March 28, 2007 - Is it any surprise, really, that the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles title is a giant pile of terrapin faeces? It shouldn't be - this is a licensed game based loosely around an upcoming all-ages film. Of course, when Ubisoft Montreal announced it was handling the licence, we perked up our ears. Could it be? A truly cool TNMT game - on a next-gen system, no less? And from a talented, proven developer? Sadly, this just isn't the case.
As much as it pains us to admit, as lingering fans of the almost 20-year-old series, TNMT fails on just about every level. It lacks structure, it is inexplicably ugly and poorly designed, the sounds range from screeching and buggy to broken, the gameplay is demented and the lack of co-operative play is absolutely unforgivable and damning.
It didn't have to be this way. The gameplay combines elements of another Ubisoft action-platformer - the Prince of Persia series. Like the iconic Prince, the Turtles can race along walls, ninja-style, swing from poles and rafters, double-jump, wall-jump, climb and hang from precipices. A good fit on the surface, but unlike the Persian adventures the controls are not nearly as solid, responsive or, importantly, reliable.
The default character running speed is cumbersomely slow at times, and often your turtle of choice will automatically decide that, no, he doesn't particularly want to run, so he'll start walking instead. It's uncanny. You can be 'sprinting' along and suddenly, he'll just start walking. Why?
Leaping from surface to surface works about 80 per cent of the time. However, the jump movement is much more of a vertical motion than it is a distance-crossing one. It makes avoiding trip-wires and lasers more of a hassle than it should be. The distance-leaping issue is sidestepped by taking advantage of the other mildly successful concept that TNMT runs with - the idea of a brotherly helping hand. You can tag-team at any point with another turtle - Donny, Raph, Mikey, or Leo - for either a powerful super attack when in combat, or a strange, swirling grapple that flings you across chasms. This works fairly well in practice - just double-jump towards your intended landing spot, and at the crest of the jump, tap X. Another turtle will materialise and fling you a little farther.
The tag-team grapple move is pretty nifty. Too bad it's lost in a overgrown jungle of poor gameplay.
The 'story' mode, which is essentially a disjointed 16 or so levels of repetitive, rudimentary platforming, is broken up by either inexplicably choppy snippets of film footage or comic book-style panels that are panned across. It's a strange tale too, involving not just the traditional four turtles, Splinter, The Foot and others, but the turtles' alter-egos - pointlessly armoured or veiled solo avengers, who traverse the city alone in search of wrong-doers.
Combat is a bit of a joke. After progressing every few hundred in-game metres, you'll enter an area where enemies will suddenly spawn all around you, and they must be defeated to progress past the invisible walls cordoning off your path. It's a very odd way to handle the action component of the game - it feels unnatural for these breakaway moments of combat to be interspersed with rooftop leaps of faith. It's silly, amateurish design.
B is your primary attack button, delivering hands-based attacks with whatever your turtle's default weapon is. Repeated taps of B are all it takes to unleash a continuous, flowing combo of blows that are enough to take out the mindless swarms of Foot soldiers and street thugs. Sure, you can mix things out with a kick or two with Y, but why bother? It's slow, ineffective and unnecessary, thanks to several other game-destroyingly powerful techniques. Holding down B charges up a special linked-attack, where your character will automatically target the nearest four enemies and slash or smack them for an automatic kill. As if the other auto-combo method wasn't easy enough, this one clears the area around you pretty efficiently, allowing you to ready your charge-up for the next incoming wave. Ugh.
The enemy AI is limited to say the least. They can attack or defend and walk towards you. That's about the extent of their skills. Boss battles fare a little better, but later encounters, such as an oversized-hammer-wielding monster in a circular arena feel cheap and tacky.