Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants In Manhattan
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.