Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan is a joyful, action-packed thrill ride of an entry in the beat-em-up genre that takes more than a couple of missteps along the way. Honestly, this game is fun…when you’re in the right mood for it. That may sound like a massive “no duh” type statement, but the beat-em-up genre has become a harder and harder sell as the years and console generations have slipped by.
Mutants in Manhattan, developed by Platinum Games, lets players take control of their favorite Hero in a Half-Shell as they are tasked with ridding New York city of the ever-looming threat of both Shredder, Krang and the various mutants and cannon fodder in the employ. So without further ado, let’s break down what makes this game great, and examine what makes it not so great.
First and foremost, the beat-em-up gameplay found within is incredibly simple, allowing for a pick up and play atmosphere that almost borderlines on button mashing, but is simple enough for anyone with working thumbs to be able to feel like a ninja master in a matter of seconds. While there is the illusion of a combo system at play here, you’re going to spend most of your time mashing the square and occasionally the triangle button while your favorite Turtle puts on a ridiculously flashy martial arts display that is fun to watch until you start to feel almost taken out of the action. Characters seem to lack the weight found in most beat-em-up games that makes you feel like you’re really pummeling the bad guys. While this is a bit of a problem at first, once you start parrying and pulling off super moves, you realize that most of the enjoyment found in the combat is a result of watching what your opponent is doing and reacting to it.
Super moves are easily deployed and acquirable throughout the game and are a real show stopper when pulled off. There are dozens of supers for you to unlock and each one of them can be leveled up to increase the efficacy. Every time I see Leonardo’s swords turn into a massive baseball bat and whack a Rock soldier across the screen, the nine year old inside me falls over laughing. Pulling off a successful parry is equally enjoyable as parrying an incoming enemy attack prompts the Turtles to side-step in slow motion and jump on their attackers head (provided of course you pressed the circle button at the right time), punching them until you get tired. Yes, this game doe feature loads and loads of button mashing, but it has just enough tweaks to keep you interested, and while the super moves are shared between all four Turtles, you can customize them to fit any given Turtles unique play style.
This game had me hooked the instant I laid eyes on its art style. Basically copy and pasting the style of artist Mateus Santolouco, the Turtles and the world they inhabit looks like it’s straight from the pages of IDW’s TMNT comic books. While Shredder has been given something of an upgrade in this game, the Turtles themselves, as well as many members of their rogue’s gallery, look amazing, and during the many hilarious cutscenes found within the game almost seems like you’re watching an IDW motion comic. On top of that, we also get to see the inclusion and introduction of Wingnut, a longtime Turtles character that has been portrayed as both a hero and villain over the last thirty years, and the design for him is wholly original to this game with many homages to his 90’s counterpart found in both the ’87 animated series, as well as the comic books from the Archie Adventures Series., and holy crap, Armaggon is here as well. Be ready for that one.
The cityscapes and sewer dwellings also follow suit with the Santolouco art style with bold outlines and vibrant colors. With that being said, the environments are incredibly, helplessly empty and lifeless. Sure, you’re fighting waves and waves of enemies that almost make you feel like you’ve accidentally selected a horde mode that doesn’t exist, but huge swaths of enemies doesn’t make up for a lack of life in a players surroundings. Ultimately though, this doesn’t take away from the experience of playing the game, but I can see why it would turn off some people.
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The music, composed by Naofumi Harada, is a fun mix of synthy vibes and rock and roll that would be right at home on my iPod while I’m on a treadmill. The music is fun, fast and will be stuck in your head long after you’ve put the controller down. At first you don’t even notice the score because the clatter of action and combat kind of over take the music, but once you notice it, it sinks it’s claws into your brain and it doesn’t let go. Also, the boss fights have there own unique tracks that fight the character you’re up against as well as the setting and stakes you’ve stumbled into. Speaking of boss fights…
The Boss Fights
There are nine boss fights found within Mutants in Manhattan and they are arguably THE reason to play this game. I don’t want to spoil who all is in this game, but it is a nice mix of both classic enemies of the past and more modern adversaries. While at first glance, you could consider these fight incredibly unfair, what with the overwhelming size of the bosses and hilarious amounts of life bars they posses. But once you realize how slow (yet powerful) most of the bosses are, and you see the amounts of combos and special moves you’re landing, you’ll soon realize that there is a good balance between the you and your enemy. While this is a single player game, all four Turtles are fighting at the same time and if you’re playing alone, you can set the a.i. to “Go All Out” and aid you in combat.
