Despite early success in the video game field with fun, cooperative beat ‘em up arcade games, the Ninja Turtles have struggled to stay relevant in the world of interactive experiences. They have seen renewed success in comic books, television, and movies, but their video game outings of the last few years have ranged from awful to disappointing.
Mutants in Manhattan is developed by Platinum Games, the studio behind Bayonetta. The developer has had a few stumbles, but is generally lauded for its polished action; it even tackled another classic cartoon franchise with 2015’s Transformers: Devastation. This take on Ninja Turtles has a few of Platinum’s signature strengths, but most of the experience is confusing and frustrating.
Controlling the turtles feels great. They’re well-animated, and have navigation abilities like climbing walls, grinding on power cables, and using parachutes to glide between rooftops. The turtles don’t feel particularly distinct from each other, but they do have dedicated special moves on cooldowns, easy combos, and a satisfying counter system that also gets you out of danger quickly. Moving around the larger outdoor levels is fun, but things go awry when you move to the indoor levels that make up the majority of the game. During those, half of your navigation abilities are completely unusable as you explore repetitive mazes like the sewers or subway tunnels.
Mutants in Manhattan doesn’t have traditional, linear action levels. Instead it has large areas or a series of small connected hallways that offer up randomized missions. Unfortunately, these missions amount to simply beating a certain number of bad guys. A few involve hacking computers, dismantling bombs, or carrying large items from point A to point B, but they don’t appear often enough to lend a sense of variety. Completing the missions gives you health and items to take into the boss fight at the end of each level.
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Each level is a build-up to take on a boss. The bosses are challenging, but mostly because they take a lot of time. Few have trackable or defendable patterns, and fights devolve into waiting on cool-downs to unleash special attacks and making sure at least one turtle is available to resurrect the others. Almost every boss fight is boring as a result, which is a problem when they’re meant to be highlights. The one exception is your second fight with Krang, which differs from the rest of the boss fights by trying something new, and requiring a different type of build-up that involves gathering mech suits.
Across the nine levels (one of which is boss rush recap), five stages repeat with minor changes, and only two of those take advantage of the full suite of the Turtles’ fun navigation mechanics. Exploring the large city level recalls games like Infamous, but to immediately be pulled away from that for the majority of the experience and go underground to explore boring mazes and fight bland bosses seems like a gross misuse of a fun platforming core.
Online play works well and doesn’t necessarily demand communication, though it is helpful. Playing alone is a functional alternative as the A.I. is good at pulling off cooperative combos, helping you carry objects, and consistently dropping everything to revive you when you’re knocked down. A split-screen option is undeniably missed, but playing online with friends or strangers leads to a fun combat experience, in spite of the poor level structure and design.
Fighting, moving, and pulling off cooperative attacks as the Turtles is enjoyable, but it’s difficult to find fun in the world and routine in which they exist. Attempts to encourage replayability fall flat as the bonuses you receive do little to change your characters or make them stronger. A few moments of cooperative fun arise periodically, but after taking down the bosses, I had little desire to strap on a colorful mask and spend way too long taking down a boss I had already dispatched.