It is a little-known secret that I am a rabid fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Sure, everyone my age has at some point in their lives owned as much TMNT merchandise as sand at beach or played TMNT at a Chuck E. Cheese arcade. But few have read the comics—not Archie Comic’s TMNT Adventures series, but the original Mirage run, TMNT Volume 1. After reading these during early adulthood, I realized how fraudulent the 1987 series is. The turtles are in actuality seriously disciplined assassins who do indeed use lethal force, rather than be jokesters full of one-liners.
Still, after Nickelodeon acquired rights to the TMNT, the company relaunched the franchise with the 2012 show with a great blend between the comics and the 1987 series. The recent films have done the same, so it would make sense that Mutants in Manhattan maintain consistency within the TMNT “universe.” Of course, it has a lot to live up to given the history of great TMNT games….
I find the “T for Teen” rating insulting. The content in Mutants in Manhattan is consistent with that found in the TMNT 2012 cartoon. Everyone 10+ would be a more reasonable rating.
I needed TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan to satiate my desire for nostalgia, but what I received was a sobering reminder of why the reputations of licensed games precede them. My initial exuberance faded into apprehension when I saw “training mode” on the menu, something I would expect in a game of skill such as TMNT: Tournament Fighters rather than what I anticipated to be a button masher. Sure, there is a learning curve to be expected with Mutants in Manhattan because it is not a side-scroller like the brawlers of yore, but for a game that should maintain relatively frenetic pacing, I would have preferred a learn-as-I-go approach. A dedicated mode explaining how climb walls (apparently like Spider-Man since no equipment is required), or throwing shuriken is unnecessary.
To facilitate the adjustment to 3D, Platinum included a lock-on feature so that players will not lose sight of the intended target during a fray requiring lots of dodging. Those looking forward to tossing enemies onto the screen like in Turtles in Time or perform body slams like in Hyperstone Heist will be disappointed; among the basic moves the only option vaguely resembling a throw is when a turtle mounts an enemy and pummels them upside the head like Skate does in Streets of Rage, but only after a successful near-miss dodge (PlatinumGames fans should think in terms of activating Witch Time in Bayonetta). Those who find Mutants in Manhattan entertaining enough to want to master dodge timings will find themselves parrying attacks to create openings or outright countering at will.
I do not.
Mutants in Manhattan features no substantial plot whatsoever. The turtles proceed to haphazardly frolic about New York City—sometimes in daylight due to a serendipitous police curfew—beating up various entities enlisted by the Foot Clan for no other reason than just because. Oh, the premise is that Shredder and Krang are up to something, but are they not always? The ability to select stages in any order renders the campaign into more of an extended time attack mode, complete with the lack of harmony between the available options. Perhaps if each stage ended with a reveal concerning about Krang and Shredder’s plans instead of the same cutscene, I might have been more willing to endure the monotony of the stages in a positive light.
Because the mini-objectives within each stage are randomized, I am staggered at how boring the game is overall. PlatinumGames created what one could consider “open world” and somewhat non-linear, but the environments are too vast and too empty. The city stages sprinkle enemies around stages to break the monotony of running, jumping, and parachuting to the next waypoint, but the sewer and subway stages made me quit the game several times for lulling me to sleep.
Actual fighting in Mutants in Manhattan is, like with all other things in this game, a hodgepodge. The hitstrings with all of the turtles provide a satisfying feeling of martial arts mastery, and I found myself often switching between them often than playing as the same one for an entire mission. Even Mikey, whose television persona gets on my nerves (he is mellow in the comics) managed to find value in my eyes, particularly because two of his special moves are among the most powerful in the game. His “cheerleader” skill refreshes the abilities of all the other turtles in the vicinity, and his combo move involves tag-teaming with another turtle and breaking down to boogie to distract enemies who also dance for a short time, leaving them vulnerable. Every turtle has a customizable “loadout” of special moves that can be exchanged for other techniques, adding to replay value—including the throws I mentioned earlier which has to be unlocked as one of each turtle’s four techniques. I found myself prioritizing Leo’s “healing circle” and Don’s “pizza time” to heal due to the unforgiving nature damage in this game. Even so, Mutants in Manhattan is a beat ‘em up; the idea of collecting and upgrading various special moves and charms and such is way too complex for what this game is supposed to be. Why am I gaining experience points and unlocking levels? I just want to whoop up on some dudes.
Fighting foot soldiers primarily during the first stages is indeed fun. Whoopin up on them makes me feel powerful like a ninja warrior. However, when the game switches from foot soldiers to rock soldiers, I question some of the decisions developers made for enemy encounters. Hit sponges are not fun, and rock soldiers also have very little hitstun, so while they take damage, they can still attack and inflict heavy damage. Large mini-bosses are no more fun either, as they often hit as hard as an actual boss; both of which have me spamming pizzas from my inventory to stay in the fight. Thus, while the design of each boss scratches that nostalgic itch that I mention earlier, every boss fight is a fight of attrition, and that simply is not fun.
It is possible that PlatinumGames designed each boss to hit HARD because they anticipated that people would actually shell out up to $160 for four players to play a game whose multiplayer is online only. After all, four human players are theoretically more resourceful than the AI-controlled allies who are merely adequate. For the average player and perhaps even the target audience of kids, the turtles do not have enough HPs and will spend a lot of time rolling round “shell shocked” on their backs. To account for this imbalance, downed turtles participate in a pizza-eating minigame to restore health before rejoining the fray. There is no other way to put it: it is poor boss design when I can just lock on and throw shuriken form a distance while my brothers expose themselves to the boss’ large damage AOEs. Lessons were apparently not learned from Devil May Cry 2.
Given the history of the TMNT, I would be amiss if I failed to recognize that the intended audience is likely children, especially because this is a cross-gen release. They would likely care less about the expansive, bland environments and would be content to run around as a ninja…turtle. Still, the difficult enemy encounters might be discouraging. Given the options of older audiences I could not recommend this game at the MSRP $40. Still, even kids wanting to play with their friends might be out of luck already. At the time of this writing, mutiplayer on PC is already dead. Then again, Mutants in Manhattan has always lacked soul.