Back in the 1980s, Mirage Comics introduced a generation of kids to a gritty, black and white world of underground sewers, mad scientists, mutated rats, and heroes in half-shells: the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles*. Not long afterwards, the comic book was transformed into a kids television series, that quickly spun off numerous live-action movies (the qualities of which can be argued elsewhere), and an arcade game that drained me of more change than any other arcade game ever, except for one (which we won't discuss here).
Now more than a decade later, in unison with a television revival of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a brand new cartoon, Konami has developed and released a new version of the TMNT arcade game for the console (we will be discussing the Playstation 2 version here), thus making the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles available to an entirely new generation of kids, as well as providing some nostalgia to those of us around the first time! When I first laid my eager little hands on the game, I was excited but wary...would it, could it compete with my fond memories of the old arcade game? On top of that, I haven't been able to catch up with the new television series, so all of my preconceptions were based upon the old Saturday morning cartoon I loved as a kid. So with a mixed bag of emotions, I started up the game and settled in to play.
* Note: I understand in Britain during the 80s, the TMNT were actually called the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, due to broadcasting restrictions.
As the PS2 roared to life, the Konami logo blazed to life in brilliant red and black on a bright white background (this is important later on...), but as soon as the logo fades, it's quickly replaced by a stirring theme song and animated sequence taken straight from the new cartoon. The theme song is rather catchy, and tends to stick in your head (particularly as you'll be hearing quite a few variations on it throughout the rest of the game). The introductory cartoon plays for about a minute, showing the turtles in action against some of the enemies you'll be facing in the game itself. Of course, you can choose to skip through the intro and head directly to title screen, which instructs you to Press Start to Begin.
The introduction really does a good job in getting you into the mood for kicking some butt and taking name as one of the turtles, which is what it's supposed to do. I have to admit, every time I turn the game on, I end up watching through the cartoon intro again, just because it amuses me. It's not often that I'll watch a game's intro more than once or twice, usually I'm too impatient to get to the game, but this is one that I don't mind watching again and again and inflicting mercilessly upon anyone unlucky enough to be around when I'm in the mood for some Turtle Power.
I do have to admit that as a fan of the old cartoon and arcade game, I do sort of miss the old theme song, but that's just the nostalgiac* in me. The new introduction actually makes me want to get up early enough to catch the new animated series! Anyways, the first impressions I had of the game were pretty good, so there you have it. Now, on with the proper review of the game.
* Nostalgiac: Nostalgia + Maniac = You do the math.
Once you press the start button and go to the main menu, , you have a number of options to begin with, although as you accomplish more within the game, with other options becoming available later on.
To begin with, you can choose to play Story Mode, VS. Mode, a mode called Challenge Mode (which is unlocked once you have completed the game with all four characters, but is otherwise grayed out at the beginning), the usual Options, Bonus Features, Save and Load. In the Options menu, you can turn on Auto-Saving - which is a bloody good idea to do from the get go, as it will save you from every having to manually save and reload every time you accomplish something! Considering the game only saves after you complete an entire Stage, not Area by Area, trust me on this one, you'll be thankful for the autosave.
In Story Mode, you have the choice of a One Player or Two Player game, where you'll get to play one of the four main characters - the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (d'uh!): Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, or Donatello. Each turtle wields a different weapon and wears a different color bandana/eye-mask (they are "ninja" after all, so must disguise their faces...or something like that). Leonardo in blue wields a katana, Michelangelo in orange wields two nunchuku, Raphael in red wields two sai (short blades), and Donatello in purple wields a bo staff. Although all four characters follow the same storyline, along the way, there are different things that can only be unlocked by specific characters. For example, to unlock Casey Jones in the VS. Mode of the game, you must play through as Raphael.
The Two Player game takes the concept that Player One is the main character and Player Two is just a support character. This keys in to the types of Makimono Scrolls you'll find (see the Extras section below), the general storyline followed (such as the need for Player One to be playing Raphael in order to meet with and unlock Casey Jones for VS. Mode), and the Dojo/Ordeal Stages.
