Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the PS2 blurs the line between television and gaming more than any game I’ve ever played.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. You may have read the comic books, watched the cartoons, seen the movies, even played the NES, SNES, and arcade games, but I can guarantee you, you’ve never seen anything like this.
Assuming that everyone already either knows (or doesn’t care about) the back-story, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) begins with a completely television-quality cartoon of the turtles fighting random adversaries. After the introduction and theme song are over, you get to choose which of the four turtles you will play. If you are willing to admit to a friend that you play kiddie cartoon-based video games, they can join you in some 2-player mission action. Don’t tell your secret to too many friends though; there’s no four-player mode to be found.
Once you’ve picked your turtle(s), it’s on to the story. In the first level, you’ll find yourself back in familiar territory — home sewer home. The enemies on the first level are little mechanical chompers. While they don’t pose much of a threat, fighting them is a great way to learn the controls. Each turtle has three hand-to-hand attacks: a fast attack, a hard attack, and an uppercut. The uppercut can also be used on fallen enemies, which is handy when you’ve just knocked down five or six opponents and want to inflict some additional damage. In addition to that, you can also jump, throw shruiken, and dodge attacks with a turbo-like maneuver. The shruiken aren’t as handy as they sound. While they’re overly simple to use (aiming is automatic), it takes four or five of them to kill an opponent, and you only get ten of them. Most of your enemies will be dealt with knuckle-to-knuckle.
Levels follow the cartoon series pretty closely; none of the missions take place on the moon or anything. No, as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, your battlefield is the city. Game levels take you through sewers, streets, buildings, rooftops, and beyond. Throughout these levels, you’ll meet a multitude of enemies. From mechanical chompers to gang members to other ninjas to … worse. Don’t expect any fair fighting from these guys either. Usually they travel in packs of four or five. Fortunately you’re equipped with some “Turtle Radar”, which shows how many enemies are coming, and from which direction.
Never before has a game been more perfectly designed for cel-shading. Cel-shading is a technique used in games to make them look more comic book-ish (think Jet Set Radio, or Auto Modellista). The backgrounds, objects, and characters are all cel-shaded, making the game look and play like a living comic book. To accentuate the game’s comic book roots, each attack is accentuated by a pop-up “crash”, “pow”, or “thwak”, just like the old Batman television show. Sometimes this is a nuisance, especially when you’ve just smacked four or five guys in a row and now can’t see anything from all the pop-ups. Each of those attacks is also accompanied with a sound effect. With each attack your character utters one of about four randomly chosen quotes (“don’t get up from that one” and “cowabunga” seemed pretty common in my game). These get old pretty quickly, and continue the entire game. Fortunately, no one ever hollars, “Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go!”
While I guess over time one should develop some sort of strategy in the game, I found the “button-mashing” technique got me pretty far. When it worked, it worked, and when it didn’t … I pressed continue. Several times the game would award me bonus points for combos. Then I would say, “who, me?” and the game would say, “yes, you!”
One of the most annoying things within the game itself is that it seems like half of the town is explosive. I’m 30 years old and I’ve never actually seen barrels of explosive material sitting around on the sidewalk! And yet they are all over the place in TMNT, waiting for you to accidentally bump into one of them. Half of the damage I took seemed to come from me killing someone, who flew into something else that exploded, which in turn hurt me. Shouldn’t you have some kind of explosion-immunity if you were the one that instigated the chain reaction? The worst part is, the little mechanical chompers you fight throughout the game are ALSO explosive. More than once I ended up flame-broiled because I killed someone, who landed on a chomper, who exploded into a barrel, which ALSO exploded, which killed me. Fortunately, there are power-ups stashed throughout the levels (some hidden in crates) to boost your health back up — and yes, they’re still slices of pizza, hamburgers, and shakes.
Other than that one minor annoyance, the game is a blast. The turtle-radar and occasional directional arrows keep you on track. Not once did I get lost, or wander around wondering what I was supposed to be doing. Sure, a platform beat-em-up isn’t going to win “innovative game of the year”, but it might be a contender in the “most fun”, “best graphics”, and “easiest to learn without a manual” categories. The levels are interesting but not complex, and the camera-angles (for the most part) keep things positioned where you can see the action. The bosses at the end of each level are another nice throwback to the “old” days.
Gamers who tire of the story mode can also launch into a vs. battle mode, where each of the different characters can fight one another. I tried it three times with three different characters and had the pleasure of having my ass kicked in three different locations by the CPU. With a very simple fighting engine devoid of any combos, strategy or even the ability to block, any fan of any other fighting game ever will get bored with TMNT’s vs. mode very quickly.
Graphics: 8/10. This game is gorgeous, and really does look like a comic book come to life.
Sound: 5/10. Nothing great and nothing offensive. The voice-over work and introduction are great, but are cancelled out by the repetitive catch phrases and background music you are subjected to throughout the game.
Gameplay: 7/10. It’s not rocket science, but then again, I don’t WANT rocket science when playing games. Easy to pickup and learn, tough to beat. The two-player mode and overall game play simplicity make TMNT a fun game to kill some time with without having to spend a weekend learning the controls. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a retro game updated to the next generation of consoles.