Review: 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows'
Back in the day, growing up in a lower middle class family, I didn’t have access to many games. Luckily, those that I did have a chance to play were enough to keep me entertained for many hours. Of the eight Nintendo games we owned, TMNT III: The Manhattan Project was one of the most played. Not only was it fun to play, but it was one of the few where a sibling could join in on the fun – well, ‘fun’ as long as you didn’t choose the game option where you could damage one another.
Since this was a staple of my childhood, and I hadn’t been exposed to many of the TMNT games since then, I had many expectations for this game. Could it keep the solid combat, the engaging environments, and yes even the comedic charm of that old classic had while bringing it’s own mark to the table? Or would it be closer to (shudder), that first infuriating Turtles NES game? I was about to find out.
The game starts you off with a tutorial, of course. In this section you play as April O’Neil, who is in some warehouse that seems to be falling apart around her. Basic movement is simple enough; just move and press an action button if you need to do anything like climb or jump.
However, I noticed that while I was moving, the animation feels stiff; the camera also doesn’t seem to want to move. My concerns started to stir – was this going to happen during combat as well, or were these issues isolated to the tutorial? Then I realized: I’m supposed to use my mouse to control the camera-- thanks for telling me that, game! We’re in the tutorial, that’s kind of important and telling me this before I knew how to move would have been helpful. I wonder if the Xbox has this issue.
After escaping the warehouse, April is taken by some mysterious figure as she tries to call Donatello for help. This is where the story starts. Okay, well, it doesn’t start there – we go back a bit to find out how April go into that situation first.
Most of the cut-scenes are basically dialog with still images done in a comic style. Not a surprising direction given the material. The style they gave the turtles, it’s an interesting one, and you get used to it. I guess I preferred the toonier style myself, but I could hardly call this style ‘realistic’ either; it’s an odd hybrid.
As far as voice acting goes, April’s I think was the best. As for the turtles, their differences are much more subtle than before; if you were to tell me to close my eyes and try and judge which one was Leonardo and which one was Donatello without any nerd speak in the line, I’d be hard pressed. Splinter’s seemed like it was trying too hard to sound like an old sensei instead of just naturally sounding like one. Something about it felt forced to me, and his phrases (other than the ones where he says the word ‘training’) don’t seem like something a wise sensei would say; perhaps I am wrong, though. I guess he kind of always was that way, and only in my old age does it seem forced.
Baxter Stockman has changed the most – from a walking stereotype of a white eccentric nerd to a more reserved, black, professional scientist. It’s an interesting character direction; a bit jarring, but seeing how much of a pain he is to deal with in Chapter 2, he seems far more of a threat than he was originally.
Distractions (TMNT arcade version)
So let’s get to the fighting already. I was about to start the first mission when I was struck by the Turtle Lair hub base. Here you can upgrade your characters, weapons, go to training to learn different moves and or go to Donatello’s arcade.
In arcade mode, the game's 3D engine powers a side-scrolling brawler
Here I saw an “Arcade game” which as soon as I saw it I was like, “Oh I wonder if they have TMNT: The Arcade Game”, the game I learned later in my life that Manhattan Project was trying to emulate. I knew I couldn’t expect the old Nintendo games since this is a port from an Xbox game. When I played, it was clearly the main game’s engine used to power a side-scrolling brawler.
Since I hadn’t played the main game, I could only play the first level of the arcade. This was just as well; by its end, I felt – there’s no light way to put this – bored. Why? Well, this kind of question can be difficult to answer. However I came up with two solid reasons:
- The enemy types had no variety- You have two kinds of enemies. Mooks and Mooks with large weapons. The latter are more dangerous, yet you deal with them in the same way: punching, kicking, and sometimes doing a counter. All mooks walk up to you to attack, which helps you more than it does them. The only time you’ll be threatened is if they surround you, and you can get out of that by tapping your action button.
