Sunday, January 27, 2008

TMNT: Shock!

In which I disagree with everyone.

I picked up a bunch of budget-priced titles for the 360 a few days back: all the games that got lackluster reviews when they came out. Among them was the TMNT game, imaginatively titled "TMNT". What a pleasant surprise!

The game is kind of short. This seems to be one of the major complaints of other reviewers, which is just one example of infuriating cluelessness. There's no such thing as a long beat-em-up, because it would be insanely irritating and boring! Beat-em-ups are short, have always been short, will always be short, and if that bothers you, don't review them!

The usual method of making a beat-em-up interesting is lots of great extras and replay value.

This game doesn't have any.

So, yes, even for a beat-em-up, I guess it's kind of short. But not in the way the reviewers talk about.

However, aside from some iffy ledge-grabbing sections, that's pretty much the game's only flaw.

The game plays a lot like a Prince of Persia game, if the Prince was replaced with a blue hedgehog. There's running through levels and fighting (not so much with the puzzles), but instead of the rather deliberate, railroad way the prince does things, the turtles sprint along willy-nilly.

Also, when you die there isn't a pop-up asking whether you want to reload or whatever. It just respawns you back at a nearby waypoint and gives you another go. Very smooth, very fast.

The core play is pretty fun, but what really makes the game are all those additional elements.

In example, each turtle has a unique way of fighting and moving. Raphael was basically a death machine in my hands, but all the turtles had a good, unique feel without actually being hard to control or master. Each turtle has a special way of moving, which I actually thought was not really done as well as it could have been.

Raph could climb walls with his sai, but only if they're the glowing red walls. And when he does climb, it's soooo slow. All the special moves are painfully slow, which I don't much understand, given that the game is definitely about speed. Also, not all movements are created equal: Don's staff lets him pole-vault (very slowly), but I only used it once.

I would have preferred if their special movement were more actively useful in a normal level, but that's not a terribly huge concern.

You only control one turtle at a time, but you can switch between them whenever you need. The same button that switches between them also allows you to do a team-jump (a triple-jump, basically) if you're in the air or, when held, a combo attack (again, unique to each turtle). This was occasionally a bit finicky, but overall it was quite good.

The last gameplay element is that there is frequently a "family meter". In this game, the turtles aren't really a thorough team until near the end of the game. In the middle of the game, you have to earn your brother's trust by not being a total screw-up. This added a lot for me, because it was always the same progression: Raph is the last to join and the first to leave, so it gives a lot of personality to it. Also, obviously, you can only switch to the turtles you have earned. It's not cumbersome at all: it's very nice, very fluid.

Again, like movement, the weakness to me is that they didn't really take it very far. Only a few levels had this mechanic. Also, if there were some meta-game method to make your brothers like you more or less, it could have been a lot of fun to, say, choose to help Don instead of Mikey. Obviously, this was way outside their scope, but it's something to keep in mind...

The game's narrative was really, really great. Like most games these days, the story is actually a story. In this case, the turtles are telling Splinter about that time they did that thing, you know, then. I hear now that they're telling the story of the movie? I don't know, I didn't see it.

Unlike every other game, this conceit isn't used to explain the save/load stuff (there's nothing to explain). Instead, it is used to provide running commentary. "I went outside to avoid the security systems, but I didn't know the rainstorm was turning into a thunderstorm..." "So I investigated, I didn't know it was a gang hideout..." "Wait, they attacked you, so you kept going?"

This running commentary is very powerful, very immersive. It's a brilliant way to do things.

I know it's sort of been done before, but never to this level.

An interesting choice was to make the game entirely about the turtles. Aside from some very, very minor mentions, there is no Shredder, no Casey, no April, no Krangg... just turtles and some new bad guys you don't spend too terribly much time on.

This lets you focus the story, which is something most turtle-related things fail at. The game was focused on the idea of family, which makes sense for the IP, and they managed to do it without being smarmy or irritating.

I'm not saying this game will leave you gaping in awe. I'm not even saying it's without flaw. I'm just saying this game is really good. Despite clueless reviewers, despite a rather slimy link to what is evidently not a very good movie.

This review is weird, because everyone else seems to have either hated the game or at least felt deeply ambivalent. I think that's largely because (A) they saw the movie and (B) they paid full price. For a budget title, and considered separate from the movie, this is quite a good game.

Some reviewers think the game was boring, which I can't really see. They compare it strongly to Prince of Persia, which implies to me that they're playing it like Prince of Persia: creeping up to the edge of the ledge, looking down, looking left, trying to figure out what the next move is...

RUN, damn it!

1 comment:

Patrick said...

Yeah, most reviewers don't get it, thats for damn sure. Glad to hear some devs made good with the license they were given.