Genre : Action
Publisher : Konami
Developer : Konami
Release Date : October 21, 2003
I grew up with Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I recall the various comic-books they put out. I thought Casey Jones was oddly compelling as a character who wore a hockey mask and whose principal weapon was a goalie’s stick. I am acutely aware that my penchant for read-heads is directly resultant of April O’Neil (oh how I was disappointed when they cast a brunette for the movie). As storied as a franchise as this, one of the coolest aspect of TNMT was that it didn’t exactly pander to a dumb downed audience, until Vanilla Ice was added to the mix and well perhaps the live action cinema experience was never truly realized, but before the cartoons and before the bad movies there was a comic with a distinctly dark edge.
Sadly, this franchise seemed to be so odd and independently conceived that big business never really knew what to make of it or what to do with it. A few cowabungas, pizza parties and dudes couldn’t elevate the cartoon. One wonders why this lesson has not been learned in the latest resurgence of this long lived upon seeing its current regurgitation of the Turtles. Back they are and yes, they haven’t changed a lick since their last outing. While there is nothing exactly wrong with this premise, it also does not lend to innovation let alone revolution in the realization of these cult icons. It simply ends up being a rehash, but alas, I haven’t even told you about Konami’s addition to this next generation of the Turtles.
With a new comic book on store shelves and a new cartoon already on the way to a small screen near you, the TMNT franchise’s latest assault adds a third prong: a home video game. Some of you may remember the old school beat’em up from movie theater lobbies or those places where people gathered to play games called “arcades”. This stand-up coin-op ate many a quarter from me and I remember it fondly. The new game is really just a re-imagining of that old game only using some new rendering techniques and camera angles, but in essence it is the same game. The big departure takes the Ninja Turtles into the third dimension and does so rather well with the now tried and true method of cell shading. If anything, this design choice is ultimately appropriate for this game as it mimics the cartoon rather nicely. The animation and graphics are competent if not mind blowing and there are some nice zoom and blur effects added in the make things a little more visually interesting. While well done, the graphics of this game are not going to wow anyone and I don’t imagine the game’s visuals would be that greatly enhanced by the Xbox’s feature set.
On the gameplay front is where TMNT truly shows its mediocrity. You have your “weak” attack and your “strong” attack which is standard fare. There is a ranged attack which is handy sometimes and these ranged attacks can vary in abilities as well. You can “dash” which seemed very useful at first but in the end doesn’t make much of a difference. You can use this move to escape, but not escape very well. There is also a juggle button which could have been very cool, but the combo length you can employ with any of the four characters is limited. Whereas new generation beat’em ups, of which there are few, the fighting system is the core of the game and if that does not challenge or intrigue than the game is doomed. One game that comes to mind is Koei’s fantastic Dynasty Warriors series. In this game a skillful player can mash their way up to twenty hit combos which is very satisfying. The six or seven hit combos in TNMT leave much to be desired. In the end, the real failing of the gameplay is that there simply aren’t enough moves and they don’t flow into each other very well. You can begin a combo simply by juggling an enemy, using the weak attack about two or three times and then land a strong attack. That’s about it. Jumping attacks and running attacks are there, but you can’t use them to begin or end a combo. While you have four characters to choose from the variation in gameplay is so minor that it’s almost not worth mentioning.
Another gameplay weakness comes in that of the camera. With any 3D action game the camera is always a sticking point. It’s difficult to balance gameplay with a roaming camera since the player has to manage it, but if you fix the camera than you run into the issue of obscuring the playing field which is equally annoying. It must be noted that there aren’t many games that have nailed the “perfect camera” but in terms of this game, the camera is far from perfect. While there are times when the camera obscures the game, these instances are few and far between which is very good. What is very bad is that the perspective distorts the scaling of the characters. Many times I found myself attacking air because I thought the enemy was in my line of fire, but because of the camera I was misjudging the distance and depth of the enemy. The developers may say that I need my eyes examined, but I say that the camera’s skewed. It does not render the game unplayable, but it does add an unintended notch to the difficulty in the way that annoys.
Where this game does excel is in its presentation. The menus are easy to navigate and the functions are simple. You can also remap the buttons. Aside from this, the game incorporates animated cut screens from the cartoon very well. The videos may not be all that compelling and cartoon dialogue does little to awe, but it’s there and it is well done. Not as well done as say the Lord of the Rings series, but well enough.
In terms of features, there are collectable scrolls that lend insights into the game mythos. It’s not much and certainly does not inspire the player to go through time and time again to collect each scroll for all four characters, but it is there as an extra incentive. You can also play two players at once which brings the game back to the good ole’ days of Double Dragon or Final Fight. You also have all four characters (Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo) from the get go and the familiar faces like Scrag, Shredder, Splinter and the little chicken robots are back as well.
In the end, TMNT is not a bad game; it simply isn’t a great one. You can add it to the long list of decent games for the PS2’s gargantuan library. What makes this game difficult to really praise is the competition it faces which soundly trounce this game in any comparison. If you want deep gameplay, there’s Dynasty Warriors (as deep as a brawler gets) or if you want a stunning cinematic experience you have Lord of the Rings. Somewhere in a murky middle resides TMNT. If you are a hardcore Turtles Freak, you’ll like this game. Me? I’m going to give it to my twelve year old cousin. He’ll enjoy it until the next game comes around which should be right about…now.