Super Turtles, or Turtle soup? – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows review

TMNT-out-of-the-shadows1Nickelodeon purchased most of the publishing rights to the Teenage Mutant Turtles from Mirage back in 2009, and though the TV show was rebooted a while back the newest video game, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, was just recently released. Based on the show, you can expect to find Baxter working for The Shredder, and the independent alien race of the Krang.  The standard character archetypes are intact, and the Turtles themselves are different in that they are identifiable even without their masks or weapons, just by looking at them. For instance, Raph is built like a tank, whereas Donatello is the scrawniest of the bunch – which falls right in line with the original black-and-white comics of the mid-eighties. So did Red Fly create a smash hit, is it only a blow to your wallet? Let’s hop down the nearest manhole (snicker) and find out!

[singlepic id=15849 w=240 h=180 float=left]Wait, what’s that smell? Raw sewage? No, it’s not that … it’s OOTS quality. I’m not a fan of cutting down the hard work people do – and I really appreciate the boys in green coming back regardless if it’s a gritty take on the darker comics or, as we’ve seen on Nickelodeon, a remake of the cartoon with adjustments to the original cast. It isn’t something I say lightly when I suggest that the entire QA department revisit what it is they should be doing, and grumble that Activision should have pushed back the release until TMNT:OOTS was truly ready to make it to the XBL storefront.  There are more bugs than mousers, more glitches than references to pizza, and some of the game elements are executed so poorly that it leads to nothing but frustration. In fact, the number of oversights in the delivery of an otherwise decent beat-em-up includes getting the last name of one of their creators names’ wrong. (Hint: there is a “d” in Laird). [singlepic id=15846 w=240 h=180 float=right]I’ll get into more detail in a bit, but first let’s look at the overall game.

As I said, it’s a beat-em-up game, and while playing the four main chapters, the exploration is in three dimensions, though the plotline and the acting make it feel two-dimensional. Like many past and current third-person combat games there are skill trees where you can apply points to upgrade skills. Thankfully Red Fly mixes it up a bit. During gameplay you can switch to one of your other brothers using the D-pad, therefore you’re not necessarily interested in leveling up just one character. Your entire team levels at the same time with a shared four skill points per level. I aimed to level Leo up as fast as possible – and by level 15 I had all of his skills save one, and started dumping points into my brothers abilities. Some made good sense – each turtle has a skill tree that buffs every Turtle, and the team combo skills are also a must.

[singlepic id=15850 w=240 h=180 float=right]In combat you are able to both block and counter, though there is a meter for how much you can withstand. Special ability points build up which let you execute special moves, and the combo meter which keeps track of how many consecutive hits you’ve landed. Initially you need to get to a 10-hit combo before being able to unleash your special attacks. Don’t worry though – there are lots of enemies. In fact, they end up feeling like filler for a short story lacking any real substance, right alongside the hacking minigame.

Hacking consists of “rewiring” control panels without crossing paths – the minigame is almost identical to the popular mobile game Flow Free. The problem with these hack points is that while most of them are optional, some are not, and they are not graceful in execution or control. From long load times to having your game continue with no clue as to what is going on around you, it feels like a poor implementation. For some reason, the harder the puzzle the longer the load times – up to two minutes in fact. Then there is the use of a joystick to determine each step in the path, and while it only took a few times to get the hang of it, never once did the phrase “Oh, goodie! Another panel to hack!” enter my thoughts without sarcasm.

Not unless you like penicillin on your Pizza!
[singlepic id=15848 w=240 h=180 float=left]Over the course of a single playthrough, I’ve seen my entire team fall because they were stuck in stealth mode and got beaten to death without raising a hand to defend themselves, had stealth simply not work for me or sometimes execute a stealth kill in the middle of the fray. From being stuck on scaffolding and having to exit and restart, or the hacking portions not letting me proceed after completing them, the quality is really, really bad. Special moves sometimes failed to execute, I was jerked across the map once or twice, revive commands are hit and miss, and I even got stuck in a “slo mo moment” for six minutes. The list of grievances goes on: there have been at least four or five times where the camera swings behind an object in the middle of a fight and, when adjusted to see what’s going on, swings right back to the spot that fills my screen with a wall or I-beam. Then there are the overused phrases – a loop-track that runs ad nauseum. Yes, Donny, we get it. Random pizza lying in random sewers isn’t first on my list of things to eat either.

Am I telling you not to buy it?
[singlepic id=15847 w=240 h=180 float=right]No – you can decide that for yourselves. Before you take it all as negative and cast these mutant heroes aside, there is one element that redeems the game – the multiplayer mode is a blast to play because the creative force behind it tuned it to be a team-based game – from supporting each other in battle to specially designed taunts and special attacks down to team-related skills upgrades, you’re clearly not meant to go it alone. Trick is, find four people who are willing to put up with all the other problems, and then pay full price. Also included is an arcade mode, which is  a nod to side-scrolling roots of TMNT gaming and while also repetitive can be fun with others (playing on the same console).

Red Fly / Activision, it’s time to put your team to work, patching the problems that you *must* know exist. There isn’t any way that this has gone unnoticed. The QA team would have to be completely oblivious, and that’s a real shame since this is the Turtles game we were waiting for. Without the glitches and with just a little more attention to detail (and a stronger plotline, an ending that actually makes sense), this game could have been an easy recommendation.

If Turtles are your thing, you might want to put aside the concerns for the bugs and pull down the demo from Xbox Live. It is more than playable, just don’t expect to have a smooth ride. On the other hand, the story is light but so is the source material – it would have been nice to see episodic content come out for an otherwise compelling realization of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Canada, at a young age I was forced to decide whether the harsh northern winters were going to claim my fingers, or to turn to the safer pursuits of indoor activities. Little did I know that a little game called Ninja Gaiden would bring my digits more pain than frostbite ever could. Starting with Vectrex and C64 games and moving forward through the era of electronic entertainment, I sampled as much as I could in the different platforms, and began my interest in PC gaming from wrestling with DOS memory management. While console games were a part of my earliest gaming memories and I certainly had played on most platforms including 3D0, all things Nintendo, PS1 and the like, truly the PC was my domain until the Xbox. As an old PC gamer, I ever chased the cutting edge technology. Eye of the beholder with CGA 4 colors was my first step down the the path of blowing thousands of dollars on PC upgrades over two decades. Ultima 7, with the Guardian talking to me through my monitor, still haunts my dreams and keeps me ever hoping for a decent Ultima 8 and 9. From the 3DFX SLI VooDoo2s and Aureal to today's GPU driven DirectX games, the new and shiny pictures seem to keep me going. My PC gaming has slowed down with the market shift though, and although I have choice games that will ever be on PC, I have found myself in console gaming with a bit of portable gaming in my life. Back around the turn of the millenium (and long before fatherhood), I had fired off an email offering to help Ron with a little-known site called ConsoleGold. Little did I know it would be be a part of my life to this day. While I've seen my fair share of shovelware (thanks Ron!), I manage to try and find the fun in most games. Leaning towards sandbox and action titles, I've grown to love games for their potential to reach art. Console agnostic and excited for the progress of tomorrow, I fancy the latest and greatest, but still enjoy the good old classics ... as long as they've been revamped from their 8bit graphic roots.
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