Papa John’s makes a product that looks like pizza and at times has a similar mouthfeel and flavor, but it doesn’t take a deep-dish fan like Michelangelo, of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to realize that this fast food is little more than a cardboard stand-in for the real thing. A similarly unsettling taste is likely to wash over the palate of those who encounter Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan, a game that uses cel-shaded animation and talented voice actors to approximate the right look of the popular series, but which is a disgusting, sodden mess in every other aspect.
Most at fault here is the lack of specificity to the level design. Although there are nine unique levels, many of them share nondescript locations. Both Bebop and Mega Krang occupy a few square blocks of residential buildings—and for local color, there’s a graffitied skateboard park at the center. The only real difference between the two levels is that Krang has besieged New York by the time players tackle him, and so the streets are ablaze, and an army of hijackable Krangdroids replace the standard Foot Clan ninja fodder of earlier encounters. Similarly, the giant turtle Slash and the mutant shark Armaggon both occupy the sewers, though the second time through, there’s a poisonous toxin spreading across the walls and a more powerful current to the sludge. For another set of levels, a vertiginous series of skyscraper rooftops, one of which is under construction, the second iteration takes place during a lightning storm. There’s nothing to see in these areas, no hidden Easter eggs for fans; they exist simply as bland backdrops for players to fight in.
Worse, these miniature arenas aren’t the only repetitious thing. In order to progress to the boss of each zone, you must complete at least four randomly generated activities, which means that the defense of a pizza truck is treated with the same high stakes as defusing bombs. Platinum Games’s developers have done their best to vary the objectives so that levels are more than a series of wave-clearing encounters, but they veer beyond the cartoonish nature of the TMNT television series and straight into the absurd.
Players frequently have to return stolen bags of money by standing atop them and rolling awkwardly forward like circus seals; when players are more straightforwardly tasked with carrying gold bars to a goal point, lasers and bomb-wearing ninjas materialize out of thin air to artificially increase the difficulty of the task. Not a single one of these many mission types are actually fun to begin with, and they’re made even worse in single-player, as the clumsy AI partners don’t understand how to move stealthily through an area and are incapable of protecting vulnerable allies.
To those who persevere through these tedious, aimless areas, the boss encounters are genuinely creative, and lovingly showcase the unique skills of long-time TMNT comic and television characters. Bebop, for instance, takes on the turtle brothers in a Scrooge McDuck-like bank vault filled with many ledges from which he can unload with his laser-like tommy gun, and before players can challenge the mad bat Wingnut, they must use turrets to knock his UFO out of the sky. The final encounter with Shredder takes place atop a helipad spinning in the air between Manhattan and Dimension X; it’s an epic conceit, matched by Shredder’s wide variety of moves.
That said, these bosses only unleash their full potential at the higher difficulties, which means that players interested in seeing all that Mutants in Manhattan has to offer will have to repeatedly play through already redundant levels in order to max out stat-boosting equippable charms and the Ninjutsu special attacks that are the only real way to whittle away a boss’s health bar. It’s unclear if the inclusion of an online matchmaking setting designed specifically for the purpose of grinding is meant to be helpful or if it’s just adding insult to injury. It is, however, disingenuous for publishers to release a game as slapdash as this one, knowing that fans will buy a licensed product whether it’s good or not, just as a person, if starved long enough, will be thankful even for the soggiest and most flavorless of all pizza slices.