I have been a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for decades now, long enough to have read the comics before the iconic 80s cartoon. The franchise has had a long and generally successful history, and video game tie ins are a big part of that. Turtles in Time is in my top five arcade games of all time, and between me and my two boys, we’ve watched countless Turtle cartoons and mashed lots of buttons in Turtle games. When I heard about a new game from the creators of Transformers Devastation, which I enjoyed, I was very excited to play it.
Mutants in Manhattan wisely sticks with the tried and true brawling beat ‘em up gameplay of its predecessors. Since the main characters are adept at fighting bad guys, a brawler makes sense. You’ve got your standard light and heavy basic attacks, jumping, dodging, and several special attacks (“ninjitsu”, naturally) which can be upgraded as you progress. A surprisingly deep list of special items can be obtained while taking on Shredder and Krang’s minions. So far, so good, exactly what you would expect in a Ninja Turtles game.
After a rather long tutorial sequence, you are dropped, along with your three turtley brothers, into the first level, on the streets of New York. April O’Neal directs you via radio to groups of enemies which must be dispatched. To make it easier on you, there’s a special viewing mode which highlights target areas and baddies for you. You take out one group, move to another, and wait for the “boss meter” at the top of your screen to fill up, then fight a boss before moving on.
And that’s basically the game. There are some twists thrown in here and there, but largely, this is the formula from start to finish. The environments change, from the streets, to the subway, to the sewers, and to the requisite futuristic hideout. Sometimes you are disarming bombs, sometimes you are pulling switches, sometimes you are just taking on a newly spawned group of enemies. It’s repetitive, yes, but the formula can work if it’s handled correctly, as many other games have shown before.
Unfortunately, there are many problems that pop up as you make your way through Mutants in Manhattan. In a nutshell (turtle shell?), the game is uneven and unpolished. The difficulty spikes dramatically, then levels off, leaving you angry and confused. Some levels are brief and simple, while others feel artificially long and frustrating. There’s the core of a decent brawler here, but too many bugs and bad design choices to make it fun for most people, and particularly for the younger audience for which it was presumably intended.
Let’s talk boss battles for a moment. Bosses in Mutants in Manhattan are inexplicably difficult. The typical boss has seven health bars to wade through. Seven! Considering that normal attacks barely make their health bar move at all, most of your damage will come from “ninjitsu” attacks, but even these will sometimes let you down. The bosses have incredibly powerful combinations of attacks, and while they generally telegraph their moves, often, you are stuck in an animation and have no escape. By the end of the game, I found myself just standing back and letting the AI take the hits while I tossed ineffective shurikens at the boss, just so we wouldn’t all wipe out at the same time and have to continue (starting the boss fight over). You’d best hope you enjoy these fights, because there’s an entire level where you fight EVERY SINGLE PRIOR BOSS one more time. It was all I could do to keep playing and not just abandon Mutants in Manhattan right there.
For the last half of the game, the cannon fodder Foot soldiers disappear, and Krang’s Rock Soldiers become the common minion opponents. These fellows are stupidly tough’ the Turtles’ attacks barely dent them. Compounding the problem are rocket launchers, miniature Krang UFOs shooting stasis bubbles, and random blasts of lightning from the sky. Slogging through this is the opposite of fun; I’d say I reverted to shell form (lost all my health) twenty to thirty times on the first level these Rock Soldiers appear. One of the last levels has you literally riding in an elevator as wave after wave of these brutal minions appear. In the close quarters, you can hardly avoid being smashed over and over again before dying. It was like the scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier where Cap beats up all the Hydra agents in the elevator, except a giant purple Rock Soldier was Cap and I was the bad guy.
Even worse than the poor game balance and level design are the bugs. At one point, a switch I was supposed to use did not spawn, and so I was stuck fighting Rock Soldiers for ten minutes until time expired… at which point, the game moved on as if I had pulled the switch. One cut scene repeated itself after every boss, while another entire scene had no character voices. The final cut scene in the game cuts off early, even when viewed in the movie gallery menu afterward. I’ll never know if the Turtles saved the city! There’s some weirdness with boss fights as well; once, in the Rocksteady fight, Bebop appeared halfway through, and we died. Retrying it, Bebop never appeared, leaving only Rocksteady. The last boss in the game was so easy that I suspected it was a fakeout, and the real one would appear, or it would be a multi-stage boss. It wasn’t. I can’t say I was disappointed because I was ready to be done, but still, what a letdown.
If all this wasn’t bad enough, Mutants in Manhattan let me down one more time, and that’s with the implementation of co-op. There is no local co-op, only online. You cannot drop in and out of a game, either. Your turtle’s items and levels from co-op carry over into story mode, but your level progression doesn’t. There are team-up attacks, and you can revive one another, but these don’t feel very cooperative since you can do the same thing with the computer controlled turtles anyway. It’s basically the bare minimum implementation of co-op.
Mutants in Manhattan is an overall disappointment. The foundation for a nice little co-op brawler is there, but the bugs, extreme spikes in difficulty, poor level design, and the ineffectiveness of the Turtles in general make the whole experience a bad one. If you relish a challenge, and don’t mind the repetitiveness, you might find something to like here. For most gamers, especially the casual and younger ones the game is likely to appeal to, TMNT Mutants in Manhattan is best avoided.