There’s an undeniable excitement whenever its announced that Platinum Games is working on a licensed property. After all, a game based on a beloved franchise by the same studio that created amazing action games like The Wonderful 101 and Bayonetta 2 sounds almost too good to be true. Sadly, that’s largely been the case so far. Previous licensed titles, The Legend of Korra and Transformers: Devastation, had been okay but nothing special. Can that trend change now that the Japanese developer is handling Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?
Sadly, the answer to that question is a resounding no. In fact, in many ways it’s a regression from previous titles and the most disappointing game from Platinum yet. It’s not a complete step down, though, as it does get some aspects right. Most importantly the core combat, while not spectacular, is fast-paced and fun.
Like most character action games, Mutants in Manhattan lets players create combinations by combining weak and heavy attacks. These repeated taps of the square and triangle buttons will be your main way to deal with the ninja foes that populate the game’s 9 levels. Besides the simple melee combat, players can also lob shuriken at foes, and unleash special Ninjutsu skills which regenerate on a cooldown timer. It all comes together to form a pretty basic, but enjoyable combat system.
You Better Check Your Level
The main issue with the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle game is its level structure which is a far cry from the brilliant levels you’ll find elsewhere in the genre like in DmC: Devil May Cry. Most of the game’s 9 stages are semi-open areas where players will have to travel to different areas so they can deal with Shredder’s cronies that are clearly up to no good. Instead of simply displaying objective markers (or better yet a map), players instead have to click the right stick in order to view the stage in Ninja Vision™ (which is just an uninspired rip-off of Eagle Vision from Assassin’s Creed).
While just finding your missions on the map is more of a hassle than it should be, the larger fault is that these objectives just aren’t fun to complete. They largely feel like the optional sidequests you’d see in an open-world title like inFamous Second Son, except instead of being boring bonuses you can skip, they encompass 90% of what you do in the game. There’s some variety in these missions, as sometimes you’ll defend a pizza stand and other times you’ll scour a level in order to defuse bombs, but none of them are fun. They ultimately are just filler that delays the one enjoyable part of each level: the boss fights.
Every stage in the game ends on a high note since the boss fights are really the only times I had fun while playing Mutants in Manhattan. These battles let the player battle characters they know from the TV shows and comics, which is a far cry from the nameless goons you spend 15 minutes fighting beforehand. Getting to go up against fearsome baddies such as Rocksteady and Bebop is a blast, especially the former since he’s not afraid to brogue kick you.
One reason why these boss encounters standout are that they’re the only part of the game where it feels like your three other turtles are necessary companions. While in single player they typically just follow you around and beat up the random enemies that appear, they become essential here as they slowly chip away at the boss’s gigantic health bar and revive anyone that falls during battle. This teamwork aspect feels great, and it’s only brought out during these challenging battles.
While these boss fights are definitely the highlight of the experience, they aren’t good enough to excuse the boring 15 minutes that comes before. It’s like getting a refreshing lemonade after working outside in 90° heat for an hour. It’s great that there’s a reward at the end, but it doesn’t make what came before it any fun and you would’ve avoided it altogether if you could.
The repetitive level structure ultimately is enough to cripple the experience. Considering most levels only take around 20 minutes to complete, TMNT isn’t a long game. That’s why it’s amazing how boring such a short experience is, and how quickly it started to feel like a chore. It speaks volumes that my favorite level of the game ended up being a late-game boss rush, something I typically hate in games, but at that point I’d much rather repeat boss fights I actually enjoyed rather than play a new level that had 15 terrible minutes of foreplay before anything fun happened.
Ninja Turtle Bass
Another huge issue is that Mutants in Manhattan just generally lacks polish. Smaller issues such as not being able to pause cutscenes (yet you can pause them in the in-game movie gallery since that makes sense) and the inability to mute players online (you can mute all chat in the main menu settings, but not individuals in-game) made for a less enjoyable experience. The online play also presented additional issues, as the netcode was so inconsistent that every single level I played online ended with a connection error. Once the game had me wait on a loading screen for 3 minutes until it informed me it had lost connection. Awesome.
Even as someone who has nostalgia and an appreciation of the source material, I found myself underwhelmed by the entire experience. From boring environments (levels include a sewer system, a generic subway station, and a city where every building looks the same) to terrible voice acting, there isn’t anything for even die-hard TMNT fans to get out of the experience. At least Transformers: Devastation had an interesting narrative and the original cast to fall back on, this has none of that charm.
The ultimate disappointment is that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan has a solid base. A good game could’ve been made with these combat mechanics, but sadly some abysmal level design makes this 4-hour game a complete chore to play. When an uninspired boss rush level is arguably the best part of the game, then you know something went wrong.
Review code for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here