I found myself in a bit of a conundrum with today’s game. As a turtle fan, I went into it hoping it was good. However, having just come from the Ubisoft era of turtle games, I was a bit skeptical, as evidenced in a previous article. So, is Out of the Shadows worthy of the Turtles’ pedigree, or does it languish much like their games have since the 2000’s?
Perhaps a little of both.
We’ll get the obvious out of the way first, the art design. The turtles new look seems odd at first, but I’ll admit, it grew on me after awhile. It seems to try and blend the Nickelodeon look with the style of the Jim Henson creature shop from the original movie.
This doesn’t fully carry over to the supporting characters though — April looks older and more realistic than her cartoon counterpart, but only so much. Karai hasn’t changed much except for wearing a mask, and I don’t think anything was done to Shredder at all.
The story is still based on the Nickelodeon show, though where exactly I couldn’t tell. The story takes the player through battles with most of the major enemies of the show, however, so even unfamiliar players won’t find the story too hard to follow.
The exposition is told mostly through comic style vignettes, which are both stylistically appropriate, and jarring at the same time. They tend to pop up just when you’re getting into the vibrant setting they’ve placed you in, or just when you’ve started to lose yourself in the action — and you occasionally will.
Despite the set pieces lacking polish at times, and texture pop-in causing some issues here an there, the setting is very colorful and lively. From a soaring construction tower, to the dank and dingy sewers, to the ramshackle junk yard you find Baxter Stockman hiding out in; the setting is as inviting as it’s cartoon counterpart. This makes one want to break away and explore the brilliant labyrinth of the Turtles’ New York City.
Disappointingly, the player is kept in rather contained areas that have less life to them than the backgrounds do. The game play is mostly going from point A to B and beating up Foot Ninja and other varieties of grunts along the way. It’s hard to fault it for this, but the restrictiveness is nevertheless very noticeable.
One might expect then, the developers’ would be sure to keep the player’s attention with gameplay. To be fair, the RedFly team definitely know their Turtles history, as many of the systems in the game are reminiscent of titles from the Turtles past. For instance, in Story mode, there is no game over until all four turtles are down for the count, much like the original Ninja Turtles for the NES. Also, each turtle can carry secondary and expendable weapons, such as grenades and shuriken, much like the NES game. Similar to Ninja Turtles 3: Mutant Nightmare from the Playstation 2 era, Turtles not directly under your control are controlled by the game’s AI. And then of course there is arcade mode, made to simulate the original Ninja Turtles arcade game, and Turtles in Time. In addition, RedFly also took inspiration from Batman Arkham Asylum, by introducing a combo and counter system very reminiscent of it. Also, the ability to switch Turtles on the fly, and coordinate them is similar to the system present in the Dragon Age series.
However, all of this together doesn’t seem blend very well. The combo system works great, and I would venture is even better than Arkam’s, as Turtle Power KO’s can only be performed upon reaching certain points in the combo — giving a strong reason to keep combos going. The countering system, however, leaves something to be desired. I can perform a counter just fine, if I concentrate solely on that, but trying to counter in the middle of combo seems practically impossible, if not extremely difficult.
Meanwhile, even though you can control your reptilian brethren, you cannot give them specific orders. They will not use items or aid fallen allies of their own accord either. The best you can do is taunt enemies toward your turtle and hope the enemy doesn’t focus fire a brother down first.
Also, since each turtle has their own independent inventory, the system will actively punish you for switching turtles too often. Should you do so, and spread too many items about your turtles, chance are good that the turtle carrying the grenades you need to take down the Cerberus Mouser will be the first to get knocked out.
The punishment doesn’t stop there, but continues in the leveling system they have implemented as well. Again taking pointers from Rocksteady’s Arkham games, the turtles can be upgraded with various moves, techniques, and weapons. While ability points are given in sets of four, allowing every turtle to partake, weapon upgrades are given one at a time, forcing the player to choose to focus on one turtle early on.
Overall, this makes the fighting experience feel awkward and at times very clunky, the occasional bug not helping matters.
But most of what I’ve described applies to the single player experience. How about multiplayer? While Story mode does allow for two players to run it together, the main multi-player mode is arcade mode. This mode sets a fixed camera, and runs the turtles through environments already cleared in the story in a kind of throwback to the classic Konami arcades. This mode suffers from similar issues, however. Because the camera is fixed, the turtles can get a pretty far distance from it, obscuring your vision of the characters at times. Also, dark corners can be too dark in this mode, keeping you from seeing that important mouser bomb that’s about to explode behind you. Arcade mode’s difficulty is scaled to have all four turtles on screen, so it becomes rather challenging to run solo. Although, this means the experience becomes more rewarding, and more manageable, with a few friends.
Despite it’s flaws, it’s hard to come down on the game too harshly, as love for franchise is evident throughout. From the Turtles hanging out in their HQ on the menu, to the Mirage Comics homage on the title screen, to the use of ‘Turtle Power’ by Partners in Kryme, to the witty banter between the turtles mid-fight and in-between fights; while RedFly didn’t fully flesh out the details, RedFly definitely nailed what a modern Turtles’ game should be like.
That is why I have a hard time judging this one. There’s a great Turtles’ game in this, but it’s muddied up with too many complex systems. Perhaps if it was given more time or a bigger budget, the experience could have been smoothed out to offer the best the franchise has to offer. That being said, there have been games far worse than this in the Turtles history.
Fans would do well to pick this one up, if only to support an incredibly ambitious Ninja Turtles title. For everyone else, this may end up as a pass.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is published by Activision, and developed by RedFly Studios. Xbox Live arcade version was used for this review, which was played for about 6 hours. I own nothing but the opinions expressed in this article.