Let’s be honest, the only game that anybody cared about from XBox Live’s “Summer of Arcade” was the game they saved for last, TMNT: Out of the Shadows. Everyone loves the Turtles, especially the 80s and 90s kids who make up a huge portion of the gaming community. These fans haven’t had a good Turtles game in quite some time. Is TMNT: Out of the Shadows a return to full Turtle Power, or will it leave you feeling shell-shocked?
The first thing Turtles fans will notice about OotS is the controversial new look of the Turtles. They aren’t as cute as they used to be and even have nostrils (gasp!) They look a little more like how you would think humanoid mutant turtles would actually appear . I think that it’s ironic that while everybody is clamoring for a more serious, realistic version of the Ninja Turtles, a step in that direction is largely lamented in this case. Personally I think the style is fine and fits with the tone of the game
Out of the Shadows is built to appeal to us older Turtle fans while still remaining accessible to the kids who got the game because they like the new Turtles Nicktoon. It’s quite a tightrope to walk, but the game does an admirable job of toeing that line. The Teen rated game is violent but not in a brutal or excessive way. The Turtles certainly use their weapons on both human and robot enemies but the resulting impacts produce cartoony effects, not the eviscerations that would be expected in a more mature setting. The turtles frequently joke around about things but the content of the jokes are usually references to older Turtle lore. The game does not feel dumbed-down in any way, as its combat system has surprising depth. Along with that depth comes legitimate difficulty in mastering the fighting system but that is perhaps because the controls are quite unresponsive and the game asks for a bewildering amount of precision when executing some of the game’s more advanced moves. If anything, OotS is too difficult due a lack of in-game explanation of the mechanics, laggy controls, and the natural intended learning curve. It shouldn’t be as hard as it is, but the game has some issues.
From a graphical standpoint the game looks very nice for a $15 Arcade title. Animations are pretty smooth and the turtles and environments look good. There is some slowdown when a lot is going on, however, and there is clipping and glitches galore. On one occasion the game actually froze on me during a split-screen local co-op session.
Out of the Shadows is a third person action game that is something of a mix between Batman Arkham-style counter-heavy combat and an old-school beat-em-up. In practice, it does not function particularly well as either. Button mashing the weapon attack and kick attack buttons will work against small numbers of lower tier enemies but dodging and countering are imperative once tougher enemies attack in higher numbers. Countering is an awkward affair as you are meant to hit the counter button before the attack actually happens. If you counter late you only block, which feels counter-intuitive(no pun intended). There are a few different counter situations initiated by holding the button longer, letting go, or quickly inputting a directional command. This depth would be welcome if the controls weren’t so unresponsive. This is one of those games that seems to save up your commands and then sends you careening into several repeated animations that represent earlier button presses. This is why button mashing doesn’t work, especially if you want to use the counter system. Even while dodging, the controls may cause you to roll away from the action. You don’t want that because the combo system works like it does in Arkham, i.e. you need to break a threshold of ten consecutive hits to be able to execute some special moves. These special moves are inexplicably assigned to quarter, half, and full circle commands with the right analog stick combined with holding down the right trigger. I don’t know why they didn’t just borrow the next page from the Arkham book and use combinations of simultaneously pressed face buttons for specials. As it stands, you get imprecise controls needed in precise combat. To make matters worse, enemies often lunge at you from out of view, so constant vigilance is necessary when trying to wrangle the free but dumb camera with the right analogue stick. That stick is often taken out of play when it is being used for specials so… good luck, I guess.
The game works a little better when you realize that its trying to be more than it is. Play the game like it is Batman and you’ll have more success, but you will also be frustrated by just how much clunkier the controls are than the fluid perfection of that series. It’s a shame that the controls aren’t tighter because there is a lot of depth here and when it works, it is a blast. I recommend some time in the Dojo training mode to try to master the odd timing of this game.
