We apologize in advance for doing this, but click here and here. Last year saw the release of two video games based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles license, and you should know that we found both of them to be pretty terrible. But despite these Galapagos tortoise-sized cowabummers, when TMNT: Danger of the Ooze was announced just a few months back, we were optimistic. Why, you might ask? Well, because the side-scrolling specialists at WayForward were on the case. For a while the developer was doing a fantastic job delivering quality licensed games on a seemingly small budget and with a quick turnaround time, and that was enough for us to cling to the hope that a great TMNT game may be on its way. Unfortunately, it seems we were being a bit too naive.
Danger of the Ooze is a 2.5D Metroidvania (shelltroidvania also works) based on the current TMNT series on Nickelodeon. We won’t get into too many details, but the plot, which is supposed to take place between season two and three of the cartoon, finds Shredder with his claws on a super mutagen and the turtles determined to resolve the issue. All four turtles – Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Donatello – are playable characters that can be switched out with a couple simple button commands, and, although there are minor differences between them, they largely handle the same. Like any Metroidvania, progress is non-linear and based on exploration and the acquiring of new abilities, which allow access to areas that couldn’t previously be reached. Danger of the Ooze adheres to that format but doesn’t do the best of jobs.
So what could go so wrong with a Metroidvania-styled TMNT game developed by WayForward? A whole heck of a lot, actually. Front and center is the hit/collision detection, which is truly abysmal. Even attempting to land hits on large stationary enemies without suffering damage can prove to be a challenge. One moment you’re swinging away with nunchuks and sais from a safe distance yet hits won’t connect, then the next you move forward enough for your strikes to land and you’ll unexpectedly get hurt from an enemy collision. It’s clear very early on that none of the core mechanics received the polish and tuning that they should have. Simply disabling collision damage could've helped Danger of the Ooze to be a less annoying grind, but of course that didn't happen.
Exploration and backtracking in Metroidvanias are only fun when the combat and/or traversal is engaging and satisfying (like Strider’s swift swordplay and Guacamelee’s brawler move-set). Regrettably, Danger of the Ooze excels at neither of these things. We’ve already established that the poor detection is a major problem, but a lackluster combat system and carelessly-constructed environments merge to ensure there’s some sort of headache in nearly every other room. Wait until you come across shielded enemies with guns that fill almost the height of a hallway from floor to ceiling – it’s a pain in the shell to get past these sections without the deflect ability. Top that off with platforms so slightly out of reach that if feels as though you’ve cheated the system when you land on them. Whatever the particular reason is, getting around and throwing down with the Kraang and the Foot just isn’t a pleasant affair.
If an enemy happens to knock a turtle's health bar down to zero, that character will be held captive somewhere in the world and he'll need to be tracked down if you want him back in your lineup. In theory this is a neat idea, but with all the complications we've listed above, it becomes a source of major woes. At one point we'd lost all turtles except for Donatello, and the rest were located so far apart that we'd often die on our way there. When your last turtle is killed you'll respawn near the liar in the sewers, which is likely very far from wherever you previously were. Getting back to the objective you were focused on can be dangerous enough, but going out of your way to reclaim a turtle can be a death sentence. Considering that kids are the primary audience, this is a decision that wasn't exactly executed with consideration for all the variables at play.
There comes a point when the new abilities will marginally alleviate some of the shellaches and make travel slightly less stressful, but we don't expect many will be determined to venture that far deep before giving up. Outside of the quality tunes and better-than-expected visuals, it's hard to say that any element of Danger of the Ooze is handled all that well, and therefore redeeming moments are rare. The combat is bland and unreliable. The level design is uninteresting and confusing. And many of the upgrades feel largely inconsequential. Plus we triggered a couple serious glitches during our review session that couldn't be corrected without a rebooting of the game. We could go on and on about what doesn't work, but for fear of being redundant we'll leave it at that.
To be frank, Danger of the Ooze is a dud. After spending many hours with it, we can say it feels as though it was about 75% complete when it shipped out the door. There’s no sense that the proper attention went into any one area of the game, and the result is another sub-par TMNT product sure to disappoint fans – maybe even the apologists. The saddest part is, if the gameplay was tightened and more reliable, the surrounding pieces might be good enough that we’d at least have an average Metroidvania on our hands. Sadly, that’s not the case, and these Ninja Turdles deserve to be flushed and sent back to the sewers from whence they came.
Trust us when we say that Danger of the Ooze should be avoided. We’re fans of Metroidvanias, TMNT and WayForward, and we could barely stomach finishing this half-baked adventure — it’s sloppy, rushed, and laden with bugs. Watching video footage on the internet might suggest that we’re being a tad hyperbolic, but the biggest problems aren’t entirely apparent until you’ve gone hands-on with the lean green ninja team. Do yourself and/or your kids a favor and buy them something else this holiday. Might we suggest Skylanders: Trap Team or Disney Infinity: Marvel Superheroes instead? They will cost more up front, but they're sure to deliver much more enjoyment in the long run.