If the '90s taught us anything, it's that dangerous, carcinogenic material will give you super powers. Though the woe-begotten citizens of Chernobyl would fervently disagree, the pop culture phenomenon this notion spurred on engulfed everything from comic books to television. Not the least of the spin-offs were Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles--a comic book originally penned to parody other comics that bought into the trope, namely Marvel Comics' The New Mutants and Frank Miller's Daredevil. Though Eastman and Laird's creation was a huge hit at its premier comic convention, its immediate popularity led it from its satirical roots and well into the realm of mainstream success--spawning countless television shows, action figures, breakfast cereals and videogames. Almost overnight, Eastman and Laird became multi-millionaires.
Now, over 20 years after the debut of the original comic, the Turtles are experiencing a revival. The popularity of the new animated television show paved the way for the upcoming CG animated movie, and--like any good cash cow--spin-offs aplenty. The latest of these comes from Ubisoft in the form of a multi-platform videogame based upon the events of the new film. Though the motivation for the new game was doubtlessly monetary, Ubi has gone and broken the mould for licensed videogames--they actually made something worthwhile, even if it does show its capitalist seams at times.
First impressions of TMNT would have it compared to another popular Ubi title, the Prince of Persia. Switching the Turtles at the touch of a button, the player sails through the linear levels, jumping over enormous walls, fences and other bulwarks, running on walls, and using each character's unique abilities to overcome the different obstacles. In this way, the game's able to make players feel like they're incredibly agile, superhuman reptiles, but a certain lack of polish in some places ends up leaving an otherwise excellent game feeling, well, tarnished.
To put it plainly, TMNT doesn't really know what it wants to be. On one hand, there's the exhilaration of the Turtles' nimble acrobatics, but on the other, all of these fun parts are punctuated by tedium. The combat system is the worst culprit of this, in most cases just boiling down to pointing the turtle at the bad guys and hammering on the circle button like it was dispensing hair dye at an Emo concert. It's spiced up by a couple useful aerial maneuvers and powerful 'family attacks' (tagging in a fellow Turtle for extra damage), but even still, the violence never really does anything but slow down the pace. Possibly the saddest part is that the infrequent brawls could be dismissed as a singular low point if it wasn't for the obtuse fight-mechanics spilling over into the rest of the game.
TMNT uses a power-up system that rewards players for utilizing the Turtles' impressive agility by filling up a 'respect' meter--a gauge at the right of the screen that, when filled, deposits another of the four brothers into a character bank on the left side of the screen. Any one of the Turtles can be switched to by pressing the square button, and they all serve a unique purpose in progressing through the level and fighting through droves of unintelligent baddies. Raphael is the strongest of the bunch, and can drive his dual Sai into brick walls to climb them like a mountaineer scaling a frozen waterfall. Leonardo is the token balanced fighter, and can use his deep meditation skills to phase through gates and fences. Each character's unique skillset goes a long way to adding some much-needed depth to the extremely simple platforming mechanics but the respect of the other Turtles can be lost by botching special moves or taking damage. This can lead to controller-throwing frustration as players find themselves unable to progress as quickly without the abilities of a character they just lost the use of.
The respect system is a tangible boon to the boring combat, but its application to the rest of the game just feels superfluous. There's no complexity added to the gameplay, and all it really serves to do is drag the fun bits of the game down a little closer to the irritating bits. That isn't to say the system should have been done away with entirely, either. Some kind of counterbalance to the extreme ease and lightning pace of the platforming sections is needed, and the respect system does get the job done, despite its ham-fisted implementation. So, while it isn't necessarily a bad idea, it is a badly integrated one.
Ultimately, TMNT is an easy, fun game with one or two major flaws likely resulting from the release being rushed to coincide with the film. Fortunately, its missteps can be largely ignored by fans of the genre or the property--it plays kind of like Prince of Persia Lite. Gone are that game's extreme difficulty and time-consuming puzzles, but it also some of its intelligence, unfortunately. All in all, it's the kind of game that a hardcore might buy for his little brother as a companion to the movie... but then stay up playing all night himself.