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Xbox Review - 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Melee'

by Geson Hatchett on April 9, 2005 @ 1:42 a.m. PDT

TMNT Mutant Melee is the ultimate TMNT party experience. The game offers hours of bashing, crashing and trashing fun with more than 20 playable characters, a competitive Adventure mode and a huge variety of mini games and unlockables.

Genre: Fighting
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Hawaii
Release Date: March 15, 2005

"Well… it's kind of fun."

My friends and I kept saying this all while playing this game, I swear. The fact was, we simply didn't want to admit to ourselves that the game really wasn't all that fun.

In the time we'd been playing, we'd run around trying to keep treasure chests away from each other, we'd fallen off of buildings that were preset to crumble away without warning, and we'd looked at the controller more than the screen to try and figure out what we were supposed to be doing even though we knew all the controls by heart. We'd been run over by trucks, we flailed away at each other in closed, confined spaces, and we kept wondering just why April O' Neil's spin-kick was just so gosh-darned broken.

It was, indeed, "kind of fun"… yet no more than that.

Constantly, we remarked to ourselves that something was missing—as it has been, actually, from all of the three-dimensional Ninja Turtles offerings to date. That special something, that magic ingredient, which the old arcade beat-'em-ups that stole so many of our quarters a decade ago possessed, and which these new console versions did not.

For hours, we pondered this question as we continued to slog through the mediocrity.

However, it finally hit us when, while playing as Raphael (the best turtle, bar none, now and forevermore) in Adventure mode. It was a scenario that told us that Raphael had been "ambushed" while meditating in the forest by Foot Soldiers; the sequence opened up with Raph versus five of the guys, to do as he wished, so long as he beat upon 15 of them in a certain amount of time.

"That's it!" we shouted! "This is what we want to do!"

Konami, now hear this: we (that is, my friends, and many other people) simply want to Fight The Foot. That is all. We want to Fight The Foot using fairly simple, but highly effective, gameplay mechanics. They don't have to be perfect; they just have to be there, and they have to allow us to kick butt whenever we please, make it look good, and make us want to do it again — this time, only faster.

Movement, progression, is a good thing… up to a point. Free roaming is not needed. At the risk of sounding like a bitter nostalgist (though nothing could be further from the truth), anything that showcases three-dimensionality is not needed. It simply needs to go from left to right, or from up to down. Free roaming, swinging cameras, twisting terrain, it all takes time away from the Foot-Fighting.

Characters such as Hun and Shredder make for great boss fodder. April O' Neil and playable baddies make for great Easter Egg fan service, as does throwing almost everyone else you can think of to add diversity. Multiple storylines are a good thing. Giving characters moves that reflect their personalities, such as Leonardo's leaping spin-slash, Raphael's tackling toss, or Donatello's Gatling Bo, makes things even more fun. Weapon pickups, powerups, shuriken, tossable environments are all icing, and welcome to boot.

Konami, you're on the right track, because this game actually has the above things. For that, it is commendable. However, it's also why Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Melee hurts so much. It manages to take all of these great ingredients for creating one of the coolest next-generation side-scrolling beat-'em-ups ever…

…and then it tells you to go fight three other people in a closed arena until their energy bars run out to the tune of elevator bass. Seriously, what's up with that?

In a game where people have to fight each other, or character equals, the gameplay mechanics have to be polished. They have to be accessible at a moment's notice, and they have to be effective. This game's mechanics are none of these things. In its present form, Mutant Melee is an incomplete fighting game that makes the likes both Power Stone and Super Smash Brothers Melee look like Virtua Fighter in comparison. Combos are haphazard, the counter system just as much so; the special moves are impossible to gauge in terms of priority and risk. They're just... there.

This is the object of Mutant Melee, in a nutshell:

  1. Press the attack buttons a whole lot until something gets through.
  2. Unleash a special or super move for flash, and maybe take away a few pixels of energy from opponents.
  3. Throw something; a box, shuriken, or a downed opponent will do – again, simply for flash.
  4. Rinse, and repeat.

If only we'd been able to Fight The Foot. If we could just fight them with wanton abandon using the above procedure, without having to care about stipulations or technique or your friends or whether or not this box or that shuriken was perfectly thrown at the opposing player's character model, it'd have been so, so wonderful.

Alas, we cannot, and more's the pity.

Mutant Melee is best enjoyed with two or more players; this is simply because, odds are, single players won't enjoy it. The one-player mode, misleadingly titled "Adventure," involves you picking a single character, moving them across story branches, and being allowed to read a paragraph or two which sets up the circumstances of the next battle. No cut scenes, not even engine-rendered ones, will greet you along your journey. Just barely believable text. True, the Adventure mode allows you to pick from lots of characters from the series, each with their own unique text stories, but considering how blandly and with how little substance the entire mode is presented, one will end up caring very little.

Melee mode, where the actual no-rules fighting takes place, is a little more interesting.

Here, up to four players (either human or AI-based) can simply beat the living heck out of each other, with a few selectable rule sets attached. You can either fight for the most knockouts, play King of the Hill (where a character has to defend a spot for a set amount of time), Last Man Standing, which is pretty self-explanatory, or Keep Away, which is much like Halo's "Oddball" mode. In this mode, one player has to run around while holding a chest for the most time. The latter modes prove to actually be nice time-wasters. The ones where you actually have to fight… not so much, for reasons already outlined above.

There are a few nice extras and unlockables, such as photo, character profile and movie galleries, as well as extra stages to play in Melee Mode, but these are, in the business, what we call "too little, too late." They'd have made great icing-on-the-cake additions to a great game, but attached to a product like this, they almost seem out of place. (Also, a lot of the image-based media is of extremely low resolution, to the point of being unviewable. The character biography page is worth at least a look, though, because they're actually written as autobiographies. They're a hoot.)

The game looks about as mediocre as it plays; the cel-shaded character models are distinctive but not much else, and while the games moves at a respectable 60 frames, it's easy to see that it's no small task. Of course, to fit more characters on the screen, some sacrifices undoubtedly had to be made, but it's hard to tell which ones were made due to processing power and which ones were made due to lack of budget and development time.

The sound is surprising on both extremes. On the one side, the sound bites… the sound bites are simply awesome. There are many for each character, and they change depending on who said character is interacting with at the time. If Donatello is fighting Michaelangelo, he'll actually spout out some quips aimed directly at Michaelangelo and his personality, and even address his brother by name in the process. It often sounds like they're really bantering with each other during and after battles.

On the other side of the coin, this seems to have come at the expense of a soundtrack. Depending on the mode you're playing, get ready to hear the same background music being played for each time you fight.. over… and over… and over again. I haven't complained about "one track" so much since the original Ridge Racer. Fortunately, the background music is so incredibly bland you often won't notice it at all. By far the best piece in this game is the nice remix of the opening theme in the game's main menu screen.

Even with its status as a budget title, I can't recommend Mutant Melee to anyone except perhaps little kids who love all thins Turtles. If you want to see what could have made a really great side-scrolling beat-'em-up, give this a rent. Otherwise, it looks like we'll still be waiting for a TMNT game that delivers the adrenaline-packed fun that the older games used to. In fact, if you have an Xbox and the money for this, I highly recommend using it to purchase Kung Fu Chaos instead, which adopts Melee's fighting system, but adds purpose and several gallons of hilarity to the mix… and is cheaper to boot.

As for myself, I'm off to play Turtles in Time. Again.

Score: 6.0/10

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