When I think back on it, I can’t really say I’ve ever been that big on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Yes, I liked it, and I watched some of their cartoons, played some of their games, owned a few TMNT toys, and even watched small snippets of their films. Despite that, I never got too involved in any of those. I didn’t keep up with the franchise at all and would only end up involved in it if it just happened to be on T.V. or on hand. I know a fair share about it, but really, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles exists more as an identifying piece of the 90s than a franchise. Me picking up Mutants in Manhattan wasn’t really motivated by some need to experience it, and its references to the media franchise itself were essentially a coin flip on whether or not I would recognize them. It does seem to have most of the mainstays I would expect to show while also reaching for characters I believe are obscure, so I feel on that level it managed to at least capture a pretty decent picture of the Turtles that didn’t require me to be too heavily invested in the series to enjoy.
There are a few things that do hamper my enjoyment quite a bit though, starting off with the story. I wasn’t expecting a lot from the story admittedly, but the game made a bit of a mistake in how it decided to set things up. The game begins with a scene of the two biggest bad guys in TMNT talking on a rooftop. Shredder, leader of the Foot ninja clan, and Krang, an interdimensional alien, are teaming up to do their biggest evil plan yet, and its up to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to stop them! This would have been enough of a story and the game wouldn’t require any more if it was going for simplicity, but the game’s story progressions consist of the Turtles and their supporting cast gradually uncovering the fact that these two guys have teamed up. They’ll sometimes seemingly ignore obvious indicators that Shredder and Krang have teamed up just to keep up a mystery that was solved the moment you start the game! The story really just pops in and out at the start of chapters so it’s more a minor annoyance than anything, but the game has quite a few of these small issues that end up hurting the experience as a whole.
The game itself is a hack and slash action game where you play as the four turtles: Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo. They each have their own unique weapon, but when it comes down to it, their basic attacks really aren’t much that different from each other. You’ll continually hammer the attack button with little thought and be rewarded for doing so. The game does have a combo system that I sometimes stumbled into, but more often than not, these were simply flashy moves that didn’t really improve my combat capabilities and sometimes even hindered them by putting me in harm’s way! Some turtles have a launcher move to knock enemies up into the air to continue the combo, but the enemies it does effect are too easily killed otherwise and the ones you would like to use it on are immune. The game does add a little variety to the combat by the way of Ninjutsu moves you can unlock and upgrade, with each turtle able to hold four skills. This ended up being the real reason you would want to switch turtles, as the super move system has enough variation where you can give characters strong attacks, healing skills, buffs and debuffs, and other little tricks. Its very easy to set up one of your turtles as the designated heavy hitter or healer, the game even starting each turtle off with a bit of a slant towards these roles. You are also able to collect little green orbs to purchase level specific items: buffs, bombs, automatic turrets, healing… but all but the laser turrets seem so situational or limited in effect that you’ll probably want to go for the laser turrets every time. The game also clumsily includes a dodge and parry system to try and add a bit of variety to the endless slashing, but there’s no real complexity save to dodge repeatedly if it looks like you’re in trouble. Dodging too much will make your turtle dizzy for a second and leave them open for attacks, but the penalty was so small compared to what might happen if you did take that hit that it doesn’t truly discourage you.
