In more ways than one, the subtitle of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows carries multiple meanings – for the turtles’ triumphant attempt at a return to the video game world, for the revival of the series, and most of all, for the relevance of the titular pizza-eating turtles themselves.
With even just the smallest mention of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comes a wave of nostalgic memories flooding back into the minds of ’80s and ’90s-born kids (like myself); memories of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael skateboarding their way into epic brawls with the Foot Clan, eating copious amounts of pizza, and “KOWABUNGA!”-ing their way into my favorite Saturday morning memories.
Of course, nostalgia is a deadly thing, and looking at anything like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles through rose-tinted glasses always comes with precaution: the series hasn’t exactly had much of the explosive success it’s had since its heyday in the late ’80s and throughout the ’90s.
For every amazing TMNT game that we plunked quarters and sunk countless hours into at the arcade machines, like the 1989 TMNT arcade game or the revered TMNT: Turtles in Time for the SNES, there have been an equal (or greater) amount of games only qualifying as turtle soup (like 2009’s much-maligned remake, TMNT: Turtles in Time Reshelled). Despite many stops and starts to revive the franchise through TV and movies, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have (and likely will always remain) a fond memory of the ’90s and one of the best animated series to come out of those times.
With Nickelodeon launching their newly-revitalized (and surprisingly, quite good) CGI-animated series of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles last year, it brings another video game adaptation looking to push everyone’s favorite turtles back into the hands of gamers and out onto the streets to fight baddies. With Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, an adaptation of the new Nickelodeon series and featuring a much darker (but still TMNT-esque all the way) tone, Red Fly Studios not only had a lot they needed to bring to the table by staying true to the series’ roots, but also in bringing the fresh spirit of the new show to a new generation of Turtle-lovers-in-training. While many parts of TMNT: Out of the Shadows show the studio’s obvious reverence and dedication to bringing a new TMNT experience, the title unfortunately carries a bit of irony: it’s clear that maybe the turtles were better left in the shadows in the first place.
TMNT: Out of the Shadows carries many of the traditions of past TMNT games as a beat-‘em-up by having players traverse through various levels as one of the four turtles beating up baddies and avoiding obstacles (in single-player, or four-player online/two-player local co-op), albeit this time in a 3D-perspective as opposed to previous 2D/2.5D offerings. In mere moments during the game’s start, ace reporter April O’Neil is captured by the hands of the evil Shredder, and the turtles are off across four different chapters to find her, defeat Shredder, and carry on their usual Turtle business, as all Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles usually do. The plot is straight-forward and simple, but its serves its purpose to bring our favorite Turtle heroes together to do what they do best: fight crime and use some Turtle Power (and maybe eat a whole pizza or two).
More interestingly, Red Fly greatly develops and innovates TMNT: Out of the Shadows in terms of combat, even if it looks like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may have been training under Bruce Wayne’s guidance rather than Master Splinter’s for the last few years. Borrowing heavily from the acclaimed combat system of Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City, TMNT: Out of the Shadows offers dynamic combat and upgradeable skills that borrows liberally from Batman’s books (Bat Books?). But, after countless titles and years of button-mashing combat, the ability to upgrade and offering new skills and combos for your Turtles is one of the welcome additions that Red Fly Studios brings with TMNT: Out of the Shadows, adding some variety to the growingly-stale TMNT stable.
Additionally, while players select their favorite Turtle at the beginning of each chapter, Red Fly also brings the ability to switch Turtle control on-the-fly: if you get tired of swinging around with Leonardo’s dual katanas, give Raphael’s pair of sais a try instead. Being able to switch and try out each Turtle right in the middle of a combat scenario (especially without having to quit back into the main menu to select) was definitely a good call for Red Fly.
But even with some of the more thoughtful and detailed inclusions that Red Fly Studios brings to its beloved Turtles in Out of the Shadows, it brings back even more of the sewer sludge that the Turtles swam through in the first place through poor design and significant game-breaking bugs. For all the interesting developments in combat and emphasis on progressing toward new Turtle skills, Out of the Shadows wastes that with huge technical issues and bugs that, on multiple occasions during my playthrough(s), made the game crash, made me have to restart and begin a level over again, or even made the game generally unplayable.
While the Turtles in Out of the Shadows may have been inspired to take some notes from Batman, their combat finesse doesn’t exactly show it. TMNT: Out of the Shadows provides very little insight (or even tutorials) about its combat system and special attacks (most of which I didn’t know about until I ventured into the upgrade menus and read their descriptions), a major bummer given the fairly wide range of abilities and skills offered. Ultimately, the intricate levels of countering, combos, and dodging falls to the wayside as the Turtles in Out of the Shadows move and feel incredibly sluggish, with their attacks having quite a significant delay between button-press and action, and just a lack of making the Ninja Turtles feel like…well…NINJAS.
When the Turtles’ counter attack leaves an incredibly small window of opportunity for success AND leaves them open to attack for a huge length of time when a simple dodge roll is substantially more effective, why bother? The game shows a great influence in trying to emulate the combat of a title like Batman: Arkham City, but doesn’t show any of the eagerness to practice it, by way of developing a combat system that tries for nimbleness and instead feels clunky, stiff, and most of the time, very unresponsive and imprecise.
After having to restart the game about four or five times though, the faults in the combat easily come through; but, probably not as much as the fact of even having to restart the game four or five times in the first place. The game is filled with bugs that frequently halted progress in a level or made going through its paths a pain: enemies becoming clipped and stuck inside of a wall or other level geometry, enemies that don’t spawn (or trigger cut scenes to move on), and an incredibly unreliable camera that obscures off-screen enemies or gets stuck easily. The AI of your Turtle compatriots proves only more unreliable, as frequently my Turtle brothers either spent time running against a wall or stood around doing nothing while I was swarmed by an army of robo-ninjas or Mousers, taking a pummeling at the expense of their glitched-out AI.
While the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have obviously had their dark times since their ’90s heydays, the aptly-named Out of the Shadows had the chance to bring these revered pizza-eating crimefighters back for a new generation to enjoy and bring them out of the sewers. In some ways, Red Fly Studios managed to bring a fresh take and cool ideas for the aging Turtles, but unfortunately at the expense of a game that obviously felt rushed and underdeveloped. TMNT: Out of the Shadows aims to bring the Turtles back for some more adventures in Turtle power and shouting “KOWABUNGA!” but it’s clear that maybe the turtles were just a little bit shell-shocked in their return.