Teenage Mutant Ninja Tur­tles: Mu­tants In Man­hat­tan

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360, PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox One

It’s im­pos­si­ble to stag­ger all but the weak­est op­po­nents, so your of­fence is con­stantly in­ter­rupted

De­vel­oper Plat­inum-Games Pub­lisher Ac­tivi­sion For­mat 360, PC, PS3, PS4 (tested), Xbox One Re­lease Out now

Well, this is all a bit em­bar­rass­ing. And not just the early-’90s surf-dude chat­ter of the pro­tag­o­nists. Upon its an­nounce­ment, Mu­tants In Man­hat­tan was a de­li­cious prospect, a four­player, on­line-en­abled, 3D-car­toon call­back to the clas­sic Tur­tles In Time coin-op, made by the best ac­tion-game stu­dio on the planet. What it’s turned out to be, though, is a sham­bles.

It is, by a dis­tance, the worst game Plat­inum has ever made, which isn’t es­pe­cially sur­pris­ing given how thinly the stu­dio has been spread­ing it­self of late. Mu­tants In Man­hat­tan ar­rives just eight months af­ter the re­lease of Trans­form­ers Dev­as­ta­tion, Plat­inum’s pre­vi­ous Ac­tivi­sion gig; it’s al­ready made a Star Fox for Nin­tendo this year, has a Nier game due for Square Enix this winter, and Xbox One ex­clu­sive Scale­bound is out in 2017. Some­thing, some­where had to give. This is it.

Where the stu­dio has stum­bled in the past, it hasn’t done so in its me­chan­ics. At the core of ev­ery Plat­inum ac­tion game lies a sat­is­fy­ing, tightly de­signed com­bat sys­tem – one that in some cases is so good play­ers are pre­pared to over­look a game’s more ob­vi­ous fail­ings. Con­sider that en­vi­able win­ning streak bro­ken. There might well be a de­cent fight­ing game un­der­neath Mu­tants In Man­hat­tan’s chaotic, frus­trat­ing ac­tion, but it’s im­pos­si­ble to find it on a messy screen filled with en­e­mies that seem de­signed not to em­power a flex­i­ble com­bat sys­tem, but pre­vent you from us­ing it.

Bomb-wield­ers ex­plode on con­tact, so must be dis­patched with a shuriken throw, as must no end of drones and laser emit­ters. Another foe throws a bola that wraps around your body, stun­ning you for a few sec­onds. It’s im­pos­si­ble to stag­ger all but the weak­est op­po­nents, so your of­fence is con­stantly in­ter­rupted – if not by a punch swung by a foe that can some­how ig­nore the beat­ing it’s tak­ing, then by a drone or pro­jec­tile; and if not by a drone or pro­jec­tile, then by an AI ally dash­ing in with the killing blow be­fore you can mine the po­ten­tial depths of the combo sys­tem.

Well, ‘ally’ is an odd de­scrip­tion. While your three ac­com­plices are quick to re­vive you when you’re downed – a key me­chanic here, since a timer count­down will boot a player out of the ac­tion for a spell if they’re not picked up quickly – the rest of the time they’re use­less, run­ning about ran­domly, at­tack­ing in­ef­fi­ciently, wast­ing cooldown-con­trolled skills on the rank and file, jump­ing straight off ledges, or run­ning around in cir­cles un­til you show them where to go. There’s on­line co-op too, though we’re yet to find a sin­gle part­ner, the week-of-re­lease ar­rival of the re­view code do­ing noth­ing to stop word spread­ing of this be­ing a bit of a stinker.

Still, there are flashes of po­ten­tial here. The four cast mem­bers play slightly dif­fer­ently, and we were in­trigued by Donatello’s bo com­bos, in­clud­ing a pleas­ingly ridicu­lous launcher that pro­pels foes straight up off the screen for a sec­ond or two. It would be a fine crowd-con­trol tool were we able to use it be­fore a part­ner swoops in to land the killing blow. Skills – mapped to the face but­tons and ac­ti­vated by first squeez­ing the left trig­ger – are pow­er­ful, can be up­graded, and of­ten re­mind you of other, bet­ter games. Sum­mon a gi­ant base­ball bat that knocks an en­emy fly­ing and shaves a hefty chunk off their health bar and you can’t help but think of Clover’s God Hand and won­der at which point it all went so hor­ri­bly wrong. Mean­while, charms af­ford pas­sive buffs, an in­trigu­ing idea ren­dered point­less by the near-con­stant need to use your shuriken. With just one charm slot open on Nor­mal dif­fi­culty, you’ll take our Rapid Shuriken perk from our cold, dead hands.

Other slots un­lock on higher dif­fi­cul­ties, but we don’t fore­see ever ex­pe­ri­enc­ing them un­less it’s part of some cruel and un­usual pun­ish­ment. Mis­sion de­sign is a phoned-in suc­ces­sion of fetch, carry and kill quests marred by ran­dom en­emy spawns and seem­ingly ran­dom ob­jec­tive place­ment, the lat­ter ask­ing that you criss-cross dreary en­vi­ron­ments, the for­mer pre­sum­ably meant to break the pace but in­stead slow­ing things down even fur­ther. Fre­quently you’ll need to defuse a bomb, which in­volves hold­ing a but­ton down while your char­ac­ter is crouched down, im­mo­bile. Like clock­work, when the com­ple­tion me­ter is half full, a group of en­e­mies will spawn from the ether and start to fling bombs at you. Your AI al­lies will ig­nore them.

And if you thought Trans­form­ers Dev­as­ta­tion reused its en­vi­ron­ments too lib­er­ally, try this for size. The third level takes you down to the sew­ers; the fourth to the city rooftops. Then you’re in the sew­ers again, but they’re flooded. Then you’re back on top of sky­scrapers, but this time it’s dark and windy. Dur­ing your sec­ond trip be­low ground, the Tur­tles’ news­caster pal April pipes up over the comms: “Huh, it’s like there’s no end to this place.” There is re­ally no need to rub it in.

Boss bat­tles, mean­while, draw on TMNT’s long his­tory, though we must have missed the graphic novel where Be­bop, Rock­steady et al were mag­i­cally en­dowed with seven health bars and an en­rage mode that kicks in when they’re down to their last two. One even has two sets of seven health bars, with failure on the sec­ond form’s en­rage mode kick­ing you back to the start of the first fight. There are flashes of smart de­sign – the fight with the shark-like Ar­mag­gon is a rare high­light – but at­tack cues are hard to pick out amid the chaos, and even while you’re deftly avoid­ing Ar­mag­gon’s toxic wa­ter at­tacks it’s hard to es­cape the fear it’s Plat­inum, not you, that’s just jumped the shark. The re­sult isn’t the re­birth of a for­mer gi­ant, but a warn­ing to a cur­rent one. Plat­inum needs to take a lit­tle more care when it comes to pick­ing its bat­tles.

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