Compare this to, say, The Manhattan Project, where in the first level you had different color foot soldiers who did different things. Some kept their distance and threw ninja stars (which is what us kids called them before we knew the word shuriken). Some did level-unique things like throw beach sand in your face, stunning your character while they rubbed their eyes. Heck, to break up the action they would send giant ball bearings rolling onto the screen so you had to focus on dodging rather than fighting. Which brought me to my second major complaint:
- The lack of environment- I could see that I was in a city, but I couldn’t feel that I was in a city. A majority of the level was a stage to beat some guys up in: walk down the alleyway, beat everyone up, repeat. There were only two points in the mission where I felt any personality; once when I had to use the action button to hop over a chain-link fence, and later where a garage door opened in the background and a car shot out of it toward the forward part of the screen before disappearing. Other than those moments, this game really could have taken place anywhere and it would have been all the same.
When I revisited this I found myself on a moving subway car, but I could not fall off the sides. I thought that was a bit too forgiving. If this was like those old arcade/NES games, they would have allowed me to stumble off the side and take some damage before my character would reappear on the top of the car. It was part of the fun, and made you feel you were actually in a perilous environment.
Okay, now that I’m through with these two points, and realize this was just the arcade game they threw in, let’s get to the actual 3D game which is probably what they focused on (and intended for me to focus on).
If you do want to play this, I would recommend playing through the whole of the actual game first so you unlock everything in the Arcade version. You’ll have to start from the beginning each time you reach the locked portions. You also gain no experience for your turtles from it.
The actual game starts off a bit slow; however, more care taken here than in the arcade game, as I had hoped. Enemies can initially be easily taken out just attacking constantly. However, as time goes on they start to attack a bit more, making you have to counter, similar to the Batman: Arkham series system. Countering is a bit tricky, as you have to hit two button simultaneously. If the turtles and Batman got into a fight, the bat would be countering the turtles’ attacks far easier.
The reason is that there are two attack keys. One to kick and one to use the weapon. The weapon does more damage while the kick can cause a blocking enemy to stumble. If your attacks aren’t getting through one way, change it to the other. Landing successful hits builds up a special meter which you can then use in a variety of ways. The more saved, the more devastating an attack you can do. If you land enough hits for your combo number to turn purple, hold down the ALT key while attacking and you can start to do some devastating and off the wall moves which are very enjoyable to watch.
The single player mode has you go through the story as all four turtles fighting together. You control one while the AI controls the other three. Unless you have other friends who play this game who can join the fun. You can switch to the others at any time by pressing their number key: 1 for Leonardo, 2 for Don, 3 for Mike, and 4 for Ralp. If you press the turtle’s key while you are playing that current turtle you will perform a taunt, which when upgraded can provide bonuses once per battle.
Pizza boxes make a return, only you pick them up and carry them with you this time. You can use them anytime when you are getting low on health. If your turtle falls, you’ll take control of another healthy one. During the combat the turtle will remain incapacitated until you either revive it with a pizza (which the game was telling me was ALT+R instead of ALT+E) or the combat is over (they’ll get back up with minimal health). If all four turtles become incapacitated during combat, your game is over and you’ll have to start back at the last checkpoint.
A leveling system allows you to increase the four turtle’s individual combat skills or stats. You can try to share the love among the four to not keep all your eggs in one basket, or focus on one and hope they don’t get knocked out leaving you with the remaining unskilled turtles.
The enemy variety started out a little low. Purple Dragons and Foot Clan mooks. The second chapter introduces the mechanical mousers and-- what’s this? I’ve never seen this enemy before? An anthropomorphic Mouser? Creativity!? Eureka! My first death was against this devious creation. It’s really the first enemy for which spamming attacks and counters won’t work if you’re not paying attention to the colors that signify how to deal with the incoming attack.
