Turtle Power! I was excited for Mutants in Manhattan not just because I was a super-fan back in the late ’80s, but for the fact that PlatinumGames were working on it. After their fantastic work on MadWorld, Transformers: Devastation and the Bayonetta series, I had high hopes for the heroes in a half-shell in their newest video game outing. The story and characters in the TMNT universe have all the ingredients for an excellent beat ’em up – four turtles, each with their own unique weapon and skill set. It seemed to be a sure-fire winner for a button-bashing adventure game! However, after just a few hours of what feels like repetitive tasks and brawling, being a mean green fighting machine wears thin.
The narrative for Mutants in Manhattan is not a surprising one as it’s a recurring scenario that the turtles must face time and time again. The Ninja Turtles, along with the help of Splinter and April, must put a stop to Krang and Shredder’s evil plan of invading Manhattan City. The evil duo enlists the services of a large team of villains, including Bebop, Rocksteady, Wingnut, Karai, and many more, to take down the interfering turtles. The game borrows a great roster of characters from the TMNT universe, which is at least something positive for the more diehard fans. Each stage opens up with a cutscene that includes a mission objective discussed by the turtles or instructed by April O’Neil. Mutants in Manhattan’s story mode includes nine different stages, with each level concluding with a boss encounter.
The gameplay is simple and allows players to string together combos using weak and heavy attacks. While button bashing your way through enemies, there is also the option to unleash one of four special abilities. Each turtle has a unique set of skills that suits each of their weapons and personalities. I noticed each stage was either free roam or linear, depending on the environment. In the New York City stage, you are free to roam around defeating enemies and obtaining collectables, while the sewer or subway are straightforward with point A to B objectives. I preferred the free roam stages; the tasks are more varied and include the ability to run up buildings, making chasing baddies enjoyable.
The co-op moves also benefit from the free roam stages as you can use the environments to enhance your attacks. Using street lights for a swinging kick attack or launching yourself off buildings into enemies are just a few satisfying alternative combat abilities. That being said, though, I believe this game would have played a lot better had every battle not been so chaotic with all the turtles and enemies trying to occupy the screen at once. Most of the time I didn’t know what was going on because the entire screen was full of random fighting and flashing colours. I know the turtles work together as a team, but why not have the camera view tighter on the character if you’re playing single-player? There are power-ups and items you can use during battle, but I noticed they didn’t offer greater damage or defence against enemies. Overall, the gameplay has some solid combat mechanics, but there is a huge imbalance with attacks, unique items, and the health of the enemies, which makes the game less enjoyable and more of a grind.
Unfortunately, the level structure and design for each of the stages is completely lacking in creativity and ultimately feels unsatisfying as you play through the game. It also becomes frustrating trying to travel to different areas when you are constantly taken out of the action in order to see where to go. This is because of a mechanic called “Ninja Vision,” which is comparable to the detective mode in the Arkham games or Eagle Vision from Assassin’s Creed. I often found myself wishing they had just designed a simple objective arrow or map as it only proved to be needlessly frustrating.
While searching for your next mission on the map is tedious as it is, it’s actually the objectives themselves that make the experience lacklustre. In the beginning, I thought Mutants in Manhattan was going to follow a classic beat ’em up formula and move from area to area. Instead, the game tasks players with a series of dull side quests before you can tackle a boss battle. Some of these bothersome tasks include transporting golden bars to a safe spot, defending a pizza stand, and neutralising a bomb. They’re repetitive and just there as filler between the parts that are actually fun.
As implied above, the end of each stage is by far the most exciting part of each stage because you get to take on an iconic TMNT super villain. To go toe-to-toe with formidable baddies such as Bebop and Rocksteady is a challenge, and that’s when teamwork between all of the turtles comes into play. They each become essential allies in the boss encounters, as they help to damage the boss’s health bar and can perform destructive co-op moves. This teamwork is one of its best features and plays off each of the turtles strengths, especially when there is one enemy to focus on.
It’s also why lack of local co-op is a big disappointment. I was looking forward to rekindling the memories I have with Turtles in Time and all the other brawlers where you can play alongside a friend. Instead, there is only 4-player online co-op, but that doesn’t add anything new or exciting to the game. It doesn’t look or feel any different from the single-player, and, again, becomes a screen full of insanity when pitting 4 turtles fighting against enemies at the same time.
The cell-shaded art style is the best feature in the entire game; it looks like a comic book come-to-life, and is a nice nod to its humble beginnings. The writing and voice acting is also handled well, so the interaction between the green team is a nostalgic trip to be sure. Sadly, the aforementioned quality does not extend itself to the environments, which is a shame, because each stage, whether it’s a sewer system or subway station, looks generic. They definitely could have added more detail to the city levels, even if it was as simple as adding shopfronts to differentiate all the corners.
Going in, I thought this would be the ultimate Ninja Turtles game, but it ultimately ended up being the biggest letdown of this year so far. Platinum had all the tools to make a great licensed game, but what we got instead is a hollow and unrewarding gaming experience. Mutants in Manhattan simply isn’t fun. It plays like a mess of colours with random button-bashing, and the addition of uninspired side quests doesn’t help matters. I do admit I like that the art style and voice acting stays faithful to the source material, but I also found myself wishing they had borrowed more ideas from the classic beat ’em up TMNT games I so fondly remember. I wanted to love this game, and to once again play as my favourite green team, but it gets a so many things wrong that it’s difficult to find the positives needed to stick around.