Like many children of the late 80’s and early 90’s, I loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when I was a kid. I had a couple of VHS tapes I re-watched regularly, some cool action figures, and one of those Mighty Max mini playset things shaped like a turtle. And I don’t mean shaped like a Ninja Turtle, I mean shaped like a real-ass turtle.
I don’t even remember buying that creepy thing, it just showed up in my house one day. Anyways, while my enthusiasm for the Turtles has waned in recent years, something I do have a lot of love for is Platinum Games, who are, in my opinion, the unquestioned kings of character-action games. Due to the obnoxious machinations of a certain publisher, however, their last few games have been a bit underwhelming. Legend of Korra and Transformers Devastation both had a lot of potential to be awesome, memorable games, but were rushed out by Activision to cash on their respective franchises, leaving us with mediocre to average products. With a new Ninja Turtles movie around the corner, I couldn’t help but be cautious of any new turtle games, even if they were made by one of my favorite developers. After playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan, it seems my healthy skepticism was, sadly, well placed.
It’s a nondescript night in the city that never sleeps when Krang and the Shredder decide to wreck some stuff and send out a bunch of Foot Soldiers. The Turtles, apparently being “honor bound to stop them” as Master Splinter puts it, hit the streets, assorted cutlery and blunt objects in hand. Here’s a free tip: “(Insert villain here) is up to their old tricks again!” is not a good story set-up. Even an actual episode of Ninja Turtles wouldn’t start with such a simplistic premise. If the game’s not going to get invested in its own story, then why the hell should I? The Turtles themselves show very boiled-down versions of their usual personalities, with Leo being all leader-y, Raph being rough and tough, Donnie being smart, and Mikey being weird and harping on pizza. Like, a lot. Way more than usual. April O’Neil is also around, acting as the game’s Navi. And I don’t mean “Navigator” Navi, I mean “little annoying voice in your head that never shuts up” Navi. She chimes in every ten seconds to either tell me that there’s more enemies, or congratulate me on doing such a good goddamn job.
Gameplay is, first and foremost, locked at 30 FPS. That doesn’t usually bother me, as I can live with a 30 FPS experience if it makes the game a bit more cinematic, but in this case, it just makes everything feel unnecessarily sluggish. Each level is set in a small, self-contained sandbox, wherein enemies spawn in at random locations awaiting punishment. You control one Turtle at a time, with the other three controlled by either AI or other players (I wouldn’t know about the latter, I tried to join a lobby twice, and both times I sat waiting for a good five minutes for more players to join). All four Turtles, despite their different weapons, play more or less the same, with the same basic mixes of light and heavy attacks and special attacks that can be reassigned at your leisure. No Turtle really has any advantage or disadvantage over the other, which I guess is to keep things balanced in multiplayer, but when four nearly identical Turtles are pounding away at the same enemy with very little input from me, it feels more like watching a game than playing one.
Something I want to shine a light on here (or whatever the negative version of that phrase is) is the dodge system. Almost every Platinum game uses a similar dodge system: dodge an attack at the last minute, and you’ll get a chance for a counter and/or slowed-down time. Mutants in Manhattan does have this, sans the time slow, but it’s executed through a guard maneuver in which the Turtles hide in their shells and spin instead of a dedicated dodge. The guard blocks all incoming attacks, and the only drawback is if you use it too long, you’ll get dizzy for a few seconds. This sounds good on paper, but the problem is one of laziness; I don’t feel any inclination to try dodging properly when I can just hold the button down for a couple of seconds and get the same effect. The game unintentionally cripples itself in this manner.
I think my biggest complaint about Mutants in Manhattan is that it seems a little too eager to please me. Even on normal difficulty, the enemies barely swung at me, opting instead for my AI partners, and any objective that didn’t require just smashing stuff was unusually uneventful. For example, in a brief moment when I had to retrieve a stack of stolen gold, I picked it up, slowly lurched my way down the path, completely unmolested, dropped it halfway there by accident, and then one of the other Turtles picked it up and instantly teleported to the goal post.
Even during boss encounters, when I took more hits than usual and even got a couple of Turtles knocked out of the fight, I still ended up with an S ranking with minimal effort, and that’s just not right in a Platinum game. I don’t want to be rewarded for not caring, I want to be penalized, critiqued, to be told “you did it, but you could have done it better”.
Mutants in Manhattan isn’t an outright horrible game. The combat basically works, and the characters have a couple of amusing lines (at least when April isn’t talking over them), but ironically, this just makes it hurt more. It’s not good enough to play seriously or atrocious enough to laugh about, it’s just… kind of bad. The kind of bad where you’re playing it and all you really think is “can I stop playing this now?” Even Legend of Korra and Transformers Devastation, while not great games, were never this outright boring. I think, after this string of “meh” games, the folks at Platinum need to do some soul-searching. I know not every game can be a Bayonetta or a Wonderful 101, but it’s getting to the point where, if they keep making games of this quality, people are going to stop taking them seriously, and that would break my heart. I don’t know how much Activision is paying you guys for these cheap cash-ins, but it can’t be worth this.