Imagine a nice coloring book. Not the cheap, flimsy 10-pagers at the drug store, but one with medium weight paper, decent illustrations, and a handful of random activities. You know, one that might cost three dollars instead of ninety-nine cents. Beat for beat, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan is as deep and all-encompassing as this coloring book. It’s less game, more grab bag of pretty illustrations, catch phrases in bubble letters, and mindless activities strung together without any justification other than distracting the mind for a boring church sermon or airplane flight.
It is what I would expect someone to make had they been exposed to a single episode of the original cartoon and a handful of stills from the live-action movies, then given the directive to make a game out of that material. There is so little depth, respect, or understanding of who the turtles are or what makes them lovable or endearing present, leaving it to be a shallow, mind-numbingly dull action game with decently-designed ninja turtle skins stretched over the main characters.
It would be a waste of time to comment on the story here. Any sort of narrative is barely present, and all of the cut scenes and character interactions are more in service of creating a “Remember them?” highlight reel of classic TMNT villains than they are actually telling a unique adaptation of a story. It has no cohesion, aside from a generous amount of cringe-worthy and unfunny quips about pizza in virtually every single scene.
The actual mission structure is not much different. Each “stage” is a collection of random tasks involving combat and escort missions involving guiding items across the map. Then, it culminates with a boss fight against some headlining antagonist from the shows, comics, or movies. You’ll encounter Rocksteady, Bebop, Shredder, and everyone else, all the way down to predatory Mouser robots.
“Random” is the key word here, and probably one of the biggest reasons why the story made zero sense and the stages were a complete mess of repetitive tasks. It’s literally just April coming in over the turtle’s communication devices, saying things like “Fight those ninjas!”, “Find their hideout!”, and “Get the money back to the target!” What ninjas? Why do I need to find their hideout? What money? Everything is messily jumbled together with the virtual equivalent of spit and torn duct tape.
The worst part of Mutants in Manhattan is its rare flair of decent ideas. It’s not good, but it’s also not completely unplayable flaming trash. It is dangerously mediocre in every respect, save for the visuals. The characters are animated well, and even the combat looks great. But strangely layered upgrades, impressively stupid AI, bosses whose difficulty is hinged upon their multi-layered health bars, and boring, lifeless environments make this feel strangely like a knock-off. It’s so pointless and dull, I wouldn’t be surprised if I read things wrong and accidentally downloaded Adolescent Fighting Amphibians instead of the actual licensed property.
I can only imagine what a style guide for creating Ninja Turtles licensed games would look like. I’d like to think it’s a checklist, a collection of bullet points some suits put together without any interest in conveying respect or enthusiasm for the source material. Instead, it’s probably much closer to this:
- Must have pizza present in some form, whether as a health bar, upgrade, collectible, or joke (or an ungodly combination of all four).
- Shredder has to be present in some capacity. Bonus points if you can pop Krang, Rocksteady, and Bebop somewhere in there, too.
- Mention sewers. Bonus points for jokes about the smell.
- Michelangelo must be an incessantly annoying character who is unnecessarily complaining about how hungry he is or how much he loves pizza.
I’m sure there are about five pages’ worth of notes they could make out of this, and the cynicism of everything brings me down. I don’t know when or why we decided licensed games were allowed to be recyclable garbage using the images and designs of popular characters in formulaic, boring action games, but it’s certainly disheartening to see one of my favorite franchises reduced to yet another. Mutants in Manhattan is so aggressively dull and sub-par there’s little to no joy to be taken from playing it. Like a coloring book, it’s nothing more than a shallow collection of non-stimulating activities and disconnected clichéd references created with the purpose of alleviating mild boredom.
Honestly, I would have liked the coloring book better.
This review is based on a download code provided by the publisher. Mutants in Manhattan is available in retail stores and on downloadable marketplaces for $39.99. The game is rated T.
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