I was exactly the right age at the time Turtle-mania hit the late 80’s/early 90’s. I watched the cartoon religiously, I had most of the original series of figures, watched all the movies, owned the soundtrack to the first one, and owned a ton of other merchandise. Oh, and I played the infamous NES game.
But that was over two decades ago; the lean, mean, fighting team disappeared into the sewers soon after, before briefly reappearing in various forms, including a hideous live action show, another cartoon, and a half-decent animated movie. But thanks to Nickelodeon, the “heroes in a half-shell” have returned once more to television screens. No doubt in a bid to capitalise on this, Activision have bought the videogame rights. Out of The Shadows is the first game from this new licensing deal and, sadly, despite some good ideas (and some stolen ideas), it’s clearly a game that needed a bigger budget and a lot more time in development.
In usual Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles style, April O’Neill has been captured by Shredder and his Foot Soldiers. Our favourite adolescent amphibians must work as a team to fight the Purple Dragon Gang, the Kraang and the Foot Clan to rescue their friend and defeat Shredder. Four reasonably long levels separate the Turtles from their goal.
After starting a new game, things don’t get off to a good start. In a flash-forward tutorial section, you are given control of April in a very buggy section, being told how to walk, then being told of movement controls you’ll never even use in the main game. Yes, it’s a completely pointless tutorial.
It’s hard to play for more than a few minutes without thinking that this game is clearly inspired by Rocksteady’s Arkham series, at least in terms of combat. The attacking, countering and combo systems share more than a passing resemblance to Batman’s, albeit with controls that are nowhere near as responsive. There’s a definite gap between the moment you press a button to perform an attack, and the move being carried out. Even if you do start to get used to this fact, it never stops being a real frustration. In between fighting, you engage in some very basic running and jumping between buildings and platforms, which to be honest isn’t very entertaining. There are even a few hacking mini-games, which feel utterly out of place.
However, there is one aspect where it does begin to step out of Batman’s shadow: all four turtles are battling at the same time, either controlled by the CPU or by offline (2-player) or online (4-player) players. While the presence of your turtle brothers act as an extra life system (and you can tag between turtles whenever you want, and revive them when they fall), it also allows for some special team-up moves. In practice, there are moments where the CPU-controlled turtles can hold their own, but other instances where they just sit there doing nothing.
There is an XP system in play, as you earn Ability Points that can be used to purchase new moves and abilities for all four turtles. The problem is that there are far too many upgrades for such a short, five-six hour game; meaning a lot of grinding and replaying levels if you want to fully upgrade your party.
During a 2-player, split-screen session, the screens are vertically split and shrunk. I found this multiplayer mode playable enough to be enjoyed, unlike the online mode, where I progressed through most of one particular level, only to die and be taken all the way back to the beginning of the level (unlike the single or offline multiplayer, where the game saves a checkpoint of your progress). I would certainly not recommend playing online until you’ve finished all four levels.
Finishing those four levels is admittedly tough, thanks to some unfairly designed bosses, and the large number of enemies that are thrown at you at any one point (including enemies that happily attack you while they’re off-screen). But should you do so, there are other modes to play, such as a wave-based Challenge mode (again, similar to the Arkham games) and a Classic mode, wherein you are given seven smaller levels based on the main game, only you play them in a side-on view (akin to the classic arcade games).
One thing that must be addressed is the worrying number of glitches I experienced. In no way does this game feel finished, or even properly play-tested. For a start, there are regular occurrences during all modes where, after a battle, you’ll find that the game refuses to let you progress, because either an enemy has refused to spawn, or it’s got stuck somewhere you can’t get to. I played to the very last level of Arcade mode, almost at the last fight, and I couldn’t progress because an enemy didn’t spawn (in a mode that lasted for nearly an hour, and you can’t save your progress!). Sometimes, you’ll be fighting next to a wall, and you’ll be propelled completely through it into a void, and are unable to get back unless you tag to another turtle. There are even occasions where you’ll be in the middle of a combo, and you’ll randomly be moved to the other end of the area. Clearly, this game was a rush-job. Oh, and the game is blighted with the most ridiculous loading times I’ve seen in a while. You have to wait about 30 seconds to load the stupid hacking minigames, and about 15 seconds to load the static upgrade screen. I can’t fathom why the loading times are this bad.
Which is a damn shame, because Out of The Shadows looks the part. You can see that Red Fly Studios have tried to take inspiration from all versions of the characters – from the original comics, all the cartoons, and even the movie. The new design of the turtles themselves looks a bit odd, but it’s clear they were going for something more “realistic” looking, and the designs definitely grew on me. Environments are well designed, if a little dark in places (which meant I had to turn the brightness right up to see what was going on at times), while the enemies that populate them look relatively good. I did like that the Foot Soldiers have adopted the costume from the first movie.
Instead of in-game cutscenes, crudely-drawn comic panels are displayed between levels, which would have worked, had they not looked hideous. Luckily, the Turtle’s dialogue is pretty decent – Leonardo, Donatello, et al, all sound like you imagine them to sound, while the in-game and cutscene dialogue is good. It’s quite cool to hear all four characters engage in conversation while travelling between fights, although at times characters talk over each other and you lose parts of the discussion if you’re too far from them (because I found that, for some reason, the CPU turtles stopped moving every once in a while). As it customary for games that have in-game dialogue, you’ll be hearing the same speeches a little too often – especially Michaelangelo’s irritatingly long speech about pizza toppings.
The music is also pretty good – the title screen is accompanied by an instrumental version of Partners in Kryme’s Turtle Power from the movie (while the full version is there somewhere as well). In-game music is also a decent blend of hip-hop and oriental-influenced tracks, which works well with the on-screen action.
VERDICT: There are fleeting glimpses of a good game here. But clearly, more money and more time was needed to make this the game it could have been. Inexcusable glitches, unresponsive controls, broken combat, bizarre gameplay design (hacking games, really?), unfair enemies and completely unnecessary loading times make for a monumental disappointment.
This is not how Microsoft should have ended this year’s Summer of Arcade.
BAD. Ugly, lazy, and unpleasant, if we’ve scored a game so low then it has serious issues. A 3/10 game will suffer from a combination of uninspired, lacklustre design, unfixed bugs and poor presentation.