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.
Originally written on 4/1/2011
What comes to mind when someone asks for your favorite action game? Is it a shooter? A fighter? An RPG? A brawler? You can throw the word “action” on to anything just as freely as you could throw “science fiction” and it could have little impact. I’d recently finished my analysis on what makes a good story. In it I mentioned how Halo was a good action game, but not very rich on story. I was inspired to find the roots of good action as I searched for the roots of a good story. What makes a good action game different from a bad one?
I believe that the best action games are rooted in having control, having complete and total full control. This is the opposite of a horror game that takes control away from you and tosses situations which are impossible to overcome, that can be its own article.
What genre is this, really? 3D Platforming? Puzzle? The combat seems half-hearted, almost an afterthought, since most of Lara’s actions are geared towards movement, climbing, swinging, flipping, and the like. I was never any good at any of the Tomb Raider series until I realized exactly what kind of game it is. I was originally expecting a lot more shooting. When I realized the whole game was about navigating from point A to Z in a 3D environment instead of a 2D plane, I gained a new appreciation for it. It was much less frustrating. It was kind of silly of me to expect otherwise. That’s like disliking a racing game for it’s lack of fishing content.
Tomb Raider is not as good an action game, as much as it is a puzzle game. There’s rarely a time dependent element of pressure that force the player to act. It’s there, just not to the intensity or consistency of some shooters. The action in Tomb Raider is much slower paced.
I’m also not a fan of the controls. It’s strive for realism takes away from the sharpness of the controls. Lara looks great while she moves! Her stride increases as she speeds up, to an extent. The slide and turn around when you suddenly change directions looks “realistic.” But as for exploring the environment, it makes the controls less precise and more frustrating.
Left 4 Dead 1 & 2
Action comes from the pressure. Zombies are always randomly and continually spawned. Even when you “clear out” an area, there will be more, not that there’s much reason to retreat. There’s never an end to the tension, never a real and true “all clear.” The game is governed by an AI director. If you are moving “too fast” the game will spawn more and more difficult creatures to trip you up. Regardless of your speed, there’s always the random zombie horde that can appear from nowhere, climb up anything, and follow you anywhere.
It’s not just a run and gun shooting gallery. The gameplay dynamic changes. It will always involve killing zombies. But sometimes you have to hold a position while killing zombies, operate some hardware while under assault, revive or rescue a comrade who’s been grabbed. The changing requirements of official and unofficial objectives. The “path” through the level varies greatly, through buildings, stairwells, rooftops, out windows, through parks, and many many more. When the zombies attack and when the special infected spawn is different each time, so the tactical action based around fighting a tank will change drastically if you’re in a dark basement or on a rooftop.
Mirror’s Edge vs FPSs
Mirror’s Edge is often described as a first person platformer. And that’s perfectly acceptable. What’s interesting is how if it emphasized guns, it would just be another shooter among shooters with a gimmick of wall running. Mirror’s Edge made the genre better by de-emphasizing the shooter element. There are still guns, but they’re never required, and it’s often better not to use one when they come along. When you’re unarmed, against a bunch of people who are, that changes the action dynamic completely. You don’t have the option of standing and fighting. It’s action is of a completely different flavor than most first person games. People are frequently shooting at or chasing after you. It adds an invisible, less than obvious ticking clock. You have to move. Most FPSs don’t have such a clock. If they do, it’s obvious somehow with a visible health bar of some civilian you have to rescue, or an actual ticking click. Stupid time bombs.
Final Fight, TMNT IV Turtles In Time, Double Dragon II vs God of War, Dante’s Inferno
(full control vs crippled controls)
I’ve said before what I think about modern action games like God of War and Dante’s Inferno that depend on 7 single button combos and quick time events. I don’t like games where button mashing will win it for you.
Final Fight, TMNT IV, and Double Dragon II all share the fact that you have a variety of moves at your disposal, and they’re all available from the very beginning. The controls in TMNT IV especially are very fluid and respond very quickly and sharply. You input, it reacts. There’s never a time where you can’t perform an action.