It’s very easy to get lost in the gameplay’s simplicity, and it is decent fun slashing apart ninjas and rock men without a care. The bosses can be hit or miss depending on… well, how much you hit or miss! They were certainly the most appealing combat challenges as you have to think a lot more about when to use specials and try and time your attacks instead of just doing them until the enemy’s dead, but all the combat in the game, boss or not, is hampered by one huge flaw: the AI. And I don’t mean the enemy AI, although they can be a bit unexceptional. I am referring to your AI partners. Whichever turtle you are playing as will always be accompanied by the three others, all under the control of the game itself. You can give them general commands to follow, but for the most part, your partners seem to enjoy playing the game on their own. They’re far too involved in the fights, making the basic enemies a breeze but constantly wasting their Ninjutsu and health by fighting with no self-preservation. Switching to your healer only to find him near dead and without his abilities because the AI randomly used them on foot soldiers instead of the boss is incredibly disheartening to say the least. At the worst of times, the AI seems completely oblivious to environmental obstacles, constantly getting hit by passing trains, standing stock still in puddles of harmful purple ooze, and just straight up falling off of buildings with no prompting. They sometimes will find a way to die when you go to visit the item store, a store which fully protects you and ONLY you from danger! However, they can be almost overly helpful at times too, completing objectives without you present and keeping bad guys busy while you do whatever you feel like. I will concede that the game has online co-op where you can play with intelligent humans instead who won’t stand on the train tracks and wait to get hit by oncoming trains, but that does remove the perk of switching turtles. When you lose all your health, there’s a brief period where your allies can revive you, and thankfully, the AI is really good at dropping everything to do so. If they can’t though, you’ll be thrown to a minigame where you have to eat loads of pizza to get back in the fight, a minigame I only saw in the really late levels of the game due to how easy it is for your partners to pick you back up. The ease of revival did remove some of the challenge from the moments where the game did pick up its difficulty, but at the same time, its what made certain boss fights bearable. A human player may be able to revive you just as well, but I can at least say the AI partners don’t fail here, even if they drag down most everything else.
Mutants in Manhattan is admittedly pretty short and not really varied in its content. You’ll be fighting in the city streets, the sewer, on rooftops… just a bunch of typical urban environments. Everything does fit the “Manhattan” part of the title I suppose, but there’s not a whole lot of window dressing to make these environments particularly interesting. Some of them are wide and open with little to do in them besides get lost and the others are straightforward but with very few setpieces to make one leg of the place feel different than the next. There’s just enough enemy variety to get by, and the game does throw a few objectives at you besides killing enemies. You’ll be rolling important objects to safe extraction points, defusing bombs or hacking terminals while under attack, getting to certain checkpoints in a limited time… but there is one objective that is just terrible. Bombs will sometimes appear that require two turtles to stand next to it so they can automatically hook up to it with electric leashes. The two then need to move it together to a set place without getting too far away from each other or else the leash will break. With AI partners, it seems they never want to follow you perfectly during these segments, and almost all bomb escorts require you to scale buildings or do large leaps to complete… which means unless your partner is following you perfectly, the bomb will easily lose its connections and drop or get hooked on some small bit of railing and refuse to move. They’re infrequent enough to be tolerable, but they were never a happy sight to see.
THE VERDICT: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan definitely has its moments. Fighting enemies is satisfying if not entirely complex, and it is interesting to face the bosses even thought some of them aren’t that complex. If you haven’t noticed, this game just isn’t that complex! Even if you had human partners instead of the AI ones to patch up the issues there, you end up with only very simple tasks to complete and nothing that will really stand out during the experience.
And so, I give Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan on the Playstation 4…
An AVERAGE rating. The game certainly has more than a few flaws, but the experience is so simple that they can’t detract from the basic thrill of slashing apart ninjas and bosses. The game does trend towards being too easy, perhaps to satisfy the broad demographic the Turtles try and cater too, but it does have harder difficulties to try and make things difficult despite the many ways to cheat death. It really is a game that doesn’t do enough well to be good nor does it do enough wrong to be bad. If you want to play turtles slashing up bad guys, turn this game on, and it gives it to you, but it won’t leave you with much else. Of course, almost every game is going to be better in co-op since a shared experience is typically more fun, but the base components don’t exactly make it a co-op game to prioritize either. Turtles in Time was a far simpler Turtles co-op game that managed to give a more rewarding experience.
It’s a shame that more thought and time wasn’t put into this game. Most of its flaws were from not spending enough time fleshing out what they were working with. AI, environments, the combat as a whole… it all feels a few changes away from being more than just passable.
If anything, the subtitle they gave this game seems almost perfect. Mutants in Manhattan. Nothing too extravagant about that title, and there’s nothing too extravagant about this game.