Playing through Story Mode, each portion of the game is broken into Stages and Areas. There are six Stages in the game, each broken into any where from 5 through 8 Areas within each Stage. As you begin a Stage, future Stages are grayed out and inaccessible until you complete each Area within the Stage. Selecting the Stage, you are dropped into the first Area, and like future Stages, future Areas are grayed out and inaccessible, although you can get a good idea of how long each Stage is and the upcoming Areas you'll be going through.
The various strengths of the four primary characters are fairly well balanced between speed, strength, and defense. Each character has a Weak (but quicker) attack and a Strong (but slower) attack to begin with. Characters can also jump and double-jump (for that little extra bit of height), throw various types of shuriken picked up by destroying various crates scattered throughout the levels, do a dash attack, and a juggle attack. However, to begin with, don't expect to be able to do a jump attack! Yep, for the entire first Stage, none of the Turtles can jump attack! I was quite disgusted by this, particularly as you find out after completing the first Stage, the second Stage is a Dojo area where you have to complete a task within a set amount of time to unlock your jump attack ability! Okay, I rationalized, you are supposed to be playing the Turtles fairly early on in their careers, but they haven't yet mastered jumping and attacking at the same time? And they call themselves Ninja? (Oh, and in this game, just because they are called Ninja, don't expect any stealth whatsoever! This is a platform beat-'em-up, more akin to Ninja Gaiden than Tenchu.) Similar Dojo Stages are found periodically spread between the rest of the Stages, but as you complete each of them, they only provide offensive or defensive "power" ups, purportedly making you stronger, but considering your opponents also get more difficult as you progress, this doesn't really seem to have much effect in game unless you go back to replay earlier levels to hunt for Makimono Scrolls.
Now, if you remember the old arcade game, each Turtle had a "Super" attack, depending on his weapon type. Well, there is a super attack in this game as well, called Gembu Power, however, don't expect to even catch a glimpse of what it is (or to use it) until you've played through and defeated the final Ordeal/Dojo Stage right before the last Stage of the game with ALL FOUR Turtles. Yep, that's right. To unlock the jump attack for each turtle, you have to play as Player One with that Turtle and complete the first Dojo Stage, but to unlock your Super attack, you have to complete the final Ordeal/Dojo Stage with all the characters...so don't expect to see or use the Gembu Power ability until around the time you've probably already moved on to another game. Major loss of cool points here, I'm afraid.
The Areas within each Stage are fairly linear, requiring you to defeat a certain number of spawned enemies before you can progress (you'll even get a red glowing wall of force preventing you from progressing until you've defeated every enemy the game wants you to defeat), so there is no dead rush to the end of the level. You are provided a nifty little radar screen in the lower right hand corner of the screen that keeps track of where your enemies are in relation to you, as well as showing the number of enemies remaining at the moment. However, there are some enemies that are "stealth" ninjas (yeah, I know, redundant, but bear with me), that are invisible half of the time (in the overused Predator distortion effect that that movie has much to answer for) and don't show up as blips on your radar. It's kind of clever, so I didn't mind it at all.
You'll find as you play that with your weak attack, you'll be able to juggle your opponents and start racking up a Combo for a string of uninterrupted attacks. Considering most enemies, not including bosses, will be defeated after just a few hits though, this is more just something you use to rack up overall points at the end of each Area. The problem comes in, however, with the fact that just as opponents cannot escape from a Combo unless they're knocked out of reach, you too cannot escape a Combo if you are caught in one; sometimes, this is more than a mere annoyance, when you are surrounded by enemies who keep juggling you back and forth and you cannot do a thing except howl in anger as you watch your health meter deplete with frightening quickness. This ties in with another gripe of mine: the lack of blocking. You are supposed Ninja... and you are TURTLES... yet you cannot block a single attack. You can hopefully jump out of the way, but don't expect to use your shell for anything except as a cosmetic accessory. Now, as I tend to forget about block buttons in half the games I play, this could just be me being difficult, except you will encounter bosses that BLOCK! There is one boss, in particular, that blocks about 75% of your attacks, period. And if you attack him from behind, he bends over backwards (literally) and gets a free counterattack against you. I was not a happy camper at this point. Yet another major loss of cool points here.
As you complete each Area, you are scored based upon how many points you gained (from defeating enemies, finding items in crates, etc.), the maximum Combo you were able to execute, and the time it took you to complete the area (which is typically less than a few minutes). High Scores for each are recorded, and if you're the type who wants to be the Best of the Best, then it provides you with an ironclad goal to accomplish when you replay each Area.
