If you're a TMNT fan -- and it's safe to assume you are since you're reading this -- odds are your level of excitement is going to shoot through the roof right when you hit the menu screen. Not only are the Heroes in a Half Shell taking the iconic rooftop pose from the first Mirage issue, but part of "Turtle Power" by Partners in Kryme is on loop. Honestly, I probably enjoyed this screen for a good minute or so before finally selecting to start a new game. So, Red Fly Studio and Activision deserve a delicious cookie for an awesome amount of nostalgia right off the bat, but is the game itself equally epic?
In case you've somehow missed everything possible about this game, here's the basics. It's a third-person beat 'em up tailor-made for people who grew up with the franchise. Each character has their own feel: Leo's balanced, Mikey's swift, Raph is brutal and Donny has range. This isn't a gimmick to make it seem like the game has replay value. Each character brings a different experience to the table with their own variety of moves which showcase their personalities. Just like over in Arkham City, seeing these moves land in slow motion never gets old.
The game's inspired by the Nick show, focusing on the Shredder/Kraang alliance and giving each Turtle the signature look they have in the program. It may be inspired by the Nick series, but there's still quite a few nods to previous games and incarnations (even the infamous blue car makes an appearance). For a $15 title, there's an impressive amount of content. The primary campaign is broken up into four chapters and seeing as there's only one difficulty, it provides a solid struggle the entire ride. You can tackle this by your lonesome and switch between Turtles on the fly or you can take on the enemy with up to three friends via online co-op. There isn't too much variety thrown into the mix when it comes to gameplay -- it primarily boils down to combat, navigating the environment and facing a big bad. They try switch things up every now and then by making you hack panels (painfully easy at first but the final chapter proves more challenging), but ultimately, this is a game that's all about running (or flipping) from A to B and beating up a whole lot of enemies in the process. Not saying that's a bad thing, but it's worth noting in case anyone out there was expecting more than meets the eye with this one.
There's a decent amount of enemies you'll face during the journey (ranges from Purple Dragons to Kraang) and the boss battles feel like an amped version of a classic boss fight. Yes, that means it's sometimes frustrating as hell but that just makes it so much more satisfying when you land that final hit. There's also a brilliant moment with a swarm of Mousers. You have to let that get you at least once just to see a flood of Mousers wash over you. It's ridiculous -- but it's the kind of ridiculous that'll slap a smile on your face and then make you scream like a child as you run for your life. It's worth noting I flew through this campaign solo and my AI partners weren't all that effective (seriously, I saw Leo get wrecked by one Foot ninja) and that's a more than decent contributor to why I had so much trouble at times. The campaign's bosses may feel much easier with talented teammates by your side since there's only one difficulty, but even then, I'm sure it would still be a blast.
Instead of awkward cut scenes with the in game engine (I think we all know the lip synching wouldn't work well at all), these moments are told through comic book panels. The pacing can be slow sometimes (there were some super long pauses in the ending), but it's yet another sign they wanted to throw us into the vibe of the franchise and it's a much appreciated addition. The story is fairly basic (April's captured -- go get her!) and nothing here is going to shock or fool you, but there's some surprisingly sharp dialogue thrown in the mix from time to time (one Kraang bit had me laughing like a fool), and in the end, it's fine but completely overshadowed by the gameplay. Speaking of dialogue, the brothers randomly babble every so often. Most of these are pretty amusing, but hearing them over and over and over and over again does get tiring. Mikey's lengthy talk about pizza made me grin at first, but hearing it four more times in one sit-down was tiresome. Karai's boss battle suffered from the same problem. She only has a few bits of dialogue and isn't shy when it comes to saying them over and over again. Moreover, the music in this game is catchy (electronic), but be sure to lower it if you want to hear the dialogue clearly.
