There are but a handful of things I wake up confident about every morning: I will eat today; a fictional character will make me cry much more than I should; somehow, I will end up in the part of youtube full of nothing but cat videos; and there will be another TMNT arcade beat ‘em up incarnation. Sometimes, I wish I were wrong. It’s not that I don’t like everyone’s reptilian sewer-dwelling childhood friends. I do. Really. Somewhere in the dark dungeons of Photobucket, there’s a picture of my dog dressed up as Leonardo for Halloween.
In Red Fly Studio’s newest revival of the franchise, you’ll play as Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo—as you may have guessed. Along the way, you’ll meet your favorite (or least) characters from the franchise—Shredder, the Purple Dragons, Master Splinter, and April O’Neil all make their appearance. The plot is guaranteed to give any fan of the series, whether young or old, a giant grin. In fact, from a narrative standpoint, the TMNT: Out of the Shadows has all the potential to be the game fans of the franchise have been waiting for.
What it falls short on, however, is gameplay. In essence, the game is supposed to be a third-person brawler with a few simple RPG, stealth, and platforming elements thrown in. It’s the perfect blend of Ninja Turtle-y goodness we’ve come to expect from the television series, and, in theory, it should work wonderfully in a game about the aforementioned anthropomorphic saviors of New York City. In reality, it’s a generally unplayable mess.
From the beginning, the reality of Out of the Shadows is all too clear. Loading and menu screens are long—really, really long. We’re talking “did-my-system-just-freeze” long. The tutorial alone is difficult to get through. Playing as O’Neil is clunky and slow, but despite the movement impairment, framerates seem to do an intense amount of playing catch up with player advancement. Unfortunately, the problem isn’t just that our beloved intrepid reporter has more in common with the order Chelonii than her turtle companions; movement doesn’t improve much once you’re in control of them, either.
However, if you can navigate through the game long enough to experience the Batman: Arkham City-esque combat, you will find a light at the end of the tunnel; this is especially due to the RPG style upgrade system. Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo are all playable and come equipped with their own iconic weapons. Upgrading each of them in ways that complement the entire group adds a veil of strategy that separates Out of the Shadows from its button-mashing predecessors. You can switch between turtles at any time, allowing you to keep your combo up, even if one character runs out of baddies to beat up. High combo scores will grant you various special abilities, including auto-takedowns, which prove to be incredibly helpful when your mutated heroes seem to be in over their heads.
The combat does not come without its faults. For instance, even after meticulously powering up the turtles, you’ll find yourself dishing out the same combos in repetition. Kicking is encouraged to break blocks, but blocked attacks don’t ruin your combo, either. While you can counter attacks in Caped Crusader fashion, missing a counter will ruin your combo; in fact, it’s one of the only moves that will. The enemies very rarely offer anything different or surprising, except the occasional shiny, new appearance. The biggest battle you will face in Out of the Shadows is the battle with the camera, which seems to focus primarily on the “too bad” angle. Want to see what you’re doing in combat? Too bad. Want the same for platforming? Too bad about that, too.
This meshes in perfectly with the next biggest problem with the game—not knowing where to go, what to do, or how to do it. As you go from one objective to another, you’ll find yourself backtracking, hoping that eventually something you come in contact with will cue you with a yellow glow. When you finally manage to trigger cutscenes, they are presented in a boring “animated” comic strip style.
The plot isn’t anything special, but it stays true to what fans have come to expect from a TMNT game. In fact, Out of the Shadows shines the brightest with its writing. Silly one-liners, pizza references, and witty commentary flourish in this Summer of Arcade selection, and each hero’s individual personality shows. It’s enough for any fan of the franchise to get teary eyed from nostalgia. Like other aspects of the game, this too, only works when it…works. The sound mixing leaves a lot to be desired. The techno beats making up the bulk of the soundtrack are often so loud that they overpower many of the quips and references that make the game so enjoyable.
I wish the solid combat system and personality packed writing was enough to make TMNT: Out of the Shadows a good game in its own right. Instead it turns a frustratingly unplayable game into a forgettable one, with a few sweet surprises in store for people who know where to look. While fans of the franchise may be able to turn a blind eye to the game’s more disappointing faults in order to live the adventures of their favorite reptilian icons, gamers looking for a solid beat-em-up adventure should look elsewhere. My suggestion? Forage through the cushions of your couch for some change, hit up the closest arcade you can find, and pray to the virtual gods that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cabinet is still working.