I was born late in the original era of Turtles fandom. I had a VHS copy of The Secret of the Ooze, and reruns of the cartoons are some of the earliest entertainment I had as a child. Needless to say, I’ve always been fond of the series, even enjoying most of its more modern interpretations. So, when I saw that Platinum Games was going to put out a TMNT game fresh on the heels of their triumphant take on Transformers lore, I was all in, having forgotten entirely about The Legend of Korra. Around six hours later, I fully discovered what Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan had to offer.
Mutants in Manhattan follows a pretty classic storyline as far as the Turtles go. Shredder and Krang are planning a full on invasion of New York, and they’ve enlisted the help of Bebop, Rocksteady, Kurai ,and more in order to keep the Turtles busy while their plans come to fruition. Each level is set in different locations and sees our heroes completing random objectives, like defusing bombs and eliminating groups of ninjas. Do enough work, and you get to jump into a boss arena, grind away at a huge life bar for a while, and then watch a cutscene where the villain escapes and the Turtles comment on how there has to be something bigger happening. Do this seven times in a row, and you’ve completed the game’s campaign.
When you first jump into the game, you’ll be pleased to discover that the moment to moment combat for each turtle feels great. This is Platinum after all, and brawling ninjas in the streets is as solid as you want it to be. However, this isn’t the character action game you’d expect from the makers of Bayonetta.
At its best, Mutants in Manhattan is a modern take on an arcade beat ’em up. Mashing out punches and kicks is the order of the day, and the game replaces a complicated combo system with throwable items and various screen clearing super moves. The gameplay is all about the spectacle, but it’s an older style of spectacle. The type of show that onlookers might be initially attracted to in an arcade, filled with a cavalcade of explosions and motion blur that is awesome initially, but fails to impress upon a second look.
A game of this length filled with mostly brawler combat might have a bit more legs on it than what Mutants in Manhattan actually presents. As stated, each level is filled with tedious mini-objectives that you have to seek out and complete. This is where the game’s marketing will have you believe the “open-world” gameplay comes in, but don’t be fooled. The levels are big for this style of game, but they still don’t feel huge, and you’re pulled by the nose towards every bomb that needs defusing and group of Krang UFOs to shuriken out of the sky.
Doing well on these tasks grants you credits that you can then pump into the game’s overly convoluted upgrading system. For each individual turtle, you have the option of switching out your four special moves and assigning charms that give passive buffs. Moves can be upgraded with points up to five times each, and charms can be combined in order to get more buffs into a single slot. None of this combining and upgrading feels very satisfying, and you’ll barely notice any differences once you get back into the action.
I played through most of the game on Normal difficulty, bumping it up and replaying levels just to see the differences. On Normal, the game almost plays itself, as Shredder’s minions are knocked over at the slightest tap and your AI turtle brothers will stop everything to revive you whenever you get knocked out. On Hard, the game is certainly more challenging, but only because enemies triple their health bars. It’s a punishing challenge that isn’t fun to rise to and serves only to frustrate the player. The whole thing makes me wish that there was an option between sleepwalking through combat and pounding my head against a brick wall of ninjas.
The presentation of the boss fights is a highlight of the game. Each fight from Bebop all the way to Shredder and beyond mixes it up a bit and really shows off the opponent’s personality. Actually fighting each opponent turns into a bit of a drag, as fights are extended affairs and the combat is still the same mashing of buttons. In these instances, the fights were worth it, and you can tell that there was some genuine love put into portraying these characters in a way that would please fans of the many different TMNT incarnations.
That passion that shines through makes this final package all the more disappointing. You can tell that Platinum wanted to provide a complete package that old and new Turtle aficionados could get behind. However, there just isn’t enough game to go along with these fan tributes. The levels are short, and the systems in place to encourage multiple playthroughs instead only serve to highlight how little there is to the core gameplay.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan would have been great to play for a bit in an arcade, or even to download cheaply on a console a few years ago during the Summer of Arcade. In 2016, it fails completely to provide anywhere near enough to justify it as a game you pick up on a retail shelf. You’d be better served celebrating the Turtles by ordering a pizza and watching one of their movies than by blazing through this shallow experience.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan was reviewed on PC via Steam with a code provided by the publisher. It’s also available on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 3.
Mutants in Manhattan looks flashy and captures the spirit of the Turtles, but the campaign is over in a flash and the combat is boring and uninteresting.