TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan Video Game Review
What a lot of people fail to realize about the ninja turtles is that they are made for kids and young teenagers…not adults. We thirty-something man-children remember them fondly and still count ourselves among the fan-base, but we haven’t been their target audience for a long time. With this in mind, any games or movies or TV shows made about the heroes in a half shell must be viewed as just that: a product for children. But even through that lens, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan can best be described as a middling brawler that never lives up to its potential.
You already know the game’s story: Shredder and Krang are up to no good, the Turtles have to fight Bebop and Rocksteady for some reason and Michelangelo loves pizza. In this new title from Platinum Games, the writing is nothing special but the characters are handled well and the Saturday-morning-cartoon tone shines through for most of the game. The plot and action are handled seriously (somewhat) while still being fun and family friendly, the threat posed by the villains in the storyline is mature enough and the game always makes time for TMNT‘s signature light-hearted comedy. Some of the jokes may be corny, but that has been a staple of the series since the late eighties, so there’s no point complaining.
Gameplay in Mutants in Manhattan is hack-and-slash in an open-world environment. In each level, the turtles must complete various missions throughout the map to reach and defeat the boss. Some of the missions involve defeating a horde of enemies, but many others make you perform tedious tasks like disarming bombs, hacking terminals or even opening doors, which require you to hold a button for a long time and try not to get bored. The bomb-rolling missions are ok but, like every mission, they feel like another pointless minigame instead of anything meaningful.
Several environments are also used more than once, which is a real shame. Some levels, like the city top on a stormy night, look great and stand out, but most of the repeated levels (like sewer environments) get boring after a while and, besides a handful of collectibles, the levels are very linear and do not invite much exploration. Missions pop up, you complete them. That’s it.
When following mission directives, you can use the T-glass mechanic (one of Donatello’s inventions), which works like Eagle Vision in Assassin’s Creed and makes enemies and objectives easier to find. Once you locate your objective, getting there is easy due to the streamlined traversal options. The turtles can climb walls, parachute glide and grind rails but, like almost everything in this game, rail grinding is a cool addition that doesn’t impact the gameplay enough to stand out.
You can issue commands to your team during missions and use various items that you pick up during the level, but there is no reason to ever do either of these things. Inputs for team commands are somewhat clunky (and unnecessary) and items do very little to affect gameplay, so they are both best ignored altogether. The same could be said of Charms, accessories the turtles can equip which provide small bonuses that do not affect the game in any noticeable way.
By a large margin, combat is the main focus of the game and it is done fairly well for the most part. Though all of the turtles have the same attack inputs, each character has their own fighting style. Mikey is fast and wild, Donny is deliberate with his reach, Leo’s attacks are very technical and Raph is a straight brawler. Though their differences don’t matter much once the shurikens start flying, it’s good that at least some effort was made to personalize their fighting styles. Each turtle also has their own unique Ninjitsu art.
Ninjitsu are special moves you can learn, equip and upgrade over time. Twenty-eight in all, Ninjitsu are mostly universal and each turtle can equip up to four at a time. Some Ninjitsu are special attacks while others restore health and provide buffs to your party. The best Ninjitsu by far is the Combo Attack, which you can do in tandem with a teammate to perform special co-op attacks. Each of these maneuvers are pretty cool, but there are no three or four turtle co-op moves which feels like a major missed opportunity. Having all four brothers uniting in one ultimate attack would have been great to see.
If an enemy hasn’t spotted you yet, stealth Takedowns (one-hit kills) are a nice way to quickly dispatch tough enemies. Takedowns trigger a short black-and-white effect that looks cool when it works, but a gang of giant reptile men kinda stand out so there is rarely an opportunity to sneak up on your target before you strike.
Boss fights are a highlight to combat, as they pit you toe-to-toe with some iconic TMNT villains, but the battles rely too much on the boss having a ton of life and absolutely no strategy is required to win. As with combat throughout the rest of the game, running in sais blazing while spamming Ninjitsu is the generally the best way to come out on top.
Though combat is functional and the source material is represented well, there is no more point to the game than to run around and hit stuff. Unfortunately, the combat isn’t entertaining enough to be the only pillar holding the game up. Though Platinum Games attempted to create a system of dodging, countering and attacking, combat quickly falls apart into complete mayhem; battles are ultimately too chaotic and the controls aren’t tight enough to deftly manage the action. The game has a countering mechanic, but good luck getting it to work against the frenzy of flashing lights on screen.
Even though the action often clutters the screen, the striking visuals of Mutants in Manhattan are where this game really shines. The bright color effects in battle, the detailed character designs and the gorgeous cel-shaded art style make this game a feast for the eyes. Seriously, not enough good things can be said about this game’s visual design. Unfortunately, the opposite is true for how the game sounds. Sound effects are fine and the voice acting is decent, but all of the in-game dialogue is too repetitive and you will get sick of hearing the turtles say the same things over and over. On top of the broken-record voices, the score is even worse. The game’s soundtrack, especially the battle music, sounds like three-note techno dragged through a cheese grater and it gets really irritating really quick.
When playing single player you can cycle control between all four turtles, when playing co-op online you only control one of them and, much to the chagrin of everyone everywhere, there is no local couch co-op. Gameplay isn’t much different online except your teammates are slightly better and it takes longer to get in a game, so unless you have a group of dedicated friends, playing online isn’t really worth it.
Feeling kinda like Spiderman 2 meets DMC lite, Mutants in Manhattan is frenetic and fun at first, but starts to get repetitive after a few levels. The random missions are not even close to engaging and, even with the slightly different fighting styles and customizable Ninjitsu, combat boils down to a button-mashing grind that requires little-to-no skill. And, to be fair, maybe that’s the point. The simple and fast combat might be fun for younger players, but experienced gamers are going to be left wanting more depth.
And that’s the biggest problem with this game: the lack of depth. For all the good parts that make up the whole, none of them are implemented well enough to make the game enjoyable for long. The kid-friendly tone is spot on, the visuals are stunning and the fast-paced combat may have potential, but the game has way too many flaws bogging it down. So many good ideas were put into this title, but it feels like a great game that never reaches its full potential.
Every level is a handful of disjointed missions, a horde of faceless enemies, a boss fight, rinse and repeat. There is no story to get invested in and the combat, which is the bread-and-butter of the whole game, is too basic and repetitive to hold the game up on its own. If some of the systems had been fleshed out more, this game could have been decent. As it stands, there is little here that can be recommended even for younger gamers.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan was played on Xbox One. It is also available for Microsoft Windows, Playstation 3, Playstation 4 and Xbox 360. A copy of this game was purchased by the reviewer.