The Best Game Never Played
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (Brawler / PC)
Introducing the Genre
This game is actually 2-in-1. For the purchase, you get a classic brawler and a separate new school brawler. God of War defined the new school of brawling and since then there have been many, clones, some better than others, like Dante’s Inferno or Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. TMNT IV: Turtles in Time for the SNES is regularly in the top spot of the greatest brawlers of the older genre, alongside classics like Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, or Golden Axe.. In this game you get to see where the genre came from and where it is now. It does that better than most modern brawlers.
Introducing the Game
This game first came to my attention when I was looking for some information on another iteration of the franchise. At first, it didn’t look to have much potential. I thought it would wind up being the same generic franchise brawler that stains the industry like the Green Lantern game. As time went on, I occasionally looked into the game more and more. I saw some gameplay videos, some interviews, and it looked more and more appealing. By the time I bought it, about a week after release, I wasn’t surprised that it was the most inspired brawler I’ve ever played since TMNT IV: Turtles in Time, this is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows!
Amazing! This has one of the richest and deepest combat systems in an action or brawling game that I’ve ever seen. I’ll start with the biggest difference that I’ve seen, the combo system. In lots of brawlers, some which get 10/10 from IGN, you can easily rack up 30 hit combos by pressing the same button over and over. In this game, you might be able to do just that, but it would be a deliberate handicap challenge.
TMNT: OotS has a combo combat system, that if you reach 10 hits in a row without being hit, you can perform a finisher on your enemy of choice. Being able to master this system will make the whole game a lot easier. First, rack up some hits on the foot soldiers, then attack the stronger enemy with a finisher. Enemies spend a lot of time on the floor and can soak up repeated knockdowns early on, so finishing will speed up your progress. It can also easily eliminate the special attack enemies or ones who like to block often.
There are two main types of attacks, which is normal for brawlers, but I was amazed at the inspired choices. Instead of “light” and “heavy” attacks or “direct” and “area” attacks, there are “weapon” and “kick” attacks. Weapon attacks deal a lot of damage, assuming the enemy isn’t blocking. Kick attacks, if they connect with a blocking enemy, greatly decrease their block bar, a bar that decreases with every block. You could wear them down with weapon attacks, but that would be a needlessly long battle.
Unlike the previous Turtles brawlers, the AI isn’t as accommodating to let you finish with one enemy before attacking you. Go back and play them, you’ll see an oddly considerate pause before you turn your attention to them. The AI in this game will surround you and attack you all at once, not like the plucky ninjas of the past. To prevent being hit in the back and losing your combo streak, you have to get the counter system down. If you’re late with a counter, you block instead, decreasing your own block bar.
All of this applies to the “Arcade” mode, too. Arcade mode is a throwback to the simpler side-scrolling Turtles games of the past. So you get 2 games for the price of 1.
That’s just scratching the surface and I’ll leave the special attacks up to you to discover. You might be able to button mash your way through the game, but only with great frustration and needless irritation. Their version of combat improves upon any of the others of the genre’s past. I could go on for a few more pages but I should probably move on to other sections. It’s the gameplay that makes this game. Any other wrapping and it’s still solid, but being Turtles just makes it better.
The story is a one-off, isolated, self-contained, and doesn’t do anything to shake up the series. It fits in nicely as just another side story, one of their many adventures. The game’s story is probably the weakest part, but it makes sense within it’s own continuity, so there’s nothing bad about it. It’s not bad storytelling. The most enjoyable parts of the story mode are watching the interactions of the turtles with each other, watching them do what they do best, and just being themselves.
It’s a rather short story. I could easily go for a serving of seconds.
Here is usually where some of the most vocal criticisms come from, but not from me. The “look” of the turtles has changed with just about every iteration, so why complain now? I actually like this design. It’s a blend of the new Nickelodeon series(which is great, it’s great for old fans and a great jumping on point) and the first live action movie’s aesthetic. Donatello has that gap in his teeth, Raphael has that chip in his front upper left plate, Michelangelo is the shortest with big expressive blue eyes. It’s a great big blend, the way the rest of the game blends every other incarnation.
Between levels there are a few comic panel cut-scenes. Most reviewers took this as a bad sign, quoting cheap and bad art. I saw it as a resourceful choice mad by a small, but incredibly passionate studio which reflects the source material’s roots. I can’t knock them for that.
