Last year I did a rather scathing review of Activision’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: the Videogame released on the Xbox 360, Wii, and 3DS. Sometime later, I concluded what may have actually occurred. My assertion was that developer Magic Pockets were initially vetted to create a 3DS Ninja Turtle game, but during development the scope changed. The game was then ported to the 360 and Wii, and had to be modified to accommodate the local multi-player functionality. This lead a game which may have been passable on the 3DS to become a nightmare on all three consoles. The emphasis on things flying at the screen, and the camera’s fascination with moving through tunnels, supports that this was intended for the 3DS at least originally. Had the game been a single-player experience on the 3DS only, I likely would have been more forgiving of it’s other short falls.
Well, either someone was listening, or had a similar thought, because this year we saw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) release for the 3DS. Based off the movie license, this game was made exclusively for the 3DS by the same developer, Magic Pockets. Do I smell a challenge?
Probably not. Is this one any good though?
That really depends.
Unlike most Ninja Turtles games, this one takes a slightly different approach by making it a top-down dungeon crawler (such as Diablo, Torchlight, or Path of Exile) as opposed to your typical beat-em-up. For the most part, this works. The player is given a basic attack to try and swipe enemy hordes down, a dodge to avoid attacks (primarily ranged ones), and a few extra abilities that are unlocked further along. Turtles are healed through Pizza, which acts exactly as potions would in other dungeon crawlers. They can use power-ups and weapons that are dropped throughout the game, or can purchase or craft these items back at the lair. In addition, the game gives you some interesting challenges near the end of the game after it’s warmed the player to various enemy types.
Additional features are one step forward and two-steps back, however. On the good side, there is no mana bar for the turtles, something out of place for this setting. Instead, the designers opted to put their abilities on a series of cooldowns. This allows the turtles to only periodically use their abilities, so it becomes more about timing and cooldown management than resource management.
Another additional feature is being able to switch between the four turtles. While the ability to switch is on a cooldown as well, this is a feature that nearly breaks the game. Each turtle has their own particular advantages and disadvantages, something most games implement in some fashion. Early on these differences are vast. Michaelangelo is the only turtle with a shuriken to hit eneimes at a distance; Donatello can hit multiple enemies in a wider spread; Leonardo is the only turtle that can break shields, etc. However, once you get late in the game, these differences become much more minute. Leonardo gains a projectile in the late game; Donatello’s damage over time and area of effect damage outclasses his lack of projectile or heavy damage; Raphael does so much damage enemy shields are barely a hindrance. Sure, in the late game it’s still better to switch than try and tackle certain enemies at a disadvantage, but being able to switch styles so you’re never in a position your turtle cannot handle removes most of the challenge.
What makes this particular feature a bad idea is giving each turtle their own life bar. While the game is very generous with pizza slices, players don’t need them very much early on, because you can easily switch to a turtle with a full health bar. The game attempts to mitigate this by adding a failure state of having even one turtle fall in battle result in game over.
What’s worse,however, is the game also tries to rationalize it’s switching feature by giving each turtle a “special ability.” Examples of such are Donatello hacking computer panels, or Raphael bashing in walls. These occur very rarely, however, and only require switching to the turtle for that instant to hit a button, which inevitably opens up a new area. Mechanics like these tend to get on my nerves, as they are simply superfluous to the actual gameplay itself. The game forces you to switch characters, to push one button, after which you can do what you want. Why can’t we design around forcing the player to switch in the first place.
The end result of these is a rather simple dungeon crawler with very little challenge until toward the very end of the game. So, what else can they do to keep our interest?
Apparently not much. I rarely play the 3DS with the sound on in the first place, but made a point to turn the sound on to judge the audio quality. I was not rewarded for doing so. The sounds are appropriate but not particularly interesting, and the music is barely noticeable. The most interesting part of the audio is how the short voice clips they use for the turtles, as well as Splinter and other characters in the game are clearly taken from or imitations of their cartoon counterparts; however, the game’s visuals and story are taking from the 2014 movie.
Speaking of which, the game’s visuals are not very enticing either. The turtles look fine from the top down, but looking at them up close during conversations does not leave a good impression. The environments are hit and miss, as the sewers and subways are fairly plain looking. The Foot Bases are better, if only because the player will be striving for new environments by then. The best looking environment was a short part of a level where the turtles were actually above ground — naturally though, it was short-lived. The 3D effect is actually really well done and enhances the environments, but the conversation pieces have the turtles in 3D with the text boxes that cover them flat — making the effect look flat and muddy most of the time.
The story is absolutely confounding. I gathered it takes place after the 2014 movie, despite promotional material claiming otherwise. However, it appears Magic Pockets didn’t get the memo, as the turtles refer a few times to Eric Sachs as the Shredder. Then again, the turtles talk about, refer to, and even fight other characters in the Turtles universe (such as Baxter Stockman and the Rat King) as though those characters have been there forever. Therefore, it’s difficult to tell if the story was supposed to be based on the movie, or taken seriously at all. The amount of confusion is really the only interesting part about it. I was tempted to skip the story sections, as they barely explain anything going on anyway, and the game allows you to do so rather easily.
The only thing left then is to compare it to Activision’s other outings. Is it better than Magic Pockets’ last attempt with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: the Video Game? Overall, yes. To be fair, though the 3D effects on the environment show that this is the platform Magic Pockets is more familiar with. However, the game still has flaws. It’s learning curve is far too shallow for most players to get enjoyment out of, and most of the additional features only ease that curve even more.
As compared to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, however, it just misses the cut. Out of the Shadows was genuinely challenging, but was buggy, and not fleshed out properly. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) was not very challenging, but mostly bug free. Much of it depends on what you expect, I suppose. Out of the Shadows is $15 for about what I’d expect of a game at that price. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) is on par in terms of content, but double the price.
What’s more, I’m not sure who this would appeal to. A die-hard turtle fan would probably be okay with it, but being based on the 2014 movie may turn some of them away. It’s too simple for fans of dungeon crawlers, but may be too complicated for those who want a mindless beat-em up. I was able to enjoy my experience toward the end of the game, but I’m unsure how many would venture through that far. Besides, it’s not as though this is the only turtles experience on the 3DS either. In fact, they just released another one didn’t they…
… yes, they did…