In addition to the campaign, there's challenge modes for various maps (surviving rounds and aiming for new high scores), a unique skill tree for each character, a dojo for training/practice, concept art (posted on the fridge in the lair -- you can't enlarge them, but it's a nice touch) and an arcade mode which strives to deliver a sweet dose of couch co-op (up to four players). This mode has seven side-scrolling levels and it's a very nice bonus that holds the potential for plenty of good times. That said, throwing that many characters with only one camera can make things get very crowded at times or even make it tough to spot your combatant, especially if the camera is behind something restricting your vision (a grated fence, for example) or providing a wider shot. Minor gripes aside, this is certainly what you'll want to play if you have more than one friend over. Just make sure you don't play with a friend who enjoys trolling because I noticed a few ways you could easily annoy and screw over your buddies (this applies to the campaign, too).
The combat system is clearly inspired by the Arkham franchise and understandably so. It's not as smooth as the aforementioned title, but it's still a thrilling experience to land these combos and special moves over and over. The controls may take some getting used to (special moves are used by rotating the right analog stick while holding the right tigger), but after a bit of practice it'll become second nature to you. Pulling off combos which require a pause between attacks and then holding down a button will prove far more difficult to master, though (especially if you play as Michelangelo because of his longer combos). The camera can also be a bit of a burden sometimes because you need to adjust it manually (in the campaign and challenge -- arcade has one fixed camera) and there's no button to make it immediately jump back to the default position behind you. I also had trouble whenever I found myself in a corner or small location. It'll zoom in too close, leaving you pretty much clueless to what's going on just outside your line of sight and therefore makes you vulnerable to attack. Still, these complaints weren't nearly big enough to prevent me from having a stupid amount of fun whenever I faced off against a group of baddies.
The combat is undeniably exciting, but the game does have a few bugs and glitches. There's minor stuff like floating weapons and clipping -- that's stuff I can overlook and doesn't bother me. However, twice I fell through a level. Luckily, my character reappeared when I switched to someone else, but if my friends were playing as the other characters, I'd probably be out of luck until they died or they reached a checkpoint. I also had to replay the Karai boss battle a handful of times because a glitch literally prevented me from defeating her. It's kind of hard to beat a villain who uses a smoke bomb to vanish and then never reappears, after all. Starting from the checkpoint didn't resolve it, so I had to exit out and then jump back in. It wasn't a big deal, but I'd be lying if I said that wasn't all kinds of annoying because I could only find out if it worked about 3/4ths through the boss brawl and as you can imagine, those aren't exactly quick or easy.
For at $15 arcade game, the graphics really aren't shabby. The team looks especially badass as their eyes go white whenever they're in combat and they definitely look cool when they're covered in shadows. Be it the rainy alleys of the city or a vivid Kraang base, each chapter gives off a fitting atmosphere.The graphics aren't going to blow you away or anything, but they're serviceable. I know a fair amount of you think the Turtles look creepy, but it's really not an issue when they're in motion and fighting (and that's essentially 90% of the game). When they're standing still, however, Donatello is the only one who weirds me out a bit. His eyes, man.. they stare right into your soul.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is a must play if you're a fan of the franchise or if you grew up addicted to the older arcade and console games. Yes, you may hit a glitch every now and then and the camera can be a pain at times, but these issues are nothing compared to the ridiculous amount of entertainment it'll offer as you and your friends beat your opponents with an absurdly fun variety of slick moves. There's more than enough content and depth here for dedicated gamers, yet it's also totally accessible for someone who just wants to run around and button mash without worrying about elaborate combos and more (these people will probably want to throw their controller during certain boss battles, though). The game is far from perfect but it definitely delivers on its promise of feeling like an updated classic and that's commendable. There's pretty much no reason not to buy this if you like the Ninja Turtles and you enjoy hitting bad guys in the face.
Gregg Katzman is a writer for Comic Vine and a bit shameless when it comes to expressing his love for the Ninja Turtles. Reach out to him on Twitter if you want to co-op... he calls dibs on Mikey or Donny, though!