The first treat you’ll hear is the original T-U-R-T-L-E Power song that plays in the opening menu and end credits. That sets up the experience you’re about to have, one heavily influenced by the first movie. In other places, you can hear a re-recorded version that fixes the curious lyric, “…make up the team with one other fellow, Raphael. He’s the leader of the group…” That’s just more proof of all the care and effort put into this game. I just wish they could have licensed more music from the original soundtrack, like Shredder’s Theme, 9.95, and Turtle Rhapsody.
Maybe we can hope for them in a sequel. Those, or maybe some of the old Konami tracks from the NES and SNES eras. The old games definitely influenced this one in many ways, I hope a sequel draws from more of the older music.
The rest of the game’s music is very energetic to fit the pace of combat. It’s original, and it works, which is always risky when you’re dealing with a franchise game. What would LEGO Star Wars or Force Unleashed have been like if they decided to just forget John Williams’ score?
Excellent! A thwack of sword on sword combat, falls, but especially the dialogue. No familiar voices from the movies, which is a shame considering how vocal they are about the strange direction Michael Bay is taking the new film. No actors return from the TV series, which is understandable because they’re working hard on season 2. The new cast is undeniably excellent. Without reference, you’ll be able to tell who delivered which line. This is also a credit to the writer as much as to the voice actors.
I played the game on my PC, so I did not encounter any of the supposed problems that other reviewers complained about. That could just be me. When I played TMNT IV: Turtles in Time, I used all the moves with regular frequency, flips, slides, flying, forward, back, jump, and high kicks, charging, and specials.
Maybe it was because I spent 2 hours marveling at all the different animations, but the controls were never a problem. There is a rich system of combat, combos, blocks, counters, takedowns, evades, aerial attacks, finishers, team attacks, projectiles, and room clearing attacks that seemed to be very natural, at least to me. You can mix and match any attack with almost any other attack. Some work and chain better than others, some combos are faster than others, some combos are faster than others, but that’s not really the game. If you’re not aware of your environment, if you don’t evade or counter properly, you’ll be hit from behind and
I haven’t played the game WITH anyone yet, but I imagine it will be wonderful, like the times I played LEGO anything, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Double Dragon, or the original TMNT games with good friends. There’s co-operative play in both story and arcade modes. Once my friend buys it for the PSN, I’ll probably get the chance.
Even without the extensive list of purchasable combos in other brawlers, you start with most of the combat moves already unlocked. I said most. Each turtle has a set of trees to upgrade like fighting, defense, unique skills to them, and team assist skills. Some of these skills have to be purchased as one or another. The game asks if you want to improve your individual turtle or have him contribute more to the team? Personally, I turned Michelangelo into a powerhouse, forsaking everyone else. That’s very much representative of my style. How you customize the team will be up to you.
I’ve replayed level 1 of the arcade mode many times. If you were a fan of the other TMNT brawlers, and found those to be endlessly replayable, then you ought to feel the same about this, or even more. Very soon, I expect to see this game show up in speed runner communities. I spent many hours trying to refine my fighting style and finish enemies faster. I still can’t get enough.
Right when I finished the game, I was ready to go through all over again. I verbally pronounced, “I hope there’s a hard mode!” As if the game heard me, “True Ninja Unlocked.” “Cowabunga!” There are other surprising unlockables to search for but I’ll leave you to find them.
This is nine-tenths of the game that I wanted and previously wrote about in the Perfect 10 section. Compare this game to the speculative, “Perfect 10” review I wrote years ago.
I spent 2 hours in the training room with Michelangelo. Not because it was complicated, but because it was fun!
I played level 1 of the arcade game many many times. Sure, I could have unlocked more, but the flow of fighting was so flawless, it became a tranquil experience.
Two complete games for $15? This could easily have been a $20 experience for either one.
Discovering every easter egg was a real treat! They’re not overt, you have to be a fan and no matter what your favorite incarnation is, you’ll find some kind of callback including the NES games, including the first one, SNES Tournament Fighters, Turtles in Time, original comics, current comics, the micro-series, even a gag about the voice actors.
Everyone needs a little Cowabunga now and then.
Boiling it Down
There’s no reason not to buy this. It’s the game that I’ve wanted for years. Don’t let any other low review score stop you.