Joe rushes to the defence of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan” to tell you it’s not all bad, Cowabunga! and a few home truths.
It’s a fine time to be a fan of the Ninja Turtles. A movie and a game in the same month, not to mention a recently released turtles flavoured heroclix expansion, and the ever burgeoning line of toys based on the popular Nickelodeon show that is currently in its fourth season. And perhaps lastly – Unless I’m missing something drastic here – the IDW run of TMNT comics which has reached issue #60 at the time of publication.
That all sounds rather good right? Well, if you’ve been following the reviews for the recently released “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan” you’d have noticed the distinct foul air that has surrounded it. Publications lamenting the lack of 60FPS gameplay, or the absence of much in the way of replayability, even down to the age old whinge of “it’s not long enough to justify the price” – which I’ll talk about a little later – the point is, the game has been gored. My take on this is thus – this is less the games fault, and more telling about the person playing it.
Firstly, let’s expel the elephant out of the room, if you’re going into this experience with the mindset of “Platinum games are renowned for their dedication to exemplary 60FPS combat” then you’re not going to be impressed. If numbers and graphical fidelity are a determiner on what you’ll think of a game, then this isn’t the game for you. But then, this does bare other hallmarks of a Platinum game, a short campaign, linear and broken down into stages, chaotic action, and some form of grading at the end of each stage. So, it’s kind of hypocritical in a sense, to hang onto a disappointment that it isn’t at all like a platinum game -i.e. Not beholden to a standard of excellence decreed by the public – when all you are doing is ignoring its successes and similarities in doing so.
The important thing to remember about the Turtles property, is the crucial role nostalgia plays in its success, and with that in mind, it’s easy to see the concept behind the latest game, it plays on nostalgia derived from earlier and well thought of Turtles games (particularly Turtles in Time, and even the original game on the NES, they even have those creepy vans that would instantly kill you if you were unfortunate enough to be in their way). You can see, in terms of design, that they sought to evolve that original concept, rather than create a game in today’s framework. It feels very much like a 3D version of those original side-scrolling games, and indeed, would feel very much at home in a snazzy arcade, gorging itself upon coins. And it would be gorging, because despite all of the negative attention towards its graphics, particularly Digital Foundry with “the lack of any anti-aliasing method results in a rough presentation. Anisotropic filtering is also absent, which means textures appear blurred at oblique angles“. But I do wonder what kind of person actually cares about this stuff past the point of pure functionality? And also In a genuine way, rather than through some form of cultural peer pressure, for “Mutants in Manhattan” still manages to look stylish (some questionable character modelling on the Turtles heads aside) and combat is visceral when it needs to be, and even complex, despite some reviews positing that when fully upgraded, each turtle plays exactly the same (which only makes sense if the reviewer equipped each of them with the same abilities, which seems absolutely self inflicted) even if general enemies are forgettable and pose little threat on Normal difficulty; The boss fights being the stand out moments of each stage – And quite rightly so!
That being said, It’s not a completely one sided affair, and Platinum are hardly without fault, because this game has terrible level design, and I think this is where the experience is let down a lot. Firstly, it seems that the care that has gone into modelling and texturing the characters is absent in the environment, the toon shaded appeal of the character models actually begins to feel a bit washed out when applied to buildings and surroundings. There is a complete lack of inventiveness, where stages seem to be set on a flat plateau with either a host of corridors to fight your way down, or buildings that have just been copied and pasted to create a city, this stuff looks like it was ripped from the first Spider-Man game on the playstation one. To worsen this, the game doesn’t really do much in the way of rewarding the player for exploration, which lessens the players link to the game world, and also hampers the decision to replay any of the stages, in fact at times I felt punished for exploring, where at one point, vast tunnels of sewer tunnels lead to absolutely nothing. This is a definite and concrete negative, and one that seems telling of the way the game was produced, wherein they either ran out of time to finish levels, planned poorly and put too much work into other areas or simply, that the developer was forced to release the game earlier than expected to coincide with the release of the film, which makes sense from a financial viewpoint.
I will concede that this is a game that shouldn’t be sold for £40, and am happy to find – on closer inspection – that the lowest price I’ve seen it on sale for PS4 is £27, which is a more comfortable figure. If you can get this for around £20 then I could heartily recommend picking it up. And this looks to be a game that will lose value steadily within the coming weeks, which is awkward territory to be in, as it’s brilliant for a customer, but terrible for Platinum – Though I suspect they’ll make it back somehow.
It seems rather silly to have to mention that the franchise is aimed at children and young teens, so it seems fair to assume that Platinum catered the game to the mass audience rather than a hardcore gamer, because, frankly, if they had aimed for the opposite it would have been a disservice to newer fans of the franchise. And with this in mind, the criticisms of it being a simple button mashing endeavour seem a bit paltry and harken back to what I’ve mentioned in earlier paragraphs – You’re just coming into the experience with false expectations. The challenge there, is to balance that ease of access with some form inherent challenge later on down the line. And I’m not saying that kids need simpler games, because that’s not the case. I grew up on NES games and know and relish the challenge of a hard game, but easier and simpler games and media for children and people in general are a trend that isn’t going away anytime soon by the looks of it. There is a simple fix for that, and it’s just changing the difficulty – which only greatens the accessibility to players of different skill levels, and provides perhaps, the main reason for replaying the campaign, aside from the comic collectibles and the simple (there’s that word again) but engaging storyline.
So, what am I saying exactly? I’m just saying don’t go in with any false preconceptions. Don’t listen to a list of features it has or hasn’t got and write it off because of an absence of AO or Vsync or anything remotely techno babbly that the reviews community and gaming culture at large would have you believe to be important in a small, stylized game like this. Pay attention to how it looks in front of you, what you can see with your eyes, how it feels to play it. Sure, it’s okay to read reviews, they’re there to help you make a semi informed decision on purchases, and it would seem rather hypocritical to tear into them in my own ‘sort-of-review’. But I do think it’s good to question how reviewers themselves see the product they’re reviewing, what are they comparing it to, and how is that going to affect their opinion. I’m comparing it to previous Turtles games, and in that sense, it’s cut very much from the same cloth.
In the end though, it falls to you to decide if you like something or not. And I liked this game, despite it’s flaws.