Give me T-U-R-T-L-E POWER!
I've stuck by The Turtles for many years. Over those years, plenty of chances came along to bail on them, turn away and say, "You know what, I'm too old for you. This is getting inappropriate and you need to put on more than just a bandana." I never got there. I still haven't. These are my brothers, forever teenage, forever wise, forever developing. Something else is always on the horizon for Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo. (Don't you dare mention, Venus…)
Out of the Shadows is based on Nickelodeon's current television series, complete with voices and overall turtle design, but you might not guess it from the look in-game. When I said that the half-shelled foursome had something on the horizon, I was referring to Michael Bay's upcoming movie. God help us all. Playing even an hour of Out of the Shadows proves it's been used as a test bed for a full-blown retail movie tie-in and that it regrettably leaves a lot of room for improvement.
Red Fly Studio rightly walked the path of past TMNT gaming greats as Turtles in Time by focusing on beat-'em-up combat with interaction between the turtles. A single player can switch between brothers while cooperative gamers can interact directly. Stringing together a long combo requires coordination and it goes a long way in making the player feel like a slick team of acrobatic ninjas… when it works. Sometimes it doesn't work—the player will get stuck in the geometry, or the camera breaks. Out of the Shadows is buggy and not at all serviceable for anyone accustomed to tighter controls from Activision's other titles.
Still, I—and any other turtle fan—can appreciate the inspired take on the ninja team's unique visuals and gameplay. The turtle models aren't completely offensive as each turtles look draws from the comic's angles and aggression more than Nickelodeon's rather childish lines. Environments look suitably moody and enemies like the mousers and a few bosses I won't spoil have impressive looks and animations, until they bug out or you get bored of the menial grind through levels.
While attacking, dodging, and countering work well, the turtle switching feels disjointed and rough. It's a promising idea given it's the greatest representation of how the turtles fight on-screen. Even as a solo player, your fellow turtles will battle alongside you leaving just enough room for you to switch control and finish the job. Unfortunately, there's no reason to switch and no advantage other than minimally extending a combo. Hacking away with your favorite turtle's favorite weapon will do just fine.
The situation improves in multiplayer, but not by much. Without the wealth of new tools and new weapons only a trust-fund can afford, the turtles get more repetitive and so do the opponents. Hordes of baddies can knock you down repeatedly while special moves only do so much to liven things up. The building blocks are there, but combat struggles to maintain interest, and the comic-book cut-scenes are worse. The voice actors don't even sound as excited here as they do in the TV show.
The story is told through moving panels, but the art and color never has the same pop as the in-engine graphics, leaving me green for what could come next, but also kind of sick. Out of the Shadows is yet another bad Ninja Turtles game. Between the game's loud and ugly UI and the glitches, bugs, and general sloppiness, there's only enough hope for the good intentions to improve next time.
While I can barely muster my inner TMNT fanboy to suffer through Michael Bay's new film, I hope the next game builds on this downloadable from Activision. Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo won't get shredded today, but there's certainly potential for mistakes to repeat themselves. At least they've got Master Splinter to teach them.
Review based on Xbox 360 version. Code provided by publisher. Also available on PS3 and PC.