The talented (seriously, check out his comics) Josh Nickerson has been playing the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game on 3DS, and blessed us with this guest review to tell us all about the game. Please enjoy.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have had a turbulent history with video games. One could argue that there hasn’t been a decent TMNT game since Tournament Fighters back in 1993, with the sole exception being the GBA game based on the 2007 animated movie, made by Ubisoft of all developers. That trend would seem to continue with Activision picking up the video game rights to the current Nickelodeon animated series. However, after dumping out a couple of turtles turds such as “Out of the Shadows”, Activision slipped up and hired a decent developer to produce the next game, namely the good folks at WayForward. Now, WayForward, while most of their original output has been at the very least solid, their licensed games have ranged from good (Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why’d You Steal Our Garbage?) to terrible (Regular Show: Mordecai and Rigby in 8-Bit World). Still, I was optimistic that they could pull off a decent platformer. But by the time the game released in the game glut month known as November, I had forgotten about the game, distracted by sleeper hits such as Super Smash Bros.
It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that I remembered the game even existed, as I found it marked down on clearance at my local Best Buy. Deciding to give it a shot, I bought it and put it in my game case. The following day during my lunch break at work I popped it into my 3DS, intending to just give it a quick look before moving on to other games… It stayed in the cartridge slot until the end of the week, when I cleared 100% of the game. To my surprise it was a great, if a bit flawed, Metroidvania style game! It was also to my surprise, upon looking on the internet for further information, to find it was reviewed terribly upon release, with many complaining about backtracking (in a Metriod-style game?!? Nooooo…) and high difficulty (I never got a game over, the closest I got was against the final boss). The game has its issues, sure, but it’s far from a terrible game. I felt it was my duty as a lifelong turtle fan and a video game enthusiast to spread the word about this hidden diamond in the rough.
The game opens up with a short tutorial on special moves (dubbed “Shell Kickers” by the green teens, much to Splinter’s chagrin) and then it’s on to the plot. It’s rather basic compared to the fare you’d see on the current show… Shredder has his hands on some sort of “Super Mutagen” and it’s up to the fearsome four to get it back… and, that’s about it. You’ll travel through the city and the sewers, to Dimension X and back, fighting baddies and performing ninja acrobatics along the way. One thing I did not expect was that the game features full voice acting from the show’s original cast. The acting during the cut scenes are well done, and even the voice clips that play during gameplay are varied enough to prevent them from being annoying (though if they do, there is an option to turn them off completely). The cut scene dialogue also changes depending on what Turtle you happen to be controlling at the time. The music is also well done, taking cues from the theme song and providing each area with two different themes; a relaxed, ambient theme that plays while exploring, while a faster, more amped up version starts up when encountering enemies.
The graphics are similarly well done. I played the 3DS version, so I can only assume the PS3 and 360 versions of the game feature more shiny HD graphics. The Turtles look like their respective selves, with plenty of charm in their idle animations. Background detail is pretty impressive, with plenty of pun filled storefronts littering the streets of New York and obscure references in the sewers. The 3D works rather well for this side-scroller, as each area feels like a pop-up book, with walls and barriers popping out.
Gameplay is very much like Metroid, from the very start of the game you’re teased with passages and doors that are inaccessible until you obtain new moves and items later in the game. New weapons such as smokebombs and shuriken can be found in certain chambers and you can learn new moves by running into friendly characters from the show. The combat system is a bit clunky, but more than manageable with a bit of practice. As you strike enemies with your standard attack and go into a combo, you can activate a special “Shell Kicker” finishing move by holding the control pad in a certain direction as you chain your fourth hit. These can be useful in sending smaller enemies flying into the air or into other baddies, and will be absolutely essential to use when fighting certain bosses. Otherwise, the controls are smooth, and you’ll be performing ninja acrobatics with ease. You can swap between any of the four turtles at any time, and aside from the reach of their weapons, they’re all pretty much the same with slight differences… for instance, Leo can take out enemies slightly faster with his kataka blades, while Mikey has a slightly higher jump.
The game also features an experience system, which can help upgrade your special moves, but it’s unbalanced, as you will earn enough experience to max out all four turtles less than two hours into the game. At that point, fighting enemies becomes pointless unless absolutely necessary, and can quickly become unrewarding when you have to backtrack through areas and fight re-spawned enemies over and over again… that is, unless you WANT to fight them…
You’ll discover part of the fun of the game is AVOIDING fights with the grunts (unless you’ve gotta refill on items), since unlike the arcade games of old, you don’t have to defeat a screen of enemies to progress. You can act like a real ninja, using stealth to avoid detection, jumping off a wall, air dashing then using a smoke bomb to teleport to the other side of the screen, all while the baddies are clueless to your presence. It’s fun to try and clear an area without being detected or hit, and I’ve discovered a few shortcuts by accident simply by experimenting in finding the most stealthy path through an area.
I’ve been praising this game, but are there shortcomings? Well, yes, like many other licensed games, it features a few flaws, most glaringly in it’s length… it’s a rather short game, and if you’re not aiming for 100% completion, an experienced gamer could blow through it in a few hours (though speedrunners might enjoy it as a warm-up for a more intense Metroidvania game). The life system is a bit undercooked as well… when a turtle runs out of energy, he is “captured”, and you’ll have to locate him on the map to rescue him. While you can avoid this by swapping out turtles when they’re low on life, having it happen once can really disrupt the flow of the game. And despite the show having a rather large cast of mutants to pull from, there are surprisingly few boss fights, which is disappoiting, and they are all pretty easy… except for Shredder (uh-oh, did I just spoil the fact that Shredder’s a boss in a Ninja Turtle game?), the battle with him requires you to perform the right “Shell Kicker” at the right moment, which can lead to some frustration. I also ran into a couple of bugs late into the game, one of which forced me to reset my game; to be fair, I did encounter that one when I was attempting to sequence break an area.
While far from the near-perfection of similar games such as Super Metroid and Symphony of the Night, Danger of the Ooze puts forth a solid effort, especially for a licensed game. It makes good use of the Ninja Turtle franchise, while providing a game that isn’t yet another platformer or by the numbers beat-em-up. If you’re a fan of the series* or if you’re in the mood for a quick and easy Metroidvania you can blow through in a week, it’s well worth seeking out. As for me, all this Turtle Talk has got me craving some pizza…
(*Be forewarned, the game’s plot contains some spoilers if you’ve yet to watch the first two seasons of the show)