Release Date: October 19, 2004
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are not new to video games, and to be honest, were in some of the favorite games from my youth. This is the second new release by Konami in as many years based on this franchise, and each release has been less impressive than the last. The biggest success of each of these games has been in their ability to stay in the correct genre. Not the most difficult of tasks but at least they got it right (ok… mostly right). The worst part of this game is its failure to fill the shoes of one of its predecessors. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles beat-em-up that was released in the arcade many years ago (back in 1991 to be more exact) was one of my favorite beat-em-up games ever. It is a dangerous thing to attempt to follow up great success a decade later and it’s catastrophic if you fail to fill those shoes.
I have mixed feelings about the story in this game. It has been ripped straight from the cartoon series, I personally am a fan of the cartoon show and watch it whenever I am awake early enough on Saturday morning (that’s right I still watch Saturday morning cartoons however through the anonymity of this review I can say that with little fear of harassment). So as you can expect, I kind of enjoy the story as it is. While the game offers nothing new or unique as far as the story goes, it is kind of cool to be able to play through a story I already enjoy. The basic premise is that splinter (your giant mutated rat sensei) has been kidnapped and it is your task to go and rescue him. The story telling takes place during cut scenes each essentially just a clip from the cartoon series. While I personally like the cartoon and enjoyed being able to feel involved in the story I do not imagine that it will appeal to most of the people out there (then again it might be a way for you to watch a series you know you want to watch without having to be ashamed of watching Saturday morning cartoons).
One small concern I have about the design is that it is hard to tell if the stages are just filler for these cartoon clips. Each stage is stupendously short taking on average what seemed to be 3-5 minutes to complete. Walk around for about a half of a minute, jump from platform to platform for a minute (plus another minute or so if you count in the time you spend falling to your horrible death) and then fight here and there to cover the rest of the time. I felt as if I was playing as much or less than I was just watching cartoon clips. There were points I was wondering if I shouldn’t have just rented the DVDs and watched those instead. Depending on your opinions of the gameplay this could either be refreshing or annoying. Personally I kind of enjoyed it.
The fairly sloppy control made the parts where I was actually interacting with the game less than ideal. The game hosts up to four players and four characters must be selected by those players. That means one player can choose four characters or two players can choose two and two or one and three so on so forth (You can add to four right?). No big deal here… Well sort of, the characters share health so for instance if you are playing with just one player all four turtles have the exact same health and if Donatello gets mauled then Michelangelo might as well have been as well. When you do multiplayer this does not seem to be the case and each player has their own health measurement. This makes the game MUCH easier in multiplayer mode than single player which is peculiar to me. Ultimately the game is way more entertaining with a few friends than it is alone which is not a bad thing in and of it self. Despite being more entertaining I would hesitate to say that it is exactly fun. The laggy controls make the combat instances a bit of a chore and less entertaining than they could be. Also the combat is separated by platformer style dynamics which do not mesh well with the controls and camera angles. It got really frustrating at times trying to make and time jumps correctly (I ended up falling more often than not). The game is also hard to defend in; you can’t cancel an attack into defense (ala Ninja Gaiden). Often when fighting multiple enemies you end up getting hit by one while attacking another. This problem is frequently compounded by the fact that many of the enemies have projectiles and can attack from a distance. To make things even more difficult when you get attacked while in the middle of performing your own attack it seems to stun your character causing them to be dizzy for a few moments (oh and while dizzy the AI has no problem smacking you around a bit). Of course that’s not all as many of the enemies explode when you take them out and the explosion will damage and knock down the turtles. These things make the game hard and not in a hard I am being challenged way but hard in a throw the controller across the room at your younger sibling way.
On the upside the developers did include some unique special abilities for each character making them more interesting than they could have been. Donatello for instance can create a force field around himself which knocks back enemies and temporarily protects him from attacks. He can also shoot out a laser beam from his armband as opposed to throwing shuriken like the rest of the turtles. Michelangelo can shoot out a ball of fire and can also use his nun-chucks like helicopter propellers in order to extend his jump distance a little bit. The game also incorporates a handful of unlockable characters such as the aforementioned splinter and Casey Jones (a violent vigilante sports fanatic). These unlocked characters have some interesting and unique special abilities of their own and can help to keep things fresh. In my opinion the best part about the game is the fact that they stashed away a copy of the original TMNT arcade game, full of its sidescrolling beat-em-up goodness (one of my favorite walk around beat things up games ever).
Other than just playing through the story you can also play in a tournament mode, this mode allows you to practice your combat skills and fight against a handful of opponents at a time. If you enjoy the way the combat is handled in this game then you might very well enjoy this mode as it offers you a chance to bypass all of the story and platforming nonsense and just experience the hand to hand beat downs. This mode is also useful for unlocking some of the special and hidden items in the game. You can also play against a couple of your friends in some head to head fighting action.
Graphically the game is pretty nice, the characters look fairly decent and the animation is pretty good. Each character looks a lot like they do in the cartoon partially in thanks to the cell shading process used. There was nothing that really bothered me about the graphics of the game then again there was nothing that jumped out and screamed “look at me I kick ass”. The cartoon clips looked just like they do when I watch the cartoons on Saturday morning which was not a bad thing (I do still enjoy the cartoons). Each character moved fairly fluidly and was animated in a manner very similar to the way they move in the cartoons. Leonardo carried his swords just so and attacked in the appropriate manner as well (it’s rather hard to explain without having you watch the cartoons). The locations were generally uninteresting to look at as the backgrounds were uninvolved and seemed like barren rooms. The end result being a bunch of unmemorable stages and environments from the empty caverns to the empty hallways to the empty snow covered wasteland. Occasionally there was an out of place barrel or box in these landscapes (though I do not know why there would be a box sitting in the middle of a snow covered wasteland). I would have enjoyed having more interesting things to see in the skylines or backgrounds of the stages. It would have helped to alleviate some of the repetition as well.
The music in the game is fairly innocuous although slightly repetitive; it is your standard fair quality techno rockish stuff. The repetitive nature of it would make it annoying if it was not for the fact that you could easily forget it was there. I can’t say it was bad it just was not really good. The sound effects were only slightly better often sounding a touch weak or flat leaving me longing for a hearty sound of impact when I beat a ninja about the head with a staff. The voice acting was pretty good (I think they had the people who do the acting for the cartoon do it but I could be wrong). I did get a bit tired of the repetitive babbling of the turtles back and forth (game designers need to realize that we do not need to hear the characters talking constantly). All things considered the sound was in general fairly average.
So here I am a self admitted fan of the cartoons, cartoons I have watched since I was a young kid many moons ago. I am such a devout fan that I beat the first arcade game while it was still in the arcade (many, many times), owned numerous toys and still have all of my original comics. Yet still despite being such a fanatical follower of the series I am left feeling cold and dejected by the game. Instead of it reliving the joy I get from playing the arcade game I feel generally annoyed and frustrated with the controls. I found myself enjoying the hidden and unlockable arcade version more than the primary portion of the game. The people who will really want this game are the kids who love the show and love anything associated with it. All said the game is worth renting if for no other reason just because everyone should love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
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