Besides the Story Mode, as mentioned, there are two other game modes: Versus Mode & Challenge Mode. In Versus Mode, you can choose either one of the Turtles or one of the characters you have unlocked by performing/playing certain characters through Story Mode. You can unlock Casey Jones, Shredder, Evil Turtlebot, and a number of other characters found in the game in order to fight one on one against another player or against the computer. Now, don't be expecting a true fighting game here. These are quick, dirty fights that the winner is going to be determined by whomever can be the first to execute a Combo/Juggle attack on their opponent. Good for showing off some of the characters, or perhaps beating on a particularly disliked character just for giggles and grins.
The Challenge Mode, which you unlock after completing the game through with all four characters, is basically a survival match. You will fight every enemy in the game straight through, with only a brief rest between matches for you to catch your breath before the next enemy appears. And there are quite a few, as this not only includes the throwaway creatures and mooks, but also each and every boss in the game. Have fun! Thankfully, crates appear bearing shuriken, health restoration items (soda, pizza, hamburgers...the junk food the Turtles love so much), and temporary power ups.
Honestly, except for playing Versus Mode a few times against some friends of mine, I haven't really found myself even wanting to access these parts of the game. The Versus matches are quick and simple, and Challenge Mode...well, perhaps the memory of my about tearing my hair out with frustration and hollering pointlessly at the screen as I complained about the unfairness of certain bosses is too fresh in my mind that I don't really plan on reliving them any time soon, much less having to face them one after another. Die-hard "133t" gamers will probably adore the Challenge Mode, but for me, it's just not my cup of tea.
TMNT is a platform game, just like many others out there. In some ways, the level design reminded me of Batman: Rise of Sin-Tzu, just without the annoying countdown timer. As far as I could tell, it doesn't really offer anything out of the ordinary, that you couldn't find in any other platform game, and in many cases I was disappointed by the lack. Once again, as with Batman: Rise of Sin-Tzu, although I hated the countdown timer, I liked the fact you could unlock new attacks and abilities with the points you gained from each level. TMNT gives you Dojo Stages which reputedly do the same, but it's for such things as a basic jump attack and nebulous increases to stats that you don't even see.
One nice feature, however, is the Passwords you are given. If you accomplish certain things, such as completing a Dojo Stage extremely quickly, or by completing the game, you are provided with a Password. You are not told what exactly the Password does, but if you go to the Password in the Options Menu, you can implement the given password and unlock certain extras, ranging from stat increases, extra shuriken, increased bandana length (I kid you not), etc. This is a nifty little feature, but since I consider it more an Extra than a core feature of the game, I don't place too much weight on it in overall game features.
One place this game definitely shines through is in the graphics department. More and more games now-a-days are utilizing the distinctive cell-shading style found in anime and cartoons. This gives the games a distinctive "cartoony" appearance. Well, considering this is a game based on a cartoon, it works beautifully. Bright primary and secondary colors shine through, and there are some instances where the enemies you're fighting look exactly as they would appear in the cartoon! I was pretty impressed. Now, the Turtles themselves seem a bit blockier in game play then they do in the cartoon sequences, but they are still pretty cool looking. And of course, the fully animated sequences are straight from the cartoon studios, so they look spot on. Combined with the music and sound, it really gives you an immersive gameplay experience.
While some levels aren't all that spectacular, there are some levels that are absolutely gorgeous. This is a linear platform game, but some levels are pretty expansive and wide open, so you do get a chance to look around and take in the sights. Each Area begins with a camera's eye view that sweeps through the level, truly showing off all the pretty colors and designs of the levels (as well as conveniently showing you where some crates are scattered, for those much needed health boosts). Then if the Area doesn't begin with an animated sequence, it shows a cut scene of the in game Turtles speaking with one another, with voice overs as well as with balloon pop-up dialogue boxes. Considering some of the Extras below, this can be rather amusing, but I'll tell you about those down below.
