We've reviewed three Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games in Pure Xbox's lifetime, and the highest any of those games scored was a 3/10. That's pretty dire, huh? Not since TMNT: Turtles in Time landed on the Super Nintendo back in 1992 have fans received a genuinely great game based on this timeless entertainment property, and that hurts. So when we heard that the action wizards at PlatinumGames were developing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan, a co-op brawler with overt similarities to Bayonetta and Transformers: Devastation, we were filled with an overwhelming sense of hope. However, now that we've saved New York City from the clutches of imminent doom, we have to admit that our hope has been put through the shredder.
In Mutants in Manhattan, General Krang and Shredder team up to take over New York City, but the extent of their plans is unclear. The setup is similar to Batman: Arkham Origins, where the events take place in one evening, while a cavalcade of notable enemies come out of the shadows to cause problems for the turtles. But the narrative here is paper thin and amounts to little more than an excuse for players to face off against iconic TMNT villains. Thankfully, these characters, which are based on the IDW comics, have been handled with a great deal of respect. The models look, move, and, for the most part, sound like the characters we've known for over 30 years, which helps to make up for the banality of the plot.
The visuals, while clearly not as impressive as most current-gen games, succeed because the gritty-meets-glossy cel-shaded art style gels so well with the source material. Again, the main characters, enemies, and animations are so fluid and spot on that we wish the rest of the game received the same amount of love and careful consideration. Like Platinum's last game, Transformers: Devastation, the environments are where the art direction loses its luster, as the lifeless suburbs, recycled sewers, and bland skyscrapers lack variety and are visually uninteresting. It cheapens the overall presentation substantially, especially when directly compared to the nearly perfect, detailed renditions of Bebop, Rocksteady, and Armaggon, just to name a few.
But it's not only the look of the environments that diminishes the quality of Mutants in Manhattan; it's the uninspired, humdrum layout of the levels and the mundane activities found within. Certain settings, like the suburbs and rooftops of NYC, are wide open and spacious, aping the feel of a constrained sandbox environment. But other than the level-ending boss battles, the only thing to do in these "arenas" is rush to the randomly-generated missions and meet an objective before time runs out. You can collect some pickups and collectibles scattered throughout the levels, but it's not a rewarding enough process to be of merit.
Surprisingly, the missions that simply ask you to beat down all baddies are easily the most satisfying, while activities that require the transportation of money or bombs are poorly designed and equate to a chore. This inconsistency means Mutants in Manhattan is frequently bogged down by its dull and frustrating mission structure, which is exacerbated by a couple of poorly-conceived enemy types – like Foot soldiers that tie you up in chains so tightly that you can't move until a friendly runs up and sets you free – that probably shouldn't even be in the game due to how consistently their attacks disrupt the flow of battle.
When it comes to putting the hurt on foes, Mutants in Manhattan adopts the hack-and-slash combat from Bayonetta and Transformers: Devastation, waters it down, and adjusts it ever-so-slightly for multiplayer conditions. It's a two-button attack format that largely amounts to mindless button mashing until it's time to dodge or execute a special move. Even though the combat is much less technical, rewarding, and combo-driven than the aforementioned games, the special moves do inject the online co-op scenarios with a needed sense of strategy. For example, synchronizing Leonardo's time-slowing ability with team-up combos ensures your opponent can't evade the resulting damage. You don't need to be this calculated to overcome the game's nine bosses, but it certainly gives you an advantage and makes your involvement more fulfilling.
The boss battles undoubtedly make for the most memorable and thrilling moments in the game, ending most of the nine levels on a relatively high note. These tank-like mutants can take quite the beating, making each battle feel like a matter of both skill and endurance. It's usually just the turtles against a single boss, but it is possible for another one of the game's big bads to show up during a battle. We couldn't deduce the criteria necessary to trigger these encounters, as the game makes no obvious attempt to communicate their existence; they just kind of... happen. But when Bebop unexpectedly lunges into the ring during a brawl with Rocksteady, you'll no longer care why or how it happened.
Sadly, though, boss battles also expose some of the kinks in the combat system. For one, dodging isn't as reliable and precise as it is in the Bayonetta series. Even during our second playthrough, we struggled to dodge with efficiency on a consistent basis, a problem we've never encountered in a Platinum game. With four turtles wildly slashing away at a single foe in fairly small arenas, it's sometimes a struggle to identify enemy attack patterns through all the stylized weapon effects and surrounding chaos. You're going to take hits that you feel you don't deserve – that's just the way it is. You're also going to suffer many KOs during these showdowns, which is irritating because you have to rely on your AI or human teammates to constantly revive you.
When you play in single-player mode, you'll be able to assume the role of any of the four turtles at any point during battle. While it's nice to be able to switch on the fly and not feel committed to one character for the duration of a level, constantly rotating between characters during boss battles – to make use of each turtle's special attacks – makes things feel sloppy and unfocused. Furthermore, there are too many scenarios where you have to rely on the AI to revive or assist you. For the most part, your AI teammates are disciplined and helpful, but we did run into numerous occasions where the AI was stuck on walls or incapable of traversing the environment without hindrance. To put it simply, single player is not the ideal way to play.
Which brings us to online co-op. By teaming up and conversing with other human players via matchmaking or private matches, some of the game's tedium melts away. If you're going to take a chance on Mutants in Manhattan despite our warnings, this is the way we recommend playing. But not even online co-op functions without a hitch, as we have encountered a few glitches – enemies are sometimes only visible to the host, some enemies don't take damage – that negatively impacted the experience. Make no mistake, regardless of the Platinum sheen that shows so wonderfully in the trailers, this is a game that's suffered from a strict development cycle and/or limited budget.
A single playthrough of Mutants in Manhattan lasts between 4-5 hours. In a way, that length is even shorter when you consider that an hour of it is dedicated to re-fighting every one of the bosses toward the end of the game – a cheap tactic used to artificially pad the length of an adventure. There is a leveling system, as well as unlockable and upgradable special moves and buffs, but it's not really substantial enough to serve as a reward for multiple playthroughs.
You could refer to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan as the best TMNT game in years, but that really doesn't mean much. While there's a moderately entertaining co-op experience underneath the lazy level design, short game length, bland missions, occasional bugs, and minor kinks in the combat system, the quality and value most certainly aren't in line with what we expect from a $50 game. Sure, it could be worse (look at the last three TMNT games, for example), but it's especially heartbreaking considering Platinum's history of delivering fantastic action games. This is not Bayonetta. It's not even Transformers: Devastation. Don't shell out your hard-earned cash when you could spend it on delicious pizza instead.