Being fans of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series, we were looking forward to this year. A slick-looking reboot of the show was already in full swing, and Activision had not one, but TWO new games due to hit the Xbox 360 to celebrate. We already know what a massive let-down the digital title – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows – was, but we were naïve enough to believe that there was no way that they’d get it wrong with a second title that was due to be released to retail at full price, within two months of the first.
So, so naïve, in fact.
When all is said and done, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a wretched mess of a game that fails to do anything to justify the price being asked for it. In fact, it's almost as if this was released in order to make Out of The Shadows look good. When reviewing, we usually like to look for high points and counteract them with the low, but there are so few positives to take from this that we were a little bit stuck. It all kicks off well enough, with the introduction from the TV series firing up and the not-too-disrespectful rebooted theme music blaring away, but that’s where the fun ends. In essence, the game is a side-scrolling brawler that sometimes allows you to wander outside of the invisible walls that you’d usually expect to be in your way. The camera will pan around so that it looks as if you’re walking towards it at times, but that’s about all you’ll find in the way of depth.
There are two things to get right with a game like this. The first is the combat. The second is the difficulty level. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fails on both counts, and fails hard. To say that the combat is repetitive would be an insult to repetition. You’ve got an attack button, a button for jumping, one for firing projectiles (which seem to rarely have any sort of effect) and another that pulls off a super move which, again, seems to have very little effect on the opposition. Super moves have to be unlocked, and are charged by attacking opponents what seems like a billion times. When you finally have charged your move, it seems to do very little in the way of damage, so it hardly seems worth it. We should mention that you can switch between the turtles by pressing a direction on the directional pad. The three you don’t control are controlled by the AI, which seems to be hell bent on getting them all killed as quickly as possible. They meander around, ignoring whatever is attacking them, stealing your health pickups, and pretty much just serving as cannon fodder, being beaten up until you can get to dealing with the criminal that they’re supposed to be dispatching of.
The main issue with combat though, is the way that it feels. Quite a lot of the time, enemies don’t seem to react to you hitting them, which makes the whole thing feel weak and lightweight. They’re taking damage, sure, but they just don’t recoil or fall down in the way that they should. The first five stages can be cleared by repeatedly pressing a single button, occasionally pushing the stick in the direction that the game tells you to walk in once a wave of enemies has been cleared. Those enemies are generally killed off very easily, unless you fall foul of one of the many glitches that the game contains. At one point, a mid-level boss was stuck running into a crate, while we just stood behind him, bashing him over the head again and again until he was done for. When it happens to them, it’s bad. When it happens to you and you can’t move in any direction because a piece of pipe that’s a good ten feet away is impeding your progress, it just plain sucks.
But hey, if you dodge the bugs and get through some of the otherwise easiest gaming challenges you’ll ever face, you’ll be pitted against a boss that takes twenty minutes to defeat due to the fact that he only takes damage at certain times, and that he runs around like an idiot for a minute or two between each of those times. That’s if he doesn’t just randomly decide that he’ll not take any damage at all, meaning that you’ll run out of lives later rather than as soon as you’d like to.
Graphically, things aren’t so bad. Everything looks relatively clean and cartoon-like, and things move along at a fair pace. But that quality level doesn’t continue on to the audio. From the get-go, you’ll need to turn the volume on your television right down. For reference, the TV we used to review this title is generally set to a volume level of 30 out of 100. This is fine and allows us to hear all of the speech in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag for example, without a problem. For music games, we crank it up to 60 (because we rock like that.) For TMNT to not actually hurt our ears, we had to set it to 4. We’d bet dollars to donuts that someone, somewhere, has a blown set of speakers as a result of not expecting their game to try to deafen them the first time they booted it up. It isn't that Motörhead are doing the soundtrack or anything, it's just that the audio level is set so darned high. That’s a rookie mistake, right there. For further rookie mistakes, you don’t need to go far, either. Some of the dialogue has seems to have been recorded without the use of a microphone pop filter, so some of the characters have voices that are distorted and scratchy. The volume levels haven’t been normalised either, so one voice bellows at you about how cool pizza is, and then the next vocal which tells you important things about your missing is next to inaudible in comparison.
None of this matters though, since after your first boss battle – where the characters just repeat the same line of dialogue over and over and over and over and over and over again as you hit the same buttons over and over and over and over and over and over again – you’ll probably have chewed your fingers off and stuffed them into your ears, mainly due to there being a lack of anything more entertaining to do, but also to prevent you from ever making the mistake of giving the game a second chance.
For a publisher to come up with two games based on the same franchise within two months, and for those games to achieve an aggregate review score of five out of a possible twenty must be some sort of record. Walk into your local game store blindfolded, and pick up any full-price game at random. There’s an excellent chance that you will have picked up something better than this. Diabolical.