Music & Sound
Okay, the voice acting for the game is undoubtedly top notch, as they are the voice actors from the animated series. Professional in every respect, the voices fit even the incidental characters. Now, unfortunately, as the Turtles tend to shout out various things as they are performing their Strong attacks, you will end up hearing the same catch phrases rather often. One more, "I'll be the bat, you be the ball!" and I'll probably pick up a baseball bat and imagine the television screen is the baseball...but that could also be because Casey Jones was always one of my favorite characters anyways, and after playing him for awhile, I think I've begun channeling his spirit.
The theme song is catchy, as I said above, and the music for each level is upbeat without being annoying.
If you're an Extras hound like I am, then you are going to love this game. Hidden throughout the various Areas of the game are Makimono Scrolls. There are gray "generic" scrolls and then there are color-coded scrolls. Each scroll you uncover in the game will unlock a new concept sketch for you to look through. The color-coded scrolls are coded based upon the color worn by one of the four Turtles: red, blue, orange, or purple. These scrolls only appear in the Areas depending upon which Turtle is chosen as Player One. But considering to unlock a number of things you need to play through the game as all four Turtles (as Player One), you have plenty of opportunities to uncover these scrolls, although considering there are more than 90 scrolls...well, have fun finding them!
The scrolls, however, are just the beginning! It is possible to unlock both Master Splinter and Casey Jones as characters in Story Mode, besides having them available in Versus Modes. Of course, it's not exactly easy to unlock the two of them, as to unlock Master Splinter you need to beat the game with all four Turtles (you'll also see the "true" ending animation, instead of the standard one you get the first few times you beat the game), and to unlock Casey Jones, you'll have to beat the Challenge Mode in under 15 minutes.
Speaking of Versus Mode, to begin with you only have the four Turtles, but you can unlock additional characters for Versus by accomplishing certain things in the game: such as the aforementioned unlocking Casey Jones by playing Raphael through the first Stage. This includes Evil Turtlebot, Hun, Casey Jones, Master Splinter, Shredder...and others.
But that's not all kiddies! You can receive Passwords for alternate costumes for the Turtles, and if you either happen to be playing on October 31st, December 24th, or December 25th (or if you set your Playstation 2's internal clock to those dates), you get to play the Turtles in appropriately holiday themed outfits! Now, it's this kind of Easter Egg in a game I adore, just for sheer amusement factor...plus, it shows the developers have a sense of humor and a sense of whimsy.
There are other things you can unlock in the game as well, but I'll go ahead and let you either play the game and figure them out yourself, or check out a game FAQs like any other human being instead of wasting any more space here with them!
Considering all the things you can unlock, plus the need to accomplish certain things with all FOUR Turtles, plus the added bonus of being able to play through Story Mode as both Master Shredder and Casey Jones, there's definitely quite a bit of replay value for the game. With steady game play, you can probably accomplish the Story Mode with a single character in a matter of hours, as most Areas take only a few minutes to get through. It may not rank up there with the first thing you pull out to play most days, however, I cannot cast any aspirations on the game's amusement value when you've got friends over, particularly friends with fond memories of the old, classic arcade game and cartoon.
Even as I approach 30 years of age, I'm still quite open about admitting I loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a kid and even now have fond memories of the show. It was those fond memories that lead me to wanting to check out this incarnation of the animated series and the video game. Although I do enjoy the new game, I must admit that I don't think it has the same nostalgia factor as the classic one did. I don't know if that's because of my age (somehow, considering my hobbies and interests, I doubt it is this) or if it's because somehow I've glorified the old so much the new can't completely replace it.
April owns and runs an Antiques Shop in the game, as she does in the new series, but to me, April will always be a roving reporter. It's a shame really, as the original cartoon is a departure from the original comic, and the new animated series is much more true to the comic book; and although I have nothing against resurrecting old ideas and polishing them up for a new generation, there are some things that the original is definitely better. I cannot comment on the new cartoon series compared to the old, but when it comes to video platform games, this one just isn't as cool as the old one was.
It's definitely a pretty game, but they really could have done a lot more with the primary characters. Limited amounts of throwables, inability to utilize the "special" ability of the character until not only late in the game, but requiring playing of all four characters through nearly the entire game before making the ability even available...these are just a few things that detracted from my enjoyment of the game. So, in the end... while I really wanted to like this game, I can't say I liked it even half as much as I wanted to.