Luckily, though, death isn’t too much of a hindrance. You appear to keep all your experience and skill points even in failure, which you can use to upgrade your skills before trying again. You start back at the checkpoint with all the health and items you had prior to death. As these chapters are long and have some major combat scenes from time to time, you may find yourself having to voluntarily restart the entire chapter to start with a fresh plate. Taking unnecessary damage early on can make things much harder later on as pizza is a limited resource. This is an especially good idea if you get stuck on a boss, because they don’t give too much EXP if you keep getting killed by them.
You also learn that there are alternative ways to deal with such enemies. The most effective way to deal with the anthro-Mousers, dubbed Mansers, is to use an electric ninja star to stun them and then perform a stun KO (if you unlocked it for that turtle). The game didn’t tell me that either; I had to experiment to learn it, and I had to experiment because those things were killing me frequently.
The combat system is interesting like that. You feel like you’re unlocking your own skill, learning things about what is most effective for particular situations. What started as an unsatisfying game of punching and kicking and waiting for downed opponents to stand up becomes a game where you learn how to time and place your attacks for more devastating impact. While just flailing is effective for the first chapter, you quickly learn that you’re going to to have to do better to utilize items and attacks if you plan to survive the later stages. While the first chapter felt dull and breezy, the game became very satisfying, rewarding study of your abilities and when to use them.
The one game-killer which I hope gets patched or for which there is some sort of fix for is that keys would become unresponsive. I don’t mean this in the normal sense of unresponsive controls, I mean this in a more extreme way.
At random moments the game seems to not respond to the press of a particular key. The first time I noticed this was when I looked at the picture on the fridge. It said press escape to go back. No matter how many times I pressed escape, it did nothing. This seems to always happen when I go to the fridge. Same thing happened in one mission when a tutorial prompt came up and told me to press escape to go back to the action. Another time it was the action key that did nothing as I tried to jump a ledge; my colleagues could, but I couldn’t.
Each of these required me to restart the game. I hope that’s a bug that’ll be fixed, as it’s a large one. Luckily with the checkpoint system it’s not as major as it could have been.
There are aggravations, such as a camera that doesn’t cooperate sometimes. It’s not always easy to tell where you’re supposed to go next. Particularly how to activate the Chapter 1 final boss battle in the subway. I had this issue, but so did others on YouTube videos, so obviously it’s not clear how to do this.
The game’s campaign experience takes a bit to grow on you and provided some interesting moments. However, what works in 3D did not work so well in the 2D arcade counterpart, which took the new mechanics and tried to put them in the old style. It would have probably have been more worth their time to have bought the rights to the old arcade program and imported it into their game. Heck, they could probably have added $5 more to the price tag and still had sharply-increased demand.
The experience would doubtless be better on the Xbox than on Steam. Some of the commands in the prompts were flat-out wrong, showing me that this version was probably only playtested by people who already know how to do things and made the right moves despite the wrong ones staring them in the face, if they were shown at all.
Overall, it’s sort of a mixed bag. The game starts off slow; the real fun comes about mid-way through chapter 2, once you unlock some of the cooler moves. Chapter 1 is a bit dull, easy, and full of things that will turn many gamers off to it. This coincides with the fact this review itself started out scathing, but then I came to like the game more as I learned the quirks behind it.
It was tempting to end after the first chapter and then just slam it down, but I wanted to provide a full review as opposed to a ‘first impressions’ something that is extremely common in a online gaming reviews. I’m glad I did. Still, I cannot blame those who don’t like the game; there are certainly issues that are pretty unforgiving here, and a lot of lost potential. If they lost a lot of players on chapter 1, that’s a big design issue. Maybe the problem was they locked abilities that made the game more fun.
The Manhattan Project is still by far the game I’d rather play given the option if given the choice between the two; at the same price, even. Whether that’s to say this game is not quite up to par, or the older game was very well designed for its time… it’s probably a little bit of both.
Also, if you do play online: If your user name happens to be Shell, do not be shocked, your fellow players are not threatening to kick you. That’s just a catch phrase.