- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 31, 2013

Four famed reptiles return to the gaming arenas to protect the Big Apple in the third-person adventure Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (Activision and Red Fly Studio, rated Teen, reviewed for Xbox 360, 1,200 Microsoft Points or $15).

It’s really hard to believe that the TMNT franchise has been around for almost 30 years. Starting out as a comic-book series from creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, it has existed in many a kid-friendly, multimedia format over the three decades and is currently fueled by Nickelodeon’s popular cartoon series highlighting the team’s exploits.

This all-out brawler sort of takes its design from the show and allows a player to quickly control (swapping on the fly) TMNT members Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo or Raphael through a roughly five-hour campaign to stop the evil Shredder from causing chaos in New York City.

For the most part, it’s martial arts mayhem delivered through a ridiculous amount of combination attacks punctuated by frequent button-mashing sequences as the turtles battle foes that include the Purple Dragons gang, black-suited aliens, robots and those adorable mousers.

Upgrades become plentiful for each hero. Using accumulated ability points unlocks extras such as smoke bombs to evade enemies, blazing speed, Raphael’s quick temper to gain strength and Leonardo’s spinning cross slash to finish foes. These types of attacks combine with weapons enhancements to deliver a surprisingly complex fighting mechanic.

In fact, the moves and upgrades become so plentiful and mix with hacking mini games and limited exploration that new downloadable missions must be in the game’s future if it finds any success at all with gamers.

Combat always plays out with flashy, multi-hued strikes, and colors appear over enemies to denote the degree of their impending attack and the appropriate defensive and counter response (which controller buttons to tap) required by a turtle.

Each of the acrobatic turtles (they will flip over each other and foes, swing around bars and juggle bad guys) arrives with their vintage personality, fighting styles and weapons of choice.

For example, Leonardo is the elder and offers the most balanced of the group, using two katana-style swords to attack while Michelangelo shines with powerful nunchuck strikes and frenetic capoeira kick attacks.

Michelangelo also never shuts up as well as all of the turtles. He’ll postulate during down time about raising a human baby that was shipwrecked and falls through a manhole or will rifle off the best toppings for a pizza.

Unfortunately, the headache-inducing music score often drowns out the talking, making it mandatory to turn down the tunes to appreciate the occasionally humorous babbling.

The TMNT mythos remains familiar with nuances such as pizza being the primary health restore and the boys hang out in the their fraternity-like headquarters between the four missions. A player even controls their human friend April O’Neil through an early tutorial to learn basic moves before she is kidnapped.

Within the Turtle’s HQ, players use the Dojo to train and get advice from Master Splinter, unlock new weapons such as Leo’s blade that can join together and be thrown like a giant boomerang, and view the front of the refrigerator for concept art.

While the new campaign tries hard to please, it’s just as much a reason for the addition of some of the nostalgic elements.

For example, a classic mode exists to play the game in black and white (just like the original comics), the title screen resembles the cover of the first comic book, while cut scenes play out within comic panels. An arcade-style, side scroller can be enjoyed mixing elements of the old-school 1980s classic game with the current design.

Up to four fans can also band together to control their shelled heroes with an online, drop-in and drop-out, co-operative mode in the campaign. An offline co-op scenario exists for the arcade mode and is very satisfying to play with friends.

As far as the turtles in action, I liked the slick-looking, oddly lifelike (to the point of creepy) character models of the turtles but, sadly, the game’s title says it all.

Often stuck fighting in shadowy and dingy locations such as back alleys, sewers and underground train lines, it’s hard to really appreciate the visual beauty of the fellows at work.

My other complaints are some painfully difficult boss battles, and often wandering around arenas, wasting time, to try and trigger my next mission objective.

Still, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows and its reasonable price will keep fans on the cusp of teendom happy but won’t inspire more seasoned gamers to yell “Cowabunga.”

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