Some people reckon that you won't learn anything by playing video games. And that's something we very much disagree with after having played Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan. Before we got our hands this half-shelled actioner from Platinum Games, we had no idea as to the full extent of the endless mazes made up of completely identical sewers there reside under the streets of Manhattan. In fact, there were so many and they were so long, that on several occasions we lost track of where we were and how far we had come.
We spent nearly half an hour in tunnels that made The Library, that oh so infamous mission from Halo: Combat Evolved, feel like the absolute pinnacle of intuitive level design. We're speculating here, but we reckon a big part of the problem with this game is that Activision wanted Platinum Games to make Mutants in Manhattan in time for the upcoming movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.
Not that they belong together really; this game is more closely related to the IDW series, but it undeniably has the same four mutated, pizza loving loud-mouthed ninja turtles starring in the four lead roles. With that in mind it's clear that there's money to be made by riding on the coattails of the film's marketing. We understand this, sure, but it's frustrating because the result is a stressful and confusing title, instead of what could have been one of the best beat 'em ups ever made. Third-person brawling with Ninja Turtles and Platinum Games should have been a match made in heaven.
Basically this game begs for co-op for up to four people, as well as a varied selection of enemies to spank. It could have been a trendsetter for beat 'em ups in the same vein as Batman: Arkham Asylum once revolutionised its own particular brand of action-adventure. But a quick cash cow was obviously more important, and here we are now, running through tunnel after tunnel into virtually identical enemies (much like the Foot Clan to be fair) wondering whether the next encounter will be any different from the last.
Having said all that, during the first few minutes of the game's training mode, we were completely overwhelmed. However, despite some really cool animations, double jumps, and responsive controls, it didn't take long before we started to think that something smelled off in this particular sewer. The basic two-button system Platinum Games usually uses, and which was utilised in Transformers: Devastation, feels a bit broken and unsatisfactory here, and most battles end up descending into mindless button bashing.
Even worse is the counter-attack system that Splinter tries to teach us in a calm, Yoda-like fashion. By timing and releasing a trigger at the right time, you're able to turn attacks to your advantage. But it's difficult to know exactly when they're activated. We've played our fair share of fighting games and have learned numerous counter-attack systems, from Street Fighter III: Third Strike through to Soul Calibur V (and for that matter, WWE 2K15), but this one simply isn't reliable. And this in a casual offering is just bad design.
It's like Platinum Games made a solid foundation for the game, but have not had time to build on it, and just shoved it out the door. An indication that this might be the case is that there's a level of cooperation between the four turtles that we've never really seen before in the genre. A good strategy is to start with Donatello and spin around with his super, and knock off some life from every enemy, before switching to Raphael and using his powerful attacks to take out the toughest opponents. Then quickly swap to Leonardo, who has good reach and strength, and can kill off the remaining enemies. Finally, there's Michelangelo, who can fill the super meter before the next wave of enemies turns up. It's a neat system, but we suspect that so much time has been spent crafting it that there simply wasn't enough time and resources to create varied courses, fun enemies and meaningful content to go with it.
Another good indication of this perceived lack of time comes with the boss fights, as these are re-used throughout the game. Recycling is really popular these days, but in the video game world it's never the best idea, and here every boss shows up more than once. It gets so frustrating after a while that we forget that the bosses are often really good the first time around, with an intense increase of pace whereby more damage taken makes them angrier and angrier. The design and the animations are first class, and contribute to an epic feeling when you get re-acquainted with classic characters such as Bebop and Rocksteady.
Although some classic Turtles features have been included to delight the biggest fans of the series, it's difficult to see it as anything more than Platinum Games turning the Turtles-box upside down and just shaking out everything that people like. But even a story where Krang and Shredder are up to shenanigans in Manhattan can't help but feel strained. A little more narrative love might have made it more rewarding to play through, but instead it's just the promise of seeing some familiar faces that drove us through the adventure.
All told it takes about six hours to finish the nine missions that make up the story, but despite this relative brevity, it felt like it dragged on longer. Indeed, there are many little things like this that hurt Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan. For example, there's no option to play local co-op, which was an absolute blast in older Turtles games, and if you play multiplayer online, it feels like the game doesn't scale and everything is therefore too easy. There is also a levelling system in which you purchase new abilities from Splinter. First off, it doesn't fit at all into how the Turtles universe works, and secondly it doesn't take long to learn everything, and so in the end it's more about the order in which you discover stuff. Mutants in Manhattan also fails to reach 60 frames per second, as has been standard in the Platinum Games games of late, games which also boasted fancier graphics.
Ultimately this offering wasn't saved by good boss fights, magnificent animations, and mostly great controls. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan is, simply put, not a good game. It feels unfinished, and after playing through it, we really had to force ourselves to continue exploring its content for this review. Unfortunately the concept has been completely wasted and what could have been outrageously good, is instead a game you will shortly be able to find in bargain bins.
Due to a miscommunication this review was originally published with the wrong score. This has since been amended and the score below is as the reviewer initially intended.