Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (3DS)

Shell shocked

It’s arguably difficult to consider Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV reboot as anything other than a rousing success. Blending together elements from the classic 1987 series with a more modern approach, the show has been a hit with fans both new and old, treading that awkward line between paying homage to the past and blazing a new trail. The show has been such a success that almost every merchandising avenue has turned to gold, yet so far the same cannot be said for the games.

While fans of the original cartoon will have fond memories of the NES and SNES era adaptations, Nickelodeon’s chosen publisher, Activision, has so far failed to live up to expectations; the first of three titles, Out of the Shadows, proved to be a failure both critically and with fans. While Out of the Shadows opted for a more ‘mature’ take on the world of TMNT, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for 3DS takes inspiration solely from the show, and is all the better for it. Unfortunately, the gameplay itself ultimately stops this from being a classic entry.

Billed as an interim story between seasons one and two, the game follows the Turtles tracking down Shredder and the Kraang and foiling a plan to set off a mutagen bomb in New York. Written by the team from the show, the entire game feels like an episode, even going so far as opening with the show’s intro. Inter-stage sequences have all the hallmarks of the show, with brilliant comedy and instantly memorable lines coming across at all times. Characters from throughout the first season make appearances, with fan favourites Shredder and Splinter appearing alongside new mutants Dogpound and Fishface (and even an inclusion for the mutant-hybrid, Justin!).

Voices for this large roster of characters are provided by the voice talent from the show, with the likes of Greg Cipes, Nolan North and Rob Paulsen on typically good form. However, despite the majority of the cast returning, there is one notable exception in the form of Jason Biggs as Leo, something that is painfully obvious alongside the rest of the team.

It’s a shame then that these narrative sequences don’t look as sharp as they could. While they are fully animated, they are animated using in-game models, which don’t fully utilise the power of the 3DS. While it would be a stretch to believe the show’s CGI could be generated by the 3DS, the rough edges on the characters and the lack of lip sync are a disappointment, especially when compared to games like Kid Icarus: Uprising. Given how good the show’s intro sequence looks on the 3DS, it’s a shame some small segments could not have been animated for the game rather than using an engine that clearly wasn’t designed for this purpose.

Once you’re in the game, things are somewhat mixed. Set-up as an arcade brawler, TMNT feels very much like a game from the early ‘90s. Each turtle can be controlled individually, with selections made via the d-pad or touch screen, the latter featuring some superb cartoon artwork, and while they each have their own individual strengths — Raph being better in close combat for example — there’s very little difference between the brothers.

And that’s because the gameplay essentially boils down to running in, hammering the attack button, and leaving. Set across 16 stages, TMNT throws wave after wave of Kraang, Foot Soliders and M.O.U.S.E.R.S. at you, with the simple mandate of destroy them all before they defeat you. It harkens back to a much simpler time, and feels very much like a game born from an arcade cabinet, even going so far as to present you with arcade leaderboards at the end of the stage.

The problem is that the combat has been simplified a little too far. The basic attack button is really all you need, with combos resulting in more points, yet no tangible difference in ability. These points allow for upgrades to be applied to each turtle, but these are merely greater combo sequences or damage improvements. There’s also a throw option available, which allows you to throw enemies at the screen in a nod to Turtles in Time, and a chargeable special attack that affects an area of enemies. But neither of these effect anything but the enemy you’re attacking, with thrown enemies in particular bouncing off anyone else.

Ultimately, a general lack of finesse and skill required to beat the levels is what really holds this game back. Enemies are thrown at you in waves, yet can be easily dispatched by repeated attacks, while the lack of a block or counter button means confronting enemies is a case of attack or be attacked. Much like any arcade game, this chaotic approach is fun for a time, but as the stages pile up it quickly becomes apparent that there are no new ideas coming in, and stage 14 is very much the same as stage 1.

What this means is that you dive into a level, dispatch a screen full of remarkably incompetent Kraang, move on and repeat. Boss battles break up the monotony, but they are rarely more than a case of dodging three of four attacks and then attacking them; all this results in an experience that quickly feels familiar, and once you’ve completed the 3 hour campaign, you’ll certainly feel like you’ve had enough of it.

There’s also a very obvious lack of multiplayer in the 3DS version, and when playing alone your brothers will often just stand around and not help clear the screen. On the rare occasion they do help, it can be something of a mixed blessing, with enemies with shields often trapped in corners making them invulnerable to attack, something which can only be solved by switching turtle and releasing the enemy.

The game also tasks you with hunting down mutagen canisters, which can be found on the streets or, when prompted, found by using the T-Scanner. The scanner is controlled using the gyro in the 3DS; it's simply a case of pointing it at a lock and pressing ‘open’, but it’s a nice addition nonetheless.

But while the gameplay quickly becomes repetitive, there’s still a lot to love about this game for fans of the show. While it’s clear that the gameplay is targeted at a young audience — though even they are likely to get bored of it before the finale three hours later — the styling of the game to be based on the show means that fans will spend those three hours picking up brilliant little franchise nods.

Alongside the narrative sequences that already feel like a part of the show, in-game dialogue between the Turtles is sure to bring a laugh, with Mikey in particular coming up with his usual hilarious nonsense. While a lot of these lines become repetitive after a while, attacking a Kraang only to hear it reply “right in the Kraang” is always funny, as is Mikey yelling “cowabu--- I mean, booyakasha!” or Leo’s cry of “turtle power!”, a subtle nod to the series’ legacy.

The stages themselves are also full of love for the show, with every level being based on an actual set from an episode. Be it exploring the Dojo, riding on top of the Shellraiser, or assaulting Shredder’s Lair, everything is detailed and styled exactly like the show; one stage in particular has you running around New York’s streets, and eagle-eyed fans will undoubtedly spot locations from previous episodes.

The power-ups also pay reference to the show, with ninja smoke bombs (which are as fun as Mikey would have you believe) and throwing stars making appearances, while health items include pizza and bowls of worms and algae, a nice nod to the first episode.

And all this is presented in a style that feels at home alongside the show. While the plot doesn’t sync in with the on-going TV arc, feeling more like a lost episode, the game has the style of the show, and while the graphics aren’t as good as they could be, it feels like it was cast from the same mould. The audio work however is something that constantly disappoints, with random spikes in sound level and quality often muffling dialogue during cutscenes.

Conclusion

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for 3DS isn’t a definitive TMNT experience, but it is one that handles the source material with care. While the gameplay is often shallow and quickly repetitive, the attention to detail and the inclusion of the TV voice cast make this feel true to the show; yet a lack of multiplayer does hinder the overall experience. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an incredibly hard sell to anyone who isn’t heavily invested in the show already, but there’s probably just enough content in here to keep fans entertained for a few hours.