One of my favorite gaming experiences ever was hanging around arcades in the early ‘90s and playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time. The core of Ninja Turtles has always been four brothers working together to fight bad guys, and the arcade game really captured that spirit; four people could crowd around a machine, each playing as a different turtle. It was amazing.
I was particularly pleased, then, when I found the new TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan — developed by Japanese studio Platinumgames — manages to capture much of that same spirit, but in the body of a stylish, modern action game. It's impossible to know yet whether Platiunum's game will live up to those lofty expectations — I only managed to play around 20 minutes of the game at a GDC demo — but it's definitely shaping up to be a worthy successor.
If you haven't played one of the revered studio's titles before, the most important thing you need to know about Platinum is that it makes video game action look ridiculously stylish. The developer's previous release, a Transformers game, even made the obnoxious Bumblebee look cool; he could slide between your enemy's legs before taking them out with a well-choreographed kick to the metallic face. TMNT, it turns out, fits the developer's MO perfectly.
Combat is fast and fluid, making it easy to build up almost overwhelmingly huge combos, and letting you string together an absurd number of attacks that can take out multiple foes simultaneously. The turtles can also combine their attacks to create even more devastation. Even moving around the cel-shaded rendition of Manhattan just feels right: you can sprint your turtles up walls and grind on pipes, sort of like an even faster version of the Xbox One game Sunset Overdrive.
TMNT feels very much like an arcade experience
Though it's coming to consoles, the new TMNT feels very much like an arcade experience; it's light on story, with the action taking center stage. While each area in the game features its own distinct boss battle, the encounters you'll have before that are entirely random, a move that Platinum says is so you can play the same section multiple times with different people and not find it repetitive. There's even an arcade-style mini-game when you run out of health; you're transported back to the turtles' subterranean lair where you need to eat pizza as fast as possible. It's sort of like the car crushing mini-game in Street Fighter II, but with more pepperoni.
The game isn't based on any particular version of the 30-year-old characters — Platinum designed their take on the Turtles specifically for this game. The new turtles feel a bit like a cross between the live-action movies and the original animated series, with a dash of anime sensibility (Platinum's take on Donatello could almost be described as pretty). The turtles even wear Google Glass-style augmented reality headsets that let them scan their surroundings, while April O'Neil feeds them information on what to do next.
"We wanted to try to one-up those games."
According to Eiro Shirahama, a designer on the game, one of the things the studio learned from working on licensed games like Transformers is that you really need to understand the source material. "If you don't understand it fully, as a true fan would understand it, it's really hard to make that game," he says. "Luckily we had a lot of people on our team who watched Turtles as kids." The studio also kept the animated series — both the original and the more recent CG incarnation — on loop in the background while they worked, and had a Super Famicom handy so that the developers could go back and check out the older games whenever they wanted. "We wanted to try to one-up those games," he says.
The new TMNT is certainly fun in short doses, but one of the main issues with Platinum's Transformers game was its repetitive structure, and TMNT could well suffer from the same fate. It also won't have the same kind of communal feel as games like Turtles in Time; while Mutants in Manhattan lets you play with up to three friends, you can only do so online, not locally. We'll be able to find out exactly how well the full version stands up when it launches on May 24th on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. In the meantime, while Platinum isn't announcing its next project just yet, Shirahama has some other older licenses he'd like to tackle.
"I'd want to do something like Six Million Dollar Man, with a super-powered main character," he says. "And Mighty Mouse would be pretty cool."