The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hold a special place in my heart. Growing up in the eighties and nineties I was exposed to the Ninja Turtle phenomenon: A comic series set in a crime-riddled New York City featuring mutant turtles armed with ninja weapons, classic teenage rebelliousness and an insatiable craving for pizza. A surefire formula for any imaginative kid growing up in that time. The franchise birthed a great many computer games, mostly side-scrollers, with the most successful and popular being the 1992 four player coin-op, Turtles in Time.
Let’s be honest, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a videogame developer’s dream franchise. It has all the makings for the ideal co-op brawler which has been evidenced in the long line of side-scrollers released over the past fifteen years. Turtles in Time (which was one of Konami’s best selling arcade title) is still highly enjoyable today. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles features four characters each decked out with their own unique fighting styles, weapons, and personalities.
Most current generation gamers have followed the famous four Turtles since childhood meaning most already have a favourite turtle. It might not seem like much at first but any emotional connection to a franchise is valuable which gives Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games an immediate edge over other brawlers.
Given this background, any reasonably designed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle game being released for current-gen consoles (which are ideally suited for four-player couch co-op) should be brimming with potential and holds the possibility of becoming one of the more successful franchise games for fans old and new alike. Accordingly, I held very high hopes for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows, the final title released during this year’s Summer of Arcade, which brings a notably darker and more mature tone to the classic Mutant Ninja Turtle stories that we all know and love from our youth.
If you were expecting the classic brightly coloured ‘cowabunga dude’ Ninja Turtles of the nineties, then prepare yourself. The Turtles of Out of the Shadows are grizzled, stronger, more aggressive-looking turtles than their nineties contemporaries and, after all, why not? It’s been almost thirty years since they took up crime fighting and by now they’ve seen enough bloodshed and suffering to darken even the most mozzarella enlightened hearts. Somehow, though, thirty years on they’re still technically teenagers, but I guess we can put that anti-aging down to the mutant genes.
The well-established side-scrolling experience has been replaced with a third-person action adventure motif. Pedantic Ninja Turtle fans, myself included, may dislike the shift to third-person action but Out of the Shadows promises seamless drop-in / drop-out co-operative play with an emphasis on character development and team combo moves, all of which sound right at home in the world of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The idea of running through the streets of ‘real-life’ New York City fighting mutants, the Foot, mousers and Shredder in relentless combat sounds like the perfect tonic to remedy any misgivings we may have about the genre shift.
The aesthetic and genre changes aren’t the only developments to the franchise, though. Even our beloved theme song has undergone a revamp and now sounds much funkier and rappier than the kid-friendly theme of the cartoon series – you’ll either embrace the change or you’ll hate Activision for destroying the unofficial Nickelodeon National Anthem of the nineties. Love it or hate it, it’s small fry in the bigger context of the game so you can just skip past it and pretend it never happened.
Gameplay is more free-flowing than the side-scrolling predecessors and the individual Turtles’ uniqueness is apparent in both their combat styles and personalities, with the ability trees showing clearly what role each Turtle has in the team. Michelangelo is faster, Donatello has longer reach, Leonardo is brutal, and Raphael is a tank.
The potential for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows to round off the Summer of Arcade as a cherry on top is quickly revealed to be nothing more than potential, unfortunately. After extensive time with the game, it’s clear that it’s more suited for the Winter of Discontent. It’s a disappointingly basic game both in appearance and in execution and despite all of its promised innovations and improvements to the Ninja Turtle franchise, they all feel unfinished and underdeveloped and I feel as though Activision should have held off a little longer and let Red Fly work on refining the game.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows promises so much but fails to deliver the goods. The first thing hardened fans will notice are the darker undertones – I can appreciate the more mature theme but it’s as if someone simply ran a darkened filter over everything to make it all seem more sinister. The net effect of this is that most of the game will leave you squinting your eyes to pick up details.
Worse yet, Donatello and Leonardo’s colours are more like different shades of puce and hard to tell apart, which is a woeful crime. Seeing what looks to be Leonardo carrying a bo staff and Donatello wielding Katana blades just doesn’t make any sense, and this unnecessary confusion is, well, unnecessary.
Every other problem aside, undeniably the biggest sin of all is the poor co-operative play: The campaign mode only offers two player split-screen co-op. Sure, there’s the option of switching to the other unoccupied Turtles at will, but who cares? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – in 2013 – should be four player local co-op from the start, not two player co-op! That’s like ordering a large pizza to share with you and three friends only to find the pizza is delivered in two slices.
To add insult to injury, the campaign split-screen doesn’t even utilise the full screen – there are bars at the top and bottom which do absolutely nothing except irritate you. The screen is reduced to almost half the vertical allowance because of this and when coupled with the lack of four player co-op in split-screen mode, it’s downright unforgivable. No-one can use the excuse that things would be too cluttered. To make matters even worse, you can’t split-screen co-op online so even if you find a friend with another copy, four player co-op is no dice. You will need four copies for four players. Greater games with more hardcore facilities have enabled four player co-op with two copies so I have no empathy for Red Fly here.
A small light at the end of the tunnel is the optional extra game within the game: Donatello’s arcade machine. This is unlocked as you play through the campaign mode and is accessible in the Turtles’ lair in-between missions. This arcade game offers a four-player co-op side-scrolling beat ‘em up with the revamped graphics. It follows a rough copy of the campaign and I found it to be more entertaining than the actual story mode. The problem is, you can’t unlock the complete arcade without first playing the story mode. Why Red Fly didn’t focus on this as the actual title release is beyond me and I’m sure I am not alone.
Some may argue that it was time for a change to the style of Ninja Turtle games and the side-scroller style is well past its due but that argument holds no water when you consider the reality that the arcade mode is a lot of fun (and it’s four player for crying out loud – the way it’s meant to be played).
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is a disappointing and aged third-person brawler that attempts to feel like a revolutionary Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle game but instead ends up feeling like a tired old sensei trying to keep four rebellious teenagers in line. There are moments of excitement amongst the scores of combat sequences – moments where you string together a few exciting moves and finish them off with a unique Turtle combo – but these are too few and too far between to bring any enduring merit to the experience.
The game features a reasonably short campaign which somehow manages to feel like it takes forever. The missing screen real estate replaced by a brown bar at the top and bottom of the screen in split-screen is a constant eyesore and the notable lack of four player co-op split-screen is a major oversight. Playing couch co-op with only one buddy is a constant and painful reminder of what could – what should – have been. It’s like playing through the campaign when you know the bad guys win in the end. It’s like ordering no anchovies and getting a sardine and condensed milk pizza. Talk about shell shock.
The Good: Arcade mode is classic four-player co-op; Very rare combat moments
The Bad: Graphics are outdated and game feels dull; Split-screen cuts out almost half the vertical real estate; No four player local co-op; Online co-op requires four copies; Buggy game and a crazy camera