Have you ever seen a trailer for a movie and were super pumped only to discover the trailer showed you all the best parts? And worse yet the meat of the movie just wasn’t very good? For me a perfect example of this was the recent remake of Evil Dead. The trailers looked amazing and I was dying (lol) to see it, but once I did I was sorely disappointed.
Now have you ever seen a movie that started out pretty good only to nosedive about halfway through and completely crash and burn at the end? Maybe a flick called Fantastic Four? A movie that clearly shows when the bigwig studio started throwing their weight around to meet a release deadline?
Yeah, well PlatinumGame’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Mutants in Manhattan is like that. It’s a game who’s trailers sent my hype into a fervor as a TMNT fan. It showed off a slick visual design aesthetic that called back to the Turtles’ origins of paper and ink. It proudly touted epic boss battles with classic villains like: Bebop, Rocksteady, Krang, and eventually Shredder among other fan favorites. This was going to be a semi open world playground fighting the foot, scaling buildings, and taking to the air with a RPG upgrade system.
And it was…
For the first level.
After beating the game and feeling the disappointment set in, I couldn’t pinpoint where it went wrong. I remembered playing the first level at PAX East and liking what I’d played. I got to the first boss, Bebop, but then Sony’s PlayStation 4 demo units suffered a power surge and my game, along with everyone else’s, turned to blackness. Anyway, the first level showed promise as you climb buildings and for collectibles and can jump down to perform lethal one hit takedowns on the Foot Clan against the backdrop of a section of Manhattan, covered in the shadow of the night. The boss battle with Bebop that concludes the level has you toying with vertical space in the two floors of a bank vault while attacking from both afar and up close and dodging Bebop’s powerful melee attacks, gunfire, and bombs. Unfortunately there aren’t many other open levels like this as the bulk of the future ones are rooms connected by corridors spanning from the sewers to the TCRI building.
Speaking of TCRI, the level design is lazy and uninspired. I can forgive the sewers for being somewhat bland and cookie cutter, but a high tech building like TCRI should be teeming with sci-fi beeps, boops, and flashing/pulsing lights. Instead it ends up being a series of the same hallways that lead to the same rooms. Oh—and on while I’m on the topic of laziness—each room has you battle a boss you previously bested. Every. Single. One. It’s a glaring example of filler content that lends absolutely nothing to the story. What irritates me about this even further is that every boss has seven health bars. Seven! One of them further in the game has a whopping fourteen health bars that must be depleted in a single run. Oddly enough this boss isn’t Krang or Shredder so this decision feels out of place and doesn’t make much sense.
Okay, but what about the core gameplay? Surely there’s something redeeming about what leads to the mediocre boss fights, right? Well, not really. Every stage, of which there are nine total, has you completing randomly generated objectives designated to you over your shell phone by April. These objectives have zero to do with the plot and are meaningless ranging from finding the enemy and taking them out undetected to the absurd by telling you to protect a pizza shack.
New York City is being overrun with crime and I’m tasked with protecting a fucking pizza shack? Come on.
If you’ve ever been in a New York subway then you’d know if there was pizza being served it sure as hell wouldn’t be worth eating let alone saving. You’d actually be doing the city a favor by letting the Foot Clan destroy it. The whole objective system just makes no sense. And that’s Mutant in Manhattan’s gameplay loop; complete randomized bland-as-can-be objectives to fill up a meter that unlocks the door to a boss with seven health bars. Nine stages of that with one stage having you beat every boss in the game again. And if that all somehow wasn’t bad enough, the big boss battles against Krang, Mega Krang, and Shredder are so lackluster and easy it hurts. These should be thee shining boss battles—epic in scale with some kind of strategy needed to win. They should be a test of everything you learned up until this point and you should have needed to invest in upgrades to ensure victory. Shredder should definitely be more than one fight. But alas, they aren’t and are reduced to nothing more than copycat battles that came before them; spam your attack buttons and after a few tries you’ll be victorious.
“But Antonio, what about the RPG systems? You know, the ones like Transformers Devastation had? Surely those add some kind of strategic element to gameplay.”
Oh you poor, poor hopeful soul. Don’t you get it yet?
They’re as worthless as every pizza shack you’re told to defend. Every enemy that meets the fate of your weapon. They carry no weight. For the sake of review I’ll touch on the “systems” the game offers. While battling enemies they’ll drop green orbs which can also be found scattered throughout the levels. These orbs are known as Battle Points and can be used by entering any of the various manholes littered through each level in order to buy a pizza slice for health, a turret for added defense, or a full pizza to revive you if you’ve fallen. The only time I found myself using these items was during a boss battle—but you better hope you don’t need to use a continue. For some unfathomable reason, if a boss beats you and a continue is used, you won’t start with any of the items you you used during the fight nor will you have the ability to buy more. So if a boss encounter gave you trouble with items, it will most certainly be more difficult without them. When completing levels you’ll also unlock charms that give you passive abilities when equipped. Each turtle gets one slot on normal and up to three depending on the difficulty selected. You’ll also gain XP and level up as you play, but I felt the same level of power at 15 that I felt at level 1. I was hoping these systems would have a larger impact, but in the end they were useless and I was able to beat the game without taking advantage them. Looking back they simply feel like dressing.
So, as a Ninja Turtles fan, this review has been a tough one. The game isn’t all bad however. One neat feature of the combat system is Ninjitsu which grants every turtle a special ability that is tied to a cool down. Mikey has a cheerleader ability that removes everyone’s cool down immediately for a turn and Raph can slow down time for a bit. The cutscenes faithfully capture the four brother’s personalities as well as those of Splinter and the rest of the cast. I wasn’t able to play online because I don’t know anyone who has this game, but I can imagine it’d be marginally more enjoyable with three other friends. I may go back to play a level here and there….or I’ll boot up my two favorite games in the series Turtles in Time and The Manhattan Project instead. Chalk this game up as another reason why Activision needs to lose the TMNT license.