Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: March 20, 2007
Do you remember the 1980s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game? If not, and you're looking specifically at the 360 version, please go take a look at it on Xbox Live before continuing this review. This classic brawler game, based on the license of the '80s television series, has set a pretty high bar for gameplay in licensed games, and at the time, its graphics were quite impressive.
Unfortunately, this is a bar that hasn't really been met since TMNT: The Hyperstone Heist, which was a remix with a new story of "TMNT IV: Turtles in Time" for the arcades and SNES. I wish I could say that Ubisoft's newest effort on the series is on par with the original, but the company's take on the TMNT's newest movie manages to make the most ninja-y game where you play as a ninja that I've seen in a while, even if it's not exactly going to compete with Ninja Gaiden Sigma in terms of popularity or quality.
If you've played the newer Prince of Persia games, TMNT should be immediately familiar; the control scheme is a highly simplified version of the same, allowing you to pull off all sorts of neat acrobatic feats as you run through the platforming sections that make up the majority of each stage. Jump from ledge to ledge, shimmy along edges, and, of course, wall run, wall run, and wall run some more.
While this is extremely fun and really makes you feel like a ninja, the problem is ... well, Prince of Persia is a single-player game, and so is TMNT. This is a really, really strange decision on Ubisoft's part, to put it lightly, especially when, more so than in any previous TMNT material, the Turtle's relationship as a family is a critical theme of the new movie, and thus the game. The switch-based controls, which do allow for two-turtle specials, give all four turtles emphasis, but you will never see more than one seriously fighting at a time, a fact that innately limits the game.
Although fitting, weirder still is the way the game handles fighting; you will free-run your way through most of each level and simply be stopped every so often as you face different enemies. These fights remind of the old TMNT arcade game taken to 3D, and in all honesty, play very much the same way. Run to enemy, smack them up until they poof, and repeat; ideally, you should repeat this on many enemies at once so you don't get smacked up yourself.
You'll be taking on entire gangs almost immediately, and of course many interesting bosses will spice things up in the classic, simplistic pattern-based combat vein. However, by leaving the fighting and platforming relatively separate, the titles comes across as highly disjointed. Your platforming skills will almost never let you pull clever stunts to make the fights easier, even though the controls are nearly identical. You can't skip fights either, so unless you believe ninjas should be all about flipping out, don't expect to really feel like one here.
Both of these are counterbalanced with a childish difficulty level, which is disappointing since the target audience for the film is mostly fans of the older films, but it makes sense, given TMNT's original style and the industry assumption that lower difficulties are good for kids. Ubisoft has at least made sure the title is relatively free of glitches, though during platforming segments of certain levels, there were a few points where the controls didn't quite land where you expected, and whoever came up with the idea of Michelangelo's nunchucks doubling as helicopter blades needs to be slapped and denied their drug stash. It only gets worse when you see it and hear Mike making annoyingly ludicrous noises. I can legitimately say this is the first video game that has ever made me want to punch a turtle in the face.
Presentation's never a high priority with me, but TMNT manages to keep up on this front. The graphics remind of the movie, though they don't quite attain the same detail level. Character voice and picture cut-ins straight from the comic books, combined with comic-styled story sequences, however, create a touch that makes you realize that Ubisoft seriously cared about making this title right. No matter how frustrating things get, the next comic sequence — which is often comic in more than one sense — makes you feel better. Sound effects are pretty average, with unremarkable music and voice effects that manage to avoid becoming excessively repetitive. Donatello's first stage was especially frustrating, but I am sure I heard at least five different death clips, which is sadly rather impressive for a game like this.
To call TMNT impressive is to give it too much credit, but to call it junk is to give it too little. It's clear that Ubisoft Montreal took a fair amount of effort with this title, but it's also clear that sometimes, a design can really mess up a game on more than one level. This could easily have received an 8.0 with co-op for the appropriate levels (and there are plenty of them). As it stands, the game emphasizes the Turtle in the solitary more than the Turtles as a family, wrecking a major plot thematic and seriously limiting the game. If you're looking for a short Prince of Persia-type diversion, TMNT would be far from the worst choice I can imagine, and it is definitely nice to see someone remembering the "ninja" part of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles name, getting across the humor and style of the characters well.
And yes, there's a Rabbids cameo.