When I grew up in the late 80’s there was nothing as cool as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I loved the turtles, and I convinced my parents to buy anything and everything that had their distinctive green logo slapped across the front. TMNT video games have been around almost as long as the turtles themselves, but the quality of their adventures has varied significantly throughout the years. So where does Mutants in Manhattan stack up among a library that’s populated by dozens of titles?

Mutants in Manhattan can be played either alone or with online multiplayer, and is fundamentally similar both ways. All four turtles are present even if you play by yourself, with each of your companions controlled by the computer. You are free to switch between the turtles at will, and can give them basic directions such as “Protect Me” or “Go All Out.” When you play online, you only control one turtle and need to cooperate with other players in order to survive and succeed as a team.

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The gameplay of Mutants in Manhattan is action based, featuring a mix of hack-and-slash and arcade style combat. The turtles have a nice array of moves, from basic light and heavy attacks, to dodges and parries. They’re also a maneuverable bunch, capable of double jumping, gliding through the air, grinding on rails, and climbing the surfaces of the walls.

Aside from the basics, each turtle can equip and carry four special moves into battle, which are called Ninjutsu techniques. These techniques can be purchased and upgraded between levels, and provide a variety of different offensive and tactical maneuvers. Many of these moves perform attacks of one form or another, but there are also moves that provide healing, jump boosts, and decoys.

In order to put a stop to Shredder’s sinister plans, the turtles must battle his minions over the course of nine stages. Each stage plays out differently, as some take place in open areas, while others require traversing from beginning to end. Players are given instructions by April O’Neil, who finds missions for the turtles to complete. These missions are usually simple, and include objectives such as returning stolen money, disabling bombs, and killing x amount of enemies by using stealth. While some of these missions happen every time you play a stage, many of them occur randomly, assuring that subsequent playthroughs will be different. After you perform enough missions, a pathway will open leading to the stage’s boss.

Each boss is a classic villain from TMNT lore, and is comprised of the most popular bad guys like Bebop, Rocksteady, and Armaggon. The fights each have a unique feel to them, and serve as appropriate highlights to each stage. The boss battles are harder than the stages preceding them, and call for more teamwork and coordination.

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If players perform well during a level, there is a chance that a secret boss will appear during the main boss fight. To my disappointment, the secret bosses are mostly comprised of bosses that you fight elsewhere in the game. For example, the secret boss to Rocksteady’s stage is Bebop, and the secret boss to Bebop’s stage is Rocksteady. I found this especially vexing since April makes a reference to Leatherhead during an early sewer level, even though he never appears in the game.

The fighting mechanics in Mutants in Manhattan are solid all around, particularly when you learn to make use of dodges and parries. These skills are integral during boss fights, especially on higher difficulty levels. Despite the great fundamentals, I did find that certain Ninjutsu skills were redundant. There are a lot of attack skills that you can acquire and upgrade, but many are just area-of-effect attacks that cover a similar amount of ground and do a similar amount of damage. They look different and might have slightly variant ranges, but from a tactical standpoint they’re basically the same.

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Unfortunately, the redundancy doesn’t end with the special moves and secret bosses. Though there are nine stages in the game, there are only five locations, which means every location except for the subway station is used twice. This makes for a short game without a lot of variety, and the locations that do exist are hardly inspired. The sewers are as brown, repetitive, and occasionally maze-like as you would expect, while the downtown location is barren and lonely aside from the few bad guys you face.

Multiplayer gives the game some legs, and really provides the best way to play the game. Mutants in Manhattan allows for a lot of cooperation, as many of the Ninjutsu techniques benefit the team as a whole. Mikey has an ability which eliminates the cooldown for the rest of the turtles’ Ninjutsu skills, while Leonardo can slow down time and Donatello can do a group heal. Addtionally, turtles can perform combo attacks by using certain skills at the same time, and players are responsible for reviving one another when a turtle falls in battle.

The AI does an okay job of simulating some of this teamwork, but is otherwise pretty dumb. AI companions play the game like aggressive button-mashers. They are helpful at eliminating enemies, but they also die all the time, especially against bosses. They’re extremely incompetent when it comes to avoiding traps, and will drop like flies if you’re not keeping an eye on them. If a situation calls for tactical restraint… boy oh boy… you can try to get the turtles to follow or protect you to keep them from walking single-file to their deaths, but it’s one hell of an uphill battle.

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Graphically, Mutants in Manhattan shows off a unique art style that doesn’t quite match any specific incarnation of the turtles. It works well enough, but the visuals don’t even pretend to make use of current-gen technology. The voice cast is also unique to the game, and is made up of industry veterans who do an excellent job. The story isn’t anything special, but the script successfully captures the feel and personality of the characters. Conversely, the turtles’ quips and one-liners quickly become tiresome in battle, as they repeat the same few lines constantly. Otherwise, the game runs well and I didn’t encounter any technical issues.

TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan is a cautious recommendation. It’s fun to play, but it’s short and often repetitive, even with the variable mission structure. If you’re seeking a robust experience with a lot of content, then you’re better off looking elsewhere. If you enjoy action hack-and-slash titles that play best with others, Mutants in Manthattan may be the game for you, especially if you’re a fan of the source material. Just be prepared to play the same levels over and over again, or the experience may not even last you a weekend.

*A copy of this game was provided by Activision for the purpose of this review.

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