When Out of the Shadows was unveiled back in March of this year, fans were in an uproar about the new look of their beloved Turtles. Instead of going the cartoony route of the current TMNT series on Nickelodeon, developer Red Fly Studios was presenting something a bit more mature, with the Turtles faces actually resembling that of real-life turtles. We’ll be the first to admit that we found this new facelift to be rather questionable, but we figured we’d give the developer the benefit of the doubt, and just hope for some sweet beat-em-up action. Now that our favorite Heroes in a Half Shell have made their way to XBLA, we can tell you up front that the your complaints regarding the visual overhaul should be the least of your worries.
After a pointless, shallow introductory sequence in which you control April O’Neil through a collapsing factory, you’re invited to the Turtle's liar in the sewers, which serves as the game’s menu and hub. Here you can choose between the campaign, arcade mode, the dojo, and a few extras. Campaign is obviously the main story, and the bulk of the game. The arcade mode offers side-scrolling versions of the levels from the campaign, but they're focused purely on street brawling and high scores. And the dojo is where you can practice your repertoire of moves to perfection. When you select a campaign file and get on your way, the story is delivered through dreadfully boring hand-drawn still-frame cinematics that appear to be a product of limited time/budget, instead of an artistic compulsion.
Once you’ve gained control of the Turtles, things begin to look promising, thanks to a substantial combat system at the heart of it all; think the Arkham series and you shouldn’t be too far off from what to expect. Using the X and Y buttons will perform hand and foot attacks, and timing B with enemy attacks will block and counter. String together enough consecutive hits and you’ll be rewarded a special attack that will help take down enemies a lot quicker. You’ll even earn stat points for accomplishments, and those points can be used to level up each individual character’s attacks and other attributes. It’s just a damn shame that a magnitude of glitches, unresponsive controls, and just about every other element of the game is always working against any potential enjoyment.
A major perpetrator would be the camera, which is 100% reliant on the player to control. It doesn’t matter if a support column swings into view, completely obstructing your vision in the middle of battle, you must remove your thumb from the face buttons, swing the camera around with the analog stick, and by then, hope you didn’t suffer any devastating damage. In the large open environments this is rarely an issue, but unfortunately most of your time will be spent in the most generic cluttered alleys, narrow sewer systems, and hallways of laboratories; keeping things problematic on a regular basis. Pile on an overwhelming number of enemies, along with your turtle buddies clogging things up further, and it’s just too much to manage to the point of being infuriating.
Level design doesn’t help matters either, as it’s archaic, and finding which direction to progress can be a battle in itself. There were numerous situations where we were running around like chickens with our heads cut off trying to find the next jumpable ledge or pathway that didn’t end in an invisible wall. Characters would even get hung up on the most minor protrusions that were almost completely unnoticeable. As if we needed another hindrance to slow things down even more, there are locked doors that require hacking – connect this wire to that wire without overlapping others – which just isn’t any fun to do, and occurs far too frequently in certain levels, leading to uncontrollable levels of boredom.
Then in come the technical issues; rough edges, frame-rate drops, texture draw-in, and occasional screen tearing which bog down the presentation in a major way. The audio even attempts to annoy further due to an incessant electronic soundtrack and the cringe-worthy dialog that the Turtles spit out at the most nonsensical times. Top all these things off with major glitches occurring during boss battles – like Karai trapped atop Leonardo’s head – and we had about all we could chew by the end of the second level. Don't even get us started on the split-screen multiplayer, which accentuated every issue to all new levels of bad.
We won’t deny that there were moments during the campaign where we were enjoying ourselves, but those moments were always fleeting. Admittedly, we did have more fun with the classic arcade mode, but since we had to complete the whole campaign to unlock those levels, the damage had already been done, and these Turtles had more than overstayed their welcome. Not even the presence of Partner in Kryme's “Turtle Power!” from the live-action Turtles flicks could salvage our mood. Sorry Turtle fans, this is not the game you've been waiting for.
There’s no nice way to put it, TMNT: Out of the Shadows is a carelessly slopped together buggy mess of a game. Worst of all, it’s undercooked to the point that if it were a pizza, not even Michelangelo himself would eat it. If there’s anything warding off the worst of scores, it’s the engaging combat system, but even that doesn’t live to its potential due to a massive list of technical problems, unresponsive controls and a needy camera. Suffering an obvious identity crisis, it seems that no one really knew what they wanted this game to be, and the result is a mutation lacking any kind of soul. Don’t shell out the green for this one, guys, it’s a total cowabummer.