It has not been an overly good gaming year for the mutant teenage turtles and their Rat Sensie Master Splinter. Their most recent appearance on XBLA in the form of TMNT: Out of the Shadows is a quite messy and poorly executed TMNT game, but can a direct adaptation based on the animated TV series fair any better as a full blown retail title?
Developed by Magic Pockets and published by Activision, Nickelodeon TMNT is a generic side scrolling beat em up and features all four of the Turtles; Leonardo, Donatello, Michael Angelo and Raphael as they defend the streets, rooftops and sewers of New York City from the evil forces of The Shredder and Krang, who have an evil scheme to turn the entire population of New York into mutants using the same Mutagen that transformed the Turtles and their Master Splinter.
As an adaptation of the TV series, the game uses the voice actors for each character for cutscenes, which are nothing more than conversation bubbles, and sadly this is the starting point of many issues this game has. The audio quality is terrible; you can hear the scratchy noise of where the sample has been taken from the sound recordings. Each character takes it in turn to drop a sound bite of their catchphrases as a short explanation and multiple loading screens lead the player into the level. The levels are broken up into stages, with each stage having a rankings table which is only local to the console, with the old school style of using initials to record your high score.
The stages themselves are all very basic. The four Turtles have to battle their way across the stage encountering enemies and in traditional side scrolling style, have to clear the screen of those enemies before being prompted to move on. Each stage will have a number of Mutagen Canisters to discover, which will unlock game modes Time Attack and Survival mode if you collect enough of them. The later stages will require the player to discover 4 canisters but mostly the number is 3, with two of them being discoverable by just exploring the environment you are in but one will be locked away in a hiding place which the player will be prompted to scan for the secret switch following an onscreen prompt, to activate the switch that will release the final canister of mutagen for the player.
The combat is quite woeful, with the mashing of the X button the only real tactic you need to use. The enemies you encounter range from the basic to those with gun weapons but the enemy AI is as awful as it is for your fellow Turtles. Often they will simply stand there waiting for you to move over to them and hit X until you ‘Ninja Stun’ them, as the annoying catchphrase plays. Stunning an enemy places a large Y button icon above their heads which is a trigger to say that you can now throw the enemy. Some environments will have objects such as trash cans or dumpsters that you can throw the enemy in to trap them or the more mildly amusing for the first few times you do it, throw the enemy towards the camera, having the enemy splat up against the TV screen to slide down. Funny yes, but then it covers the view of the screen meaning you can get hit as you will not be able to see the screen until the animation has completed.
As the player you can hot switch to any of the four Turtles during combat, with each one assigned a direction on the D-Pad. This can be used to switch if one Turtle’s health gets too low but there are always health packs in the environment to replenish your health bar then I found I only switched just to try out another Turtle’s weapon but they all do the same damage. During combat, the AI of your remaining 3 Turtles will see them getting involved in the combat but it helps very little. Often the last remaining enemy will stand right in the middle of the three and they will simply look at it, waiting for you to move to them to finish off the final enemy. The frustration of their lack of help is more felt during boss battles, where they simply act as damage sponges and do very little to actually help you win the fight. But then, they do not really have to as Boss battles are uninspired and often revolve around the ‘avoid attack, run around a bit and attack when boss gets stuck after failed attack‘ scenario.
The game does have an upgrade system; energy orbs can be collected from each stage and defeated enemies which can then be used to upgrade each turtle increasing their attack power, health and unlock a special move triggered by B, when the bar is filled up. On my play through I only managed to fully upgrade two Turtles so will take the replaying of some stages to collect enough orbs to upgrade all Turtles, but sadly the AI will not improve along with their skill set.
Visually the game is again very basic. Using the same animated cell shaded style of the TV series, it falls down during the chat bubble cut scenes where the character speaking has no lip synching at all with what they are saying which spoils the story telling. The combat suffers from clipping in the animations of characters with the hit detection failing to register attacks from you the player or from enemies. The sound effects are also basic, with catchphrases thrown out during battle which became quite grating by the end and dialogue scenes that felt ripped from the TV Series then specifically recorded for the game.
Overall, Nickelodeon’s TMNT is a very poor game. Checking the install size on my Xbox was very telling. At just 469mb the game install is a quarter the size of the Out of Shadows XBLA title and this game is no better than an XBLA game in quality and is not worthy of a full retail disc release. It will only really appeal to the young viewers of the TV Show; older fans will gain nothing from playing this game. The very generic feel and execution of the game will have you asking where the retail price of the game was spent during development. It was a real grind to complete it and once completed there was little to make me want to replay the game.
This is a game to avoid, it is certainly not worth the full retail price and it would be a stretch to advise it having a value worth half of the Out of Shadows XBLA title, a terrible game with little imagination or development purely released as a cash in on the TV Series.