The boss fights in this game were designed to rack up a high score and allow the player to select new super moves and upgrade the ones they already have. The best part is, once you’ve completed a level, you can go back to the main menu and select it at any time. So if a boss in a later level is giving you too much pressure, go back an replay an earlier level at a harder difficulty (Optional) and earn a higher score, unlock some new, flashier moves and go kick shell. On top of this, at random the game will force you to fight off two bosses at once, like Bebop and Rocksteady or Shredder and Karai. Not only does this up the challenge and encourage you to take advantage to the pseudo-leveling system, it actually makes the player want to replay these already conquered levels while taking on the higher difficulties. Not many games pull that off without seeming pretentious (anyone remember “Veteran” difficulty).
As much as I try to remain positive about things, even I have to own up to flaws that this game has and admit that there are a few kind of annoying missteps with this game. There is absolutely no local co-op found within Mutants in Manhattan. There is online co-op and a player can switch between Turtles at the push of a button, but the fact that I can’t sit down with a friend and play this in the same room on split-screen kind of breaks my heart a bit. Apparently, Platinum Games tried to incorporate local co-op but didn’t because they couldn’t find a way to implement it without sacrificing the frame rate, but I’ve never been able to find this quote anywhere. Honestly, playing this game online is unfulfilling because seemingly, no one is out there playing this game, at least on PS4.
The environments are pretty empty, as I mentioned before. And while Platinum Games found a way to even make subway tunnels and sewer passageways vibrant, very few of the levels have any real identity of there own aside from whatever their titles are.
Eventually, the combat does feel repetitive. This game was not intended (I think) to be played all in one sitting. You’re supposed to just play this game for thirty to sixty minutes and come back to it later. Much like you would a TMNT on the NES back in the day. But I did play this game all in one go on more than one occasion, and no matter how much fun I was having, eventually, I just got tired.
The camera eventually throws a fit and spins in whatever direction it wants adding to frustrating spikes in difficulty throughout the game. What the enemies don’t really change much in the design (outside of the Foot Ninjas) or method of attack, they eventually become sponges that can take massive and laughable amounts of punishment that you just can’t. Plus the Rock Soldiers enemy type is pretty boring. They either punch you, or hit you with a stick. That’s about it. Later on in the game the Utroms and Mousers add a bit of variety to the enemies, but come on Platinum, you couldn’t have put in a Triceraton or two?
Finally, I know it’s cool to hate DLC in all it’s forms, but I wish I could sill get my hands on the pre-order bonus costumes for the Turtles.
And Finally…The Story
In keeping with this game’s art style, IDW writer, and current scribe of the ongoing TMNT comic book, Tom Waltz contributes to the narrative throughout this game and tells a great tale of the Turtles trying to thwart Krang’s latest plan for an alien invasion. The story is simple and it never feels like it reaching beyond its means. Mutants in Manhattan knows what it is and it accomplishes it’s hypothetical goal of delivering a Saturday morning cartoon version of the IDW Turtles. And subtle references to characters like Casey Jones and the villainous Rat King hint at a larger world that would have made perfect groundwork for a sequel.
Plus, Nolan North is basically voicing half the cast here so, you really can’t go wrong here.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan did not deserve the lackluster response it received. Sure, it’s not the best Turtles game on the market, but it never tried to be. Platinum Games seemingly harkened back to the 90’s with this game and that was arguably the best thing they could have done. Banking on Nostalgia worked gangbusters in 2015 with Transformers Devastation (also from Platinum Games), so pulling back and making a brand new beat-em-up when this franchise’s best games were beat-em-ups was a step in the right direction. Platinum obviously didn’t half ass this game, if they had, they wouldn’t have nabbed the talent behind the IDW comic to help flesh out this game.
Yes, this game has flaws, but so does every game. No, this game does not try to break the mold and tread new ground, but why does every new game have to nowadays? This game promised a new Turtles game that was fast, fun and action packed, and Platinum Games delivered big time.
For what it’s worth, I’ll give Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan three shells out of five.
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