It’s been a long time since I’ve played a quarter-sucking arcade fighter, but the new game Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is done in exactly that style. Players use their ninja moves and combos to take on endless hordes of killer robot bunnies, badly dressed street thugs, mysterious ninjas, and other stereotypical foes. Is any of this even remotely original? Not in the slightest. Is it fun? I have to shake my head and say, “Nope.”
When the TMNT craze hit I was in my early teens, so I was old enough to get a lot of the jokes and appreciate the goofy charm the old cartoon had (Fresh Prince of Bel Air dad James Avery was perfect as Shredder’s voice). Then I got turned on to the actual comic books by TMNT creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, and those were really dang cool. Heck, I’ve even got a soft spot for the first and third live-action films while ignoring the second one (I cannot respect any movie where the great actor David Warner club-dances to Vanilla Ice). But the charm of the turtles is just missing from this game. Either that, or I’m 15 years too old to enjoy it.
TMNT employs cell-shading to make it look just like the Saturday morning cartoon. As with most current cartoons, the dialogue and “hip” banter and God-awful theme song have “marketing department seal of approval” stamped all of over them. But the gameplay is why someone would pick up TMNT in the first place, at least, I would hope so. Anyone looking to this for emotionally deep content needs to open the dictionary and flip to the word “vapid,” then look back at TMNT and draw a comparison.
The other comparison people will be drawing is to the original arcade game. I loved it, and hoped the new PS2 game would at least be similar. The new game captures the action of the arcade, but doesn’t quite hit the same level of fun. If only I had all the quarters I put into that game as a kid…
As for the game itself, players can choose any one of the four turtles: Donatello, Leonardo, Raphael, and Michaelangelo, all named after great Renaissance artists and all with their own specialty and personality. Leo uses katanas and is a cautious leader, Mike uses nunchukas and whose equivalent is a California surfer, Don uses a bo and is the resident techno-geek, and Raph uses a pair of Sai and needs an anger management class pronto. There are six total stages in the game, and each stage is broken into several levels. Every now and then you get a bonus level between stages that lets you increase a particular skill or reward you with a new one. Then it’s back onto the street for more mayhem and destruction.I liked the cell-shading look, but I’m a die-hard cartoon fan. As such, the graphics can only look as good as the style of the shading, so rating becomes a little more difficult. The look of TMNT works for the game itself, but it reminds me so much of the Saturday morning cartoon style of animation which I tend to dislike. Your mileage may vary, but the game looks pretty good for what it is. Whoa dude, does the sound, like, blow chunks or what? Note to executives: When a character has a list of catch-phrases, please give them more than three, and if you absolutely have to limit each character to three or four, please make them less annoying and far less frequently spouted than they are in TMNT. Due to genetics, I expect to lose my hair some day, but I don’t fancy accelerating the process 100-fold by listening to Donatello say, “Let’s play ball, I’ve got the stick, you be the ball” several hundred times within a given mission. In making the game seem more “cartoony,” the sound effects gurus must have plumbed the old Warner Bros. sound archive for any and all Looney Tunes destruction effects, because every time a turtle gets knocked upside the head, I swear the sound they use is the sound of an anvil falling on Wile E. Coyote’s head. There are about two different grunts the villains use, the voice acting for the turtles sounds like it was done by some kid who is trying to deepen his voice but whose balls haven’t even dropped, and the rest of the sound effects are done on the cheap. The music is also some of the worst I’ve heard, with the theme song getting a special mention as aurally offensive to the extreme. The more I’ve thought about it, the further this score has dropped, so I’ll move on before it gets so low I have to dig for it. The controls are the best part of the game, as they’re very quick and easy to learn and really handy in a fight. You use the triangle to throw a ninja star, the X button to hit, the O button to jump and the square button to do a special move. Combining the X and the square buttons leads to combo moves. The L2 button is for a burst of Ninja Speed (extremely helpful in all fights) and the R2 button is for knocking opponents into the air. Very nicely laid out controls, and in the heat of battle this is helps. For all its faults, TMNT is surprisingly fun to play, especially with a friend. The game is old school arcade fighter action through and through, with legions of enemies spawning right in front of you. The combo moves you can do are fairly limited in number, but it looks cool when Donatello knocks a guy down then plants his bo and pole vaults into another couple of guys, then swings it around and knocks down three more. The others have equally cool moves. You will see and use the exact same moves over and over again, so the game is best taken a stage at a time. My biggest knock against TMNT is the save system because you can only save after you’ve completed a stage, which means five or six missions later. Each mission only takes about two to six minutes, so while they are not long they can be hazardous. Thus, you start each stage with a high number of continues which can be used any time you die. But the fact that you can’t save between missions and only between entire stages is aggravating to the extreme. This is especially noticeable in the later stages where the boss monsters will beat you silly and suck up all your continues, at which point you have to go back through the previous five to six missions, and do it better this time. Not what I call fun, but definitely what I call “old school.” Fun for a while, but not fun enough to keep, TMNT is a pure arcade fighter. If you want to hit quite a few evil ninjas and have fun with a friend for a 10 to 15 minute butt-whooping spree, this is the game for you. After getting to the later stages the novelty wears off, and playing it through four times as each turtle is not my idea of fun.