Games like God of War give you a very small toolset to work with that grows very slowly. Imagine a game of God of War’s length, but where you start with everything? Normally you might have to put in a dozen hours or so before you get that opportunity. It’s like as technology advanced, gameplay took a backseat, even devolved a bit. And somehow this is one of the most best selling games of all time? Even the TMNT IV remake cut out what made it great in favor of HD graphics. I’ve yet to hear any sensible reason for that.
Diablo vs Diablo II
Diablo and Diablo II were two games of different genres. One was a dungeon crawler with horror elements, the other is a dungeon runner action RPG. Diablo II was a much better action game than it’s prequel. Diablo II was much faster paced, you could run instead of just walking, the environments were mostly open, sometimes too open. There were more combat options than just attack, shoot, or cast a spell. Every character had 30 skills to draw upon, but could only master a few and remain effective. This allows a player’s personal strategy and choices to matter. Being able to use these skills, rapidly, made the game more action oriented than the stuttering pace of Diablo I.
Sure, Diablo II had a skill tree that unlocked over time. And if you’re playing solo, that can take a long time. Once you get there, the action gameplay gets better. Until you get there, the horror element is more apparent. Diablo III is looking to follow Diablo II’s example and improve upon it. There may be fewer than 30 skills per character, but the options of how to modify them will be greater, giving more options in the long run. And the use of skills from the gameplay videos look like they’re meant to be able to be used more frequently than ever before.
Kingdom Hearts vs Chain of Memories
Most of the action from the Kingdom Hearts series comes from the combat system. The combat system was ridiculously simple button mashing. There were other special, more spectacular flourish combat moves, magic spells, but all you need is button mashing. As the game progressed, your “combo” got longer and longer, it extended from 3 hits to 4 hits at a time, and so on. Sora must have learned to fight from the Kratos school of Kombat. Dodge-roll, attack-attack-attack, dodge-roll, attack-attack-attack. Sora has some AI partners, but he has no influence over them, he can’t tell them what to do or direct their actions. They’re mostly talking heads with the illusion of helpfulness.
Chain of Memories, at first glance, I thought was some kind of trading card game. But it turned out to be a better action game than the original, or even some sequels like 358/2 Days. Chain of Memories, the Game Boy Advance version, not necessarily the PS2 remake, takes action and combat in a different direction than most. I normally hate the games that force you to “unlock” moves as time goes on. Sometimes, for story purposes, that represents a growth in power and experience in relation to the plot’s advancement. This game doesn’t have any monumental unlockable moments, but a growth over time, a growth that you direct.
Without going in to full “review” mode, Chain of Memories requires a strong sense of awareness, both of the enemy and of your own attack deck. Chain of Memories lets you move whenever and wherever you like, jump wherever and whenever, and attack whenever wherever at strengths you decide. You can scroll through your deck and pick and choose each card individually. The point is, reckless button mashing will only get you killed.
First off, Zeno Clash is a fighter that breaks off of the 2D axis. You have a full 360 degrees of area to be aware of, multiple opponents, find an area to attack among an equally evasive opposing force. Do you attack, block, counter, dodge, evade around, kick, kick the guy that is down or take on the other one, go for the club, or gun?
I suppose it has just as much depth of action as any other fighting game. Attack, evade, or defend? When you decide to attack, there’s many attacks to choose from.
One Must Fall Battlegrounds
One of my favorite games ever, not just one of my favorite action games. But what makes it a great action game, not just a great fighter, is the amount of moves available to you. I don’t mean special moves, but the jab/fierce left/right punch/kicks, that’s 8 right there. Once you’re in the air, that’s another 8. Every robot gets at least 3 special moves, and then “super” versions of the same move, so add 6. Then, there are attacks aimed left and right, add 2. Right now we’re up to 24 different moves that any character can do. Each character moves differently, some moves project straight forward, others swing upward or around from the side, others circle around. So “strong right punch” varies greatly between characters. Then there’s blocking, counter attacking, evading, jumping. You can roll to the side, roll at an angle around an opponent. Jump suddenly in any cardinal direction, or jump and while you’re in the air, evade to get further distance or change directions.
