the angry tough one, Mikey’s more than just the pizza crazed, pop culture fan, Don’s more than just “smart.” Even Leo has a personality.

Sewer surfing is fun!

Boiling it Down

Cowabunga! Best Turtles game ever. Best brawler ever since TMNT IV.

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Posted on July 16, 2011, in TBGNP Perfect 10 and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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