Release Date: November 1, 2005
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an old property. As a kid, I loved those guys. Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatelleo, and Raphael were not just comic book heroes – they were movie stars, television regulars, the main makeup of my action figures – and not least of all, prominent in several video games fondly remembered by gamers to this day.
This is the third "new" Ninja Turtle game on this current generation of consoles; that is, it coincides with the new cartoon series and apparently ties in, plot-wise, with the third season. Still, things haven't changed much from the early '90s; the turtles have hardly changed, Master Splinter and April O'Neil are still hanging around, and even minor enemies like the Triceratops are not new inventions. The storyline itself is mostly a jumble of seemingly separate plots that lead up to a final bonus mission; they really don't have anything to do with the gameplay and barely with the mission objectives at hand, but instead serve as a mild background to the action at hand.
Still, one major thing has changed with this new incarnation of Turtles: these games aren't very fun. While Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: Mutant Nightmare features minor improvements over the last iteration, TMNT2: Battle Nexus, it's still hardly remarkable, and probably no more fun to play.
The action is of the extremely generic, repetitive, simple, and tiresome variety. Commanding one of four turtles, you take on hordes of enemies as you try to progress from Point A to Point B, escort a character like April, or take down a boss. And that's really all there is to it. Honestly, using your imagination in pretending to play the game is more fun than the game itself. The turtles control decently, with a double-jump available, as well as a light and heavy attack, and a jump-kick. Using points collected from fallen enemies, players can purchase more combos to incorporate in battle.
The biggest addition in TMNT3 is probably that of the Ninja Scrolls, which can be bought with points and "equipped" to the turtles as you see fit. They essentially give the turtle a bit of a boost or special attributes. One might enable a sort of "poisoning" on the enemy which causes hit points to slowly drain, while another gives your turtle some admittedly neat weapons to play around with.
The Ninja Scrolls make an already simple game even easier, however. With these equipped, enemies that normally take several hits take a few less, making things even more boring than before. In fact, it's easy enough to breeze by a lot of enemies if you don't necessarily have to fight them but only need to reach a specific area. Since there's really no penalty and the Ninja Scrolls are hardly necessary purchases (until maybe the final boss), I'd basically recommend it as a strategy.
TMNT3 is playable by up to four players if you have a multi-tap for your PS2 – and good luck collecting that many people who want to play this, honestly – but even if you only have less one, two, or three people, the slack is picked up by the AI. Generally, it's not that bad. While it's by no means impressive or even exemplary (there was certainly no shortage of moments with "Turtle Stuck on Car," "Turtle Stuck on Corner," "Turtle Stuck on Mailbox," and so forth), they seem to be able to dispatch the enemy while taking minimal damage. In fact, I found I actually saved more health of my own by sitting back and just watching them fight rather than joining in and earning injuries.
The enemies, by the way, are mostly equipped with long-range weapons, and the turtles, as you probably know, are equipped with short-range weapons such as swords, sais, nunchaku, and a bo. The game also has no issues in lining up about five enemies with long-range weapons and having them all shoot at you in a row. Knocking these guys off their feet for a second is about the most challenging tactic you'll have to really employ here.
Aside from that, bosses take a bit more thought, and the turtle AI generally isn't smart enough to stay put and intelligently watch for patterns instead of running in head-first to receive a beating. They also like to steal power-ups that you could use more than they do. So yes, the AI is far from perfect, but mostly functional, which just makes things that much more boring.
The level design is thoroughly dull. We have a smattering of city streets, underground sewers, and a couple of other locations, oft-repeated, predictable, and hardly interesting, with constantly repeating textures, no interesting landmarks, and a consistent supply of nearly the same blasted foot soldiers over and over.
The radar in TMNT3 is also somewhat annoying. While it can help lead you in the right direction with a pulsating circle signifying a target area, it also stands for a "pathway" to another part of the stage (an alleyway, for example). Since the game can't appear to load large areas, everything is split up into fairly small chunks. This makes things supremely annoying, as you'll often think you've gotten to your destination only to find you've circled around and were backtracking the whole time.
The saving grace of the game – well, if there was to be one – is probably the unlockable TMNT: Turtles in Time that was released over a decade ago. It still holds up well and is pretty enjoyable. Supposedly, the developers have tweaked it a little by increasing the amount of on-screen enemies at a time, although the game seems a bit choppy, either as a result of that or just plain bad emulation. It's still really fun, and this finely tuned 2D action is a lot more enjoyable than the clunky 3D action of TMNT3.
The camera, by the way, is terribly annoying. It starts off overhead, but you can swing it down much lower. It isn't too bad if you're playing alone, but with just two people, things start to get bothersome quick. It needs to zoom out or split the screen or something, but instead, it merely stays stagnant and lets players go completely off-screen, even when they're the ones fighting and others may not be. Unless you're looking at the radar since there are no off-screen indicators, enemies remain quite hidden by the edges of the screen, ready to attack unsuspecting turtles.
The graphics in TMNT3 are pretty average on the whole. The cel-shaded turtles do look nice and appear to have jumped straight out of the comic or the cartoon, which is a definite plus. They look very good in the cut scenes rendered by the game, and there are also bits of cartoon clips interspersed throughout the missions. Still, their animation is less than thrilling, and environments look flat and dead. Special effects are less than special, and the scope of the game isn't very big.
The sound is mostly disappointing as well. While the original (that is, current) voice actors of the cartoon series are here to put life into their characters, it's often in the form of annoying victory phrases or repetitive grunts in battle. The cut scenes are a bit more enjoyable. Nonetheless, sound effects are underwhelming, with a certain cheap, generic feel to them. Worst of all, the soundtrack – a light techno affair – is basically an incredibly short tune looped over and over and over again until you want to tear your ears off. Hopefully, you have the fine idea to turn down your speakers before then.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: Mutant Nightmare may be a wee improvement over Battle Nexus, but it's still a pretty bad game. It's unfortunate. Replaying Turtles in Time – easily the best part of this, by the way – shows that turtle beat-'em-ups were fun back in the day, but they're just no good now, what with the boring animation, lame enemies, weak AI, and annoying radars showing off tiring stages. Only the most diehard of Turtles fans should apply, and even then, they shouldn't consider anything more than a rental to check this out. Do yourself a favor and play the old games – Mutant Nightmare is far from a dream.