Developer: Ubisoft Monteral
Release Date: March 20, 2007
Heck, everybody I know still is. We grew up with the little green guys, the awesomely skilled ninja rat, the Kitchen Utensil, and (especially) April O' Neil. Back in the day, the amount of quarters that have been pumped by myself and countless children into Konami's early TMNT arcade machines could be counted by human means. We had action figures, branded pasta, and we even had some great NES games, outside of that stupid first one where you had to defuse bombs in an ocean with a time limit that was one minute too short. God, I hated that thing.
Back then, you loved being a turtle, and there were plenty of reasons why. Even with all of its separate continuities, merchandising, and Archie comics, the Turtles could seemingly do no wrong.
Flash-forward to about 2003. Around then, the TMNT experienced a resurgence, and it was actually good. The cartoon defied all odds (being that it came from 4Kids and all) to portray a grittier, yet still fun version of the Turtles that was closer to the original comic book vision. Konami, responsible for the old TMNT games, set forth to create games based on this property ... and fell flat on its face. Four times, no less. Sub-par 3D work, boring combat, and the first game not even being four-player were all factors that led to their downfall. No one's still sure just quite what happened. Was it that hard to recreate an experience borne of such simplicity as demonstrated by the old TMNT games?
This year, the TMNT have been revamped yet again, in the form of a CG movie based loosely on the 2003 cartoons. Ubisoft has taken the reins for creating a new game based on the film, and early results were quite promising. Given the fact that we were treated to disturbingly luscious PS2 screens, the fact that it was running on the Prince of Persia engine, and videos of the turtles walking on the sides of buildings, for crying out loud, most people were actually willing to forgive its baffling single-player only specifications (Seriously, people. No more of this hogwash. It's now against the law to make a Turtles game that isn't four players. Okay?) and give it a shot.
The game, unfortunately, disappoints, but it's one of those titles where all of the missed potential just hits you in the face. To their credit, Ubisoft almost managed to pull off a Turtles game that defied convention yet still managed to be fun. Unfortunately, all it took was a few fundamental design mistakes to drag it down into the same pits as Konami's 3D efforts. It's a shame, really.
There's a lot that this game gets right. It still looks good, especially given that this is the Wii we're talking about here. The platforming is, as expected, streamlined and well-done, yet you don't get the idea that the system is being pushed to any great lengths to achieve this. These are the fastest Turtles ever, to the point where there will be times when you're tempted to call this "Ninja Turtle Gaiden." Running, jumping, double jumping, running along walls, shimmying, scurrying, and leaping back and forth between two walls are all done with the Nunchuk analog stick and a single button. It's easy, and it's fun. The terrain is your playground, even if there is sadly no backtracking allowed.
If Ubisoft had simply made TMNT all about platforming and aerial mazes, and thus incorporated some sweet level design that got maddeningly tougher as the game wore on (indeed, a la the game to which this owes its engine), perhaps it would have had a chance. But this is a game about ninja, and ninja require that you have lots of fast-paced combat, so this is where the game begins to fall apart. Basic combat requires you to swing the Wiimote like a weapon, which yields some imprecise swipes onscreen. These will form rudimentary combo attacks, but there's none of the technique behind them that can be found in other, better brawlers.
Where's the juggling? Where are the acrobatics that combine with the melee? Even given some neat charged attacks that really show off the Turtles' ninja speed, combat seems to be limited to the ground and some really bad jumping attacks. Even worse is that the enemies that you fight are dumb as rocks. The only reason for them to provide any sort of threat is because they are many, and will often gang up on your lone turtle, who can't take much of a beating on his own before passing out.
This all boils down to hacking and running, using a special attack every once in a while, and hoping that you don't take too many glancing hits, otherwise you have to start the whole thing all over again. That's no way to play a brawler. The platforming parts and the brawling parts are disconnected from each other to boot. First you zip around, and then you fight. Lather, rinse, and repeat. If there had been some cohesion, or as much refinement put into the melee combat technique as there had been in the platforming, this game would have been on the right track. As it stands, there's that missed potential we were all talking about. As icing on the cake, the same three sound clips for each turtle play over and over again as you fight. Raph's "Here's Johnny!" is worth a chuckle the first time you hear it —by the 5,278th, you want to punch the screen.
As much as I'd like to, I unfortunately can't recommend TMNT — for any system, much less the Wii — to anyone but the most diehard of Turtles fans, and little children. While it was definitely on the right track to restoring the brand to its former video game glory, the surprisingly boring and simplistic gameplay absolutely kills it. Oddly enough, Ubi did get one of its TMNT installments right, but it's on the Game Boy Advance. If you must get more pixelated Turtle action, hunt down that version, and leave the big console games for the sub-preteen crowd.