I spent the whole time editing this podcast on a yoga ball. So Gabe, I get you.
Once upon a time, the phrase “PlatinumGames’ latest release” would’ve had me teeming with excitement. After all, the Bayonetta series and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance are some of the finest character action games out there. But as Platinum’s third in a line of lackluster, licensed, Activision-published releases, I didn’t have high hopes for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan… and it still left me disappointed.
I’d like to start off by saying that TMNT looks fine. Its art is apparently based on that of the original comics, and it shows. Although the game suffers from uninspired level design and a dearth of enemy types, it’s at least got some style to it. That said, the game got hitchy during in-game cutscenes even on Medium settings, despite my PC far exceeding the recommended system specs. This was noticeable as early as the game’s optional (and fairly unhelpful) tutorial sequence. Not a great sign.
The game’s first level finds the Turtles navigating a small portion of Manhattan in an attempt to… I dunno, fight the Foot clan, I guess. There’s not a lot of time wasted on narrative here, nor on instruction. There’s an Eagle Vision-esque mechanic called “T-Glass” in which your objectives are highlighted, but only when the game decides you’re worthy of having an objective. You see, the general level structure of TMNT is like so: Your Turtles wander around the level until a pop-up tells you to “Find the enemies!” or “Defuse four bombs!” or what have you. Then, you activate T-Glass and pan the camera around until something gets highlighted. After you take care of your menial task, a little meter fills up to show you how close you are to being able to access the boss. There are no real consequences for failing an objective, either – the meter just doesn’t fill up. Either way, you end up wandering around for another 45 seconds until an objective pops up again.
That’s right, this so-called character action game doesn’t have linear, structured levels, but instead opts for semi-open world areas with very little to actually do. Almost all of the game’s nine levels follow this setup, and you can feel it – every one of them feels like a Sisyphean assault on the senses. The combat feels less “character action” and more “MMORPG,” as you activate each Turtle’s four special attacks, only to wait for their cooldowns to end so you can do it all again. Although you can switch which Turtle you’re playing as on the fly, there’s little differentiation between them, with the game’s meager, Dynasty Warriors-esque combos. Mutants in Manhattan offers dozens of unlockable special attacks to replace the four each special boy starts with, but there’s hardly reason to bother. The game is too short and the attacks are too interchangeable for customization to make a difference. Same goes for the equippable charms, which feature simplistic crafting mechanics that I finished the game without ever touching.
Beating TMNT, by the way, takes maybe five hours max. This is unmistakably a blessing – a boon bestowed by Platinum that says, “We know, poor soul. We know.” Granted, it doesn’t make up for the fact that two of the levels – again, this is out of nine – are set in the exact same place. Enemy encounters are altered slightly between the two, but the only real difference is which boss you fight. Of course, every boss fight in TMNT plays out the same: mash out your specials, get knocked out, let one of your AI-controlled brothers pick you back up, repeat. This is made particularly heinous by the fact that every boss has seven health bars – except Wingnut, who gets a whopping fourteen. Yeah, Wingnut. Not even Shredder or Krang break the mold.
In fact, every combat encounter feels like that. Wise man say, “It’s about the Turtles you don’t play.” This is absolutely true, because your big bad teen bros’ AI will seek out and kill many enemies before you’re even aware they exist. Or rather, this is the case early on, when most enemies fall in one or two combos. Towards the game’s unsatisfying end, every brawl feels straight up constipated, a mind-numbing three-second synth loop blaring in the background as you and your three beautiful reptile boys beat helplessly against a bunch of big dudes made out of rocks.
Besides “Foot clan lackey with no HP” and “big stone man with too much HP,” there’s also such lovable enemy types as “Krang UFO that inflicts wildly annoying status effects” and “Foot clan lackey with a sword who will parry almost every normal attack.” The key to beating each of TMNT’s relatively few varieties of bad boy is the same: spam those special attacks, baby. Seriously. There’s a dodge mechanic that lets you hop on an enemy’s back if timed perfectly, but all you can do from there is mash out low-damage punches. Avoiding damage isn’t worth it anyway, since the other Turtles can (and will) revive you quite quickly. Supposedly, a fallen Turtle can stuff their face with some greasy pies in the “Pizza Room” to recover in the event that they don’t get helped up, but this mechanic seems to be completely broken. Most of the time, the game would show me the Pizza Room for a couple seconds and then hit me with a continue screen. In one boss battle, however, it did seem to work as intended… sort of. The game tells you to mash a button in order to slide some pizza down that gullet, but if you do this, your big dumb boy will just burn his mouth and slow the entire process down. Leave the buttons alone, and your HP refills quite rapidly. Brilliant.
At no point playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan did I have fun. Well, unless you count when I discovered an infinite-jumping glitch in one of the levels. That made me chuckle. But mostly, my time with this game was spent feeling frustrated, exhausted, or just outright mad. I can’t think of a single good thing to say about it. Before I made the mistake of tinkering with the broken machine that is Mutants in Manhattan, I had an indifference to the TMNT brand, but that has since been replaced with revilement. During the game’s ending, after an unbelievably anti-climactic final showdown with Shredder, there is a cutscene in which the Turtles appear for a moment – one beautiful, shining moment! – to have perished in an explosion. I wish I had turned the game off, right then and there. The Turtles are dead to me.