What you’ve got is what you’ve got, and you’ve actually got a lot to work with. You don’t have to earn or unlock anything. However, you will have to master them. That could be seen as “earning” them. Since if you don’t know how or when to evade, you won’t be using it very much.
Castlevania vs Super Castlevania IV
The original Castlevania and Super Castlevania are essentially the same story, just a remake. So how do they differ in being an action game? Super Castlevania is definitely a better action game. I believe that’s primarily because there were more actions to take. Simon Belmont could whip in 8 directions, not just forward. The game played to that ability. It seems like the more abilities you have, the more actions you can take, and the better action game as a result of it.
Castlevania vs Rhondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night
Original Castlevania vs Rhondo of Blood. I may as well compare it to Symphony of the Night, but Rhondo came out first so I’ll start with it. Rhondo of Blood was a leap above Super Castlevania IV, like IV was a leap above the others. The Belmont this time could backflip out of the way of trouble, and he could also jump up staircases, a long time deathtrap to Castlevania games.
Symphony of the Night didn’t have a Belmont, but the main character, Alucard, had more maneuverability than ever before. He could shift into a wolf, a bat, or mist form, jump, double jump, back dash(a curious but vital addition), summon familiars, and cast spells. Symphony went on to become an iconic title in the franchise, as well as the PS 1 platform. It was an action RPG formula that defined the series on handheld platforms.
Castlevania NES vs GBA/DS
The original Castlevania games were action games, but not great action games. The distinct lack of control and rigidness of the characters took away from the action elements. Instead, that distinct lack of control added to the fear factor. If you made a mistake, you’d be able to see it coming, but there’d be nothing you could do about it.
By the time the game series progressed onto the Game Boy Advance and DS, the characters were all distinctly more acrobatic, being able to flip, dash, or slide. With these new abilities, the action definitely grew more intense to show them off.
So far I’ve observed that actions make action games… actiony. Spell check doesn’t like that word, but I’m going with it anyway. An action platformer like Megaman, really doesn’t have too many actions. He’s not a ninja. He has a ton of different weapons, yet they’re very limited on ammo. He’s never had to fight as many enemies at once as the poor folk in Left 4 Dead. So where does the action come from? Megaman is definitely an action game, but it offers a different kind of action. It’s a platformer and it delivers platforms. There’s lots of platforming packed into each Megaman game. Navigating from point A to point B can be made incredibly difficult by enemy robots, moving platforms, high ledges, and spikes. The first game was a simple run and jump. Then items 1, 2, 3, and the Swiss-Army dog, Rush, helped Megaman navigate through more complex areas.
There is a wide variety of levels and themed levels, sometimes with multiple paths or ways around obstacles.
Star Wars: The Force Unleased 1 & 2
Excellent action game, as far as action games go. Just ignore the whole skill upgrading thing. If you had it all at the beginning, it would be better. If he was supposed to be the most powerful thing ever in the Star Wars universe, I wonder why he’s still learning how to throw his lightsaber and choke people? Heck, half the force powers are just variations on telekenesis. If there’s ever a Force Unleashed 3, and the character is not a clone, he’d better start off fully powered.
Go read the book, much less leveling involved.
Left 4 Dead – Action never lets up, situation changes constantly
TMNT4, DD2 – Every move is always available
Castlevania – More and more methods of maneuverability
Kingdom Hearts: CoM – Many choices for you, that you can choose at any time
Diablo II – Many skills of your choice, rapid use
OMF:BG – Many moves, at any time
The faster and more responsive of the controls, the better. And whatsoever type of action, be it shooter, platformer, or fighter, the more shooting, platforming, or fighting actions available for the player to take, the better. Yet there are still games that insist on crippling the player for no reason and dragging the game out into one long tutorial. The fewer actions available, the worse an action game it is. It becomes less about the player’s choices and becomes as streamlined as an adventure game.