The main campaign mode of the game has some problems. First among them is that the tutorial opening basically teaches you how to play another game. For some odd reason you’re April O’ Neal in “Uncharted 4: The search for the Turtles.” After learning basic navigation from April, (some of which doesn’t even carry over to the turtles) you’re thrust into control of the titular reptiles with no idea how to control them. The only way to find out what each button does is to go into the Dojo mode, which is not exactly how most players will want to start the game. I probably explained the controls in the previous section of my review much better than anything in the game will.
The campaign’s mildly interesting story is told through motionless comic-style cut-scenes with voice-overs. I understand that its nice to harken back to the comic book origins of the Turtles, but in the end this style of storytelling seems cheap. You’re going to want to turn the subtitles on, though, because a horrendous glitch frequently occurs where the voice overs simply don’t play during these scenes. That is one doozy of a glitch just begging to be patched. Also begging to be patched: these sometimes silent still panel cut-scenes cannot be skipped, even if you’ve seen them before. That’s a no-no.
Another problem with the campaign is that local co-op is only two player and it is split-screen. AI turtles stand in for the rest of the team, (the four turtles are always there in the campaign) but they aren’t too bright. You can switch to free turtles on the fly and each character does feel unique and has their own strengths, weapons, and moves which can be upgraded RPG-style with XP you gain playing through the game. You can play online to get smarter turtles and a full screen but the cost is often some pretty heavy lag that compounds the problems of the unresponsive controls. The best moves in the game are team-up moves between the turtles, but it is an unfortunately rare occurrence to pull them off on purpose. Still, there’s some genuine fun to be had running through the campaign’s four chapters with all four turtles beating their way through baddies. There’s even a little stealth here and there, though it is completely optional and detection by enemies is inconsistent. There’s also a somewhat challenging hacking mini-game that comes up from time to time. Think Bioshock’s pipes meets Mass Effect’s circuits. The mini-game itself isn’t particularly offensive, but it just feels jarringly out of place. Depending on how often you get lost or hit difficulty walls, the campaign should take 2-4 hours.
In addition to the main campaign there are challenge maps which are poached straight from Arkham, and there’s also an arcade mode. The challenge maps, although there are only a handful of them, are exactly like what is in the Batman games. You want to have a flowing, highly-varied combo with no wasted moves while avoiding all damage. While that is possible with some practice in Arkham, due to the controls, camera, and cheap off-screen lunges of enemies, it is almost impossible to pull off in this game. I will admit, some of it is legitimate difficulty because I did feel myself getting better and going farther in the challenges after some time. Still just surviving the challenges- never mind not getting hit- is quite an accomplishment. But don’t even think about winning in the unlockable survivor challenges…
Arcade mode is where OotS shines its brightest. This mode basically streamlines the often confusing 3D campaign levels into more digestible side-scrolling beat-em up levels. This mode thankfully has four player local co-op with no split screen. There are only as many turtles as human players in this mode. It retains the depth of the combat system, along with its frustrating quirks, but the stationary camera does much to improve the experience, despite the occasional foreground object obscuring your view. The arcade mode is likely to be old-school Turtle fans’ favorite part of the game. You do have to play through the difficult campaign to unlock all the arcade levels though.
That is the story of this game: great ideas marred by awful execution and overlooked details. TMNT Out of the Shadows has leveling and depth and decent replayability if you can get past all the glitches and control issues. The game was meant to basically be a co-op Arkham-style fighter with the Ninja Turtles standing in as the resident super-heroes. If developer Red Fly actually delivered on that premise, then this game would easily be worth twice its $15 price tag and would receive scores of nines or even tens. Unfortunately the game lets glitches, controls, technical issues, poor logic, and an overall lack of polish hamper what could have been the best Turtles game ever. The ambition was there, but perhaps the developers bit off more than they could chew. There is actually a lot of game here for the price tag, even if much of it falls frustratingly short of delivering on its potential. Still, despite its ample problems, I can’t seem to stop playing the game. For that reason I must give this game a slightly higher score than it may truly deserve. Maybe I just love being a turtle.
AYCG SCORE 7 out of 10