Somehow it seems that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise is condemned to mediocrity in any and all of its attempts to measure up to the glory days of the original cartoon or the Turtles in Time game. In this case, the mediocrity is simply painful as one can see brilliance trying to shine through layers upon layers of what feels like pure laziness by the relatively new and inexperienced studio Red Fly.
From the very beginning it becomes evident that Red Fly had many ideas for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, but with time had to give up on them, leaving the game in an unfinished state. There are many mechanics introduced in the prologue that never come to play later on. Other mechanics are simply abundant and do look great as bullet-points on paper, but serve little to no purpose in the actual game.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (PC [Reviewed], Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
Developer: Red Fly
Released: PC, Xbox 360: August 28, 2013, PlayStation 3: September 24, 2013
The focus of this game is, of course, the fighting. There are weapon attacks, kicks, counters, dodges, special moves, the whole deal, but unfortunately they never come together to give any genuine satisfaction. You can take control over any of the turtles on the fly, which is not only clunky and disorienting but is also counterproductive to combo-building. I personally used it only when I was bored of repeating the same 3 combos over and over again. According to the game’s loading screen tips the kicks are great for breaking through blocks, but unfortunately blocked attacks still add to the combo meter and once it goes up by a multiple of 10 a single-button KO is possible, which not only renders the kicks useless, but also makes them counterproductive as they will most likely knock the enemy down and you will lose your streak if they don’t get up in time. The counter-attack, while useful, sometimes doesn’t work at all. There doesn’t ever seem to be a particular window for pressing it, the success window is different every time and mostly you just end up getting knocked onto your green butt, regardless of you mashing the button. The enemies telegraph their upcoming attacks with a glow of different colors to let you know whether you can block or if your only choice is to dodge. Unfortunately the meaning of the colors is never explained so one may spend the whole game oblivious to which attacks can be countered and which can’t.
Other than the straight-up combat there is also “stealth” and “platforming” aspects to Out of the Shadows. Both of them are in bunny ears because they can’t be called that without a wince or a sigh of exasperation. As a fan of anything that involves crouching in shadows and silently choking dudes out, I got shivers down my spine when the game prompted me to crouch to go into stealth mode. Unfortunately, there are about five times in the game when you can use it and all of those times the stealth attack is nothing but a way for you to start a fight. The levels are rarely designed to make it possible to take down more than three people silently before everyone sees you (it also doesn’t help that there is no indication to the enemies’ awareness of you – no visibility or awareness meter, they just see you when they see you – out of the blue). Admittedly the turtles have almost always been terrible ninjas in the sense that they never hid in shadows and took people out silently, it just saddens me that they made a mechanic to contradict that and then just gave up half-way.
The platforming is nothing more than hitting the dodge/jump button when near an obstacle that glows yellow. Unfortunately, they don’t always glow, because well, fuck you – who do you think you are trying to advance through the game smoothly, huh? Another gripe that I have with the game is the absolute lack of direction. While one can say that that’s just how games used to be back in the day, one can also shove their wiener in a vacuum cleaner, thinking it’ll be the same as having it blown by a person. Back in the day games had clearly defined boundaries, be it trees, walls or floors. Now there is an overabundance of detail and when there is no indication as to how to progress one can spend hours trying to jump up every wall protrusion, while in fact they had to pull a tiny lever that’s supposed to glow yellow in a room that’s behind a few walls and up a ladder. There is never any clear indication to the progression, no visual clues, no outright pointers, or even vocal hints from the other turtles.
Overall, Out of the Shadows seems to be incomplete as there is so much in it, but it all feels severely underdeveloped. There are extremely large upgrade and weapon-crafting systems that are buried in menus within menus and are never mentioned. There are many special attacks that are never explained or even talked about beyond loading screen info blurbs. There are mechanics that appear only once or just a few times – those instances are not only not enough to warrant their existence, but they leave a sour taste in one’s mouth once you realize that you will never see them again.
The best parts of Out of the Shadows is the voice acting and banter between the turtles. Not only are their random conversations full of inside jokes and call backs to previous incarnations, but also to meta facts such as one voice actor voicing Donatello and Raphael on different occasions. Another positive attribute of Out of the Shadows is the visual content. Not only does it look good for a $15 game, but it also runs wonderfully on a 4 year old laptop of mine at 1080p – something that is not only uncommon, but seemingly impossible.
Overall Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is an undeservingly mediocre addition to the rightfully mediocre shelf of TMNT games. There are so many things about it that seem great on paper but never had the chance to flourish, there are so many bugs that could have been fixed within a week, but unfortunately feels rushed out just in time for the Xbox Summer of Arcade.