TMNT: Out of the Shadows Review
Well, summer is almost over—all the telltale signs are right in front of us. Kids are back in school, Madden just hit store shelves and Xbox Live’s Summer of Arcade has come to a close with the release of TMNT: Out of the Shadows.
Rounding out a particularly charged list of Arcade titles over the past four weeks, TMNT is the big-ticket title that fans of all ages have been waiting for. However, when Activision decided to team up with Nickelodeon—the current owners of the TMNT franchise—to make this game, they should have realized a certain level of expectation would precede them. A successful foray into the TMNT realm would have to do at least one of two things to be considered even a small success:
- Evoke the nostalgic memories of anyone over the age of 25, harkening back to such arcade-port classics as TMNT II: The Arcade Game on the NES and TMNT: Turtles in Time on the SNES.
- Failing to do that, it should be such a standout experience that adults manage to look past the missing nostalgia, and kids that are getting their first taste of a TMNT video game can look back on it in 10 years the way we look back on the aforementioned titles.
Unfortunately, Out of the Shadows manages to miss the mark on the first criteria, but luckily the game’s fun-factor is so high, that I think it may have just cleared the hurdle on the second.
This doesn’t mean that Out of the Shadows is free of issues.
The first major issue with Out of the Shadows is one that I won’t touch on too deeply here, and that is the lack of responsible ownership of the source material. Nickelodeon’s current TMNT TV show makes a mockery of the turtles my generation grew up with—and remember, we had three live-action TMNT movies, so that’s saying something. Activision’s adaptation in Out of the Shadows strays even farther from the original green team, making them all look really weird, for lack of more eloquent phrasing.
Raphael looks like he swallowed a refrigerator (see image at top), Donatello needs some major dental work and both Donnie and Michelangelo look like a light breeze could snap them in two. Team-leader, Leonardo, is about the closest to the classic turtle look, but their distinct lack of regular noses (so far as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’s nose can look “normal”), and clearly altered face-shapes really alienates my generation from the get go.
I think this could have been largely improved with a little oversight from the team that made the original series such a hit, but that isn’t how the business world normally works, so we’ll leave it at that.
Additionally, the game offers explanation and character interaction in a full 3D environment, and yet falls back on comic-book style cel-to-cel, 2D animation for all of the cutscenes. I have trouble believing either Nickelodeon or Activision were working on a tight budget with this franchise, so you’ll have to forgive me when I say that just seems terribly lazy.
Out of the Shadows plays like a standard brawler, and features both split-screen and Xbox Live co-op if you want to bring some friends along for the ride. Not having played the 2007 TMNT game, I can’t speak to whether or not it featured the same play-style, but in Out of the Shadows even if you play alone, the full TMNT squad will have your back throughout your adventure.
This seemed like a solid addition, seeing as the last TMNT game I played was on the SNES and if you played alone, you played alone. Luckily the team AI in Out of the Shadows is fairly competent, so you won’t have to constantly worry about bailing out your teammates during tough fights—mostly because there aren’t any.
The enemy AI is super predictable and doesn’t present much of a challenge. Additionally, the game tries to sport a watered-down stealth mechanic, but you can run right up behind a guy without needing to sneak and still achieve the same stealth KO as if you tiptoed up behind him.
Fighting borrows heavily from the brawler mechanics made popular by Rocksteady’s Batman games, with live-action counters during multi-enemy battles. Additionally, you’ll encounter knife-wielding enemies who require special three-button counter attacks to avoid, and special enemies who can launch heavy-duty attacks if not properly countered. Unfortunately because this is merely an arcade experience while the homage to the mechanics is nice, it doesn’t work nearly as well as it’s triple-A counterpart.
Countering is a clumsy, if not unpredictable battle with your B-button and a bit of luck. Special moves are executed by holding down the right trigger and then spinning the right joystick during fights—which is a bit jarring seeing as standard combat is relegated to the X and Y buttons. Even worse, healing a downed turtle means hovering over them while holding the right trigger and pressing the left shoulder-button.
All in all it leaves fighting feeling like an ornate game of Twister and not a fluid combat experience.
In fact, it got me thinking, wouldn’t it be really awesome if Rocksteady left Gotham for a while and made an adult, gritty and proper TMNT game? It could support up to four players, or go in single-handed and would be absolutely perfect for their amazing brawler mechanics. While the idea is cool, you can see how Out of the Shadows leaves you wanting just a little bit more, but also leaves you unable to find it.
At this point, you’re probably wondering where the fun is amidst all this complaining. Now, I don’t know if it’s just inherent in the property itself or not, but for some reason bashing baddies’ heads in with a pair of nunchucks while discussing the moral implication of pizza consumption is just unadulterated fun. Always has been, always will be.
Yes the combat is a bit messy, but even playing alone you’re going to enjoy beating up Shredder’s foot soldiers, the all too obviously alien Krang and the Purple Dragon Gang. Yes the turtles look awkward, but they still sound and act just as you’d expect them to—the ever-honorable Leo, the hot-headed Raph, the awkwardly brilliant Donnie and, well, Mikey. In fact, the game is worth playing through at least once just to hear half of the ridiculous things Michelangelo has to say.
The game also offers a leveling up mechanic which, despite being just a big too much, adds a little depth to the traditional brawler aspect of the game. Add in the ability to upgrade weapons and you have the starting of what could have been a slightly successful RPG element to the game, if it had just seen a little more attention before launch.
So, does Out of the Shadows measure up to the hype and its $15 price tag? In some ways yes, but in a lot of ways, no, not really. If you have some friends to play with (local or online), or don’t mind teaming up with strangers, then it could be worth the full price at launch. Outside of that, I’d hold off for an inevitable price drop.
Oh, and there is one, unforgivable sin in Out of the Shadows. To extend the gameplay value of the title, Activision included an accessible “Arcade Mode” off of the main menu, where you play with Donatello’s home-built arcade machine. At $15, the absolute least the team could have done is include a port of one of the original TMNT games here—Flashback and many other games have done the exact same thing, and often at a lower price point.
But no, what do you get when you play the Arcade mode? Just a 3D side-scrolling brawler akin to the main game, with very few, small, subtle hints of references to the old games.
This is nothing short of a slap in my childhood, and is one of the game’s largest shortcomings.
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