Turtle Power – Making a Shell-Shockingly Good Ninja Turtles Game
Can you believe the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are almost 30 years old? Thirty!? Just thinking about it makes me feel old. Over the years, the heroes-in-a-half-shell have had several comic series, four TV shows and just as many movies, boat loads of merchandise, and, of course, video games. Before I delve into that bit, let me show you what came in the mail for me the other day. Fair warning, though: you’re in for some nostalgia shock.
That’s the entire original animated series packaged in a Turtle Van. All 193 episodes spanning 23 discs, along with some bonus features that delve into the villains and more. If you’re interested, Amazon (where I ordered it from) is selling it for just under $90. I only paid $70 as I pre-ordered it the day it was announced, but it’s still worth the current asking price considering you’re getting over 70 hours of content. You can order here. Just be warned that the episodes still aren’t in the order in which they aired, as it seems Lionsgate will never get around to fixing that, not even for a set of this magnitude.
Between obtaining that box set and my weekly viewings of the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series on Nickelodeon (which is a great series so far, by the way), I started pondering about where the Turtles are as far as video games go. The Turtles’ last outing was the mildly amusing brawler Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Arcade Attack released by Ubisoft on the Nintendo DS in 2009. Before that, they released the Super Smash Bros. clone Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash-Up on the Wii and PlayStation 2. They even attempted to re-create the classic Turtles in Time the same year, instead with updated 3D visuals and without the soul of the original. So, where have they been? Long story short, Ubisoft let the license lapse, and next thing you know, Nickelodeon buys the TV rights and starts developing the new show that’s on today. Where does that leave the game rights, you ask? Read the last bullet point on this image and you’ll have your answer:
Image courtesy of Toy Ark.
That’s right. Activision. The publisher of Skylanders and Call of Duty now has control over the Turtles. Does this have any bearing on the potential quality of any future titles? It all depends on the developer. With the right developer that knows the license well and is willing to put in the effort to make it a standout title, it can be a great game. Now, no one has announced any game that is currently in the works. My guess is we won’t hear anything until at least the first season is done airing, which could potentially mean an announcement could come at E3 next year.
In the meantime, though, I’ve been piecing together a concept in my chaotic little noggin for what the next Turtles game should be like. This is a franchise that has primarily fallen into the brawler category, with a couple fighting games on the side. While I love both genres, I think a new Turtles game demands more than just running around mashing buttons in today’s gaming environment and the franchise has delved enough into fighting games with mixed results. No offense to the amazing TMNT IV: Turtles in Time for the Super Nintendo, which still stands as one of my favorite games of all-time, but games today have pushed the envelope so much further. So, without further ado, let me describe to you the ideal Ninja Turtles game.
This should be simple enough, as the game would more than likely have to be based off of the new show. It could be based off of the plot of the first season, which hasn’t even reached 10 episodes yet, but so far has been more than solid in developing the Turtles, who are still pretty green (no pun intended). I’d rather they go with an original plot, however. If there’s one thing that has always dragged down TV show- and movie-based games (besides being rushed and unpolished), it’s that they usually have to adhere to the plot of what they’re based off of, leaving no room for creativity or ambition. That’s why an original plot would work best, one that mixes in some established characters, as well as some new ones. It doesn’t exactly have to be canon, but at least give it some weight and make it gripping to the player. If Rocksteady Studios could pull it off so well with Batman, why can’t someone do it with the Turtles?
Now that pun was intended. Jokes aside, the Turtles have always been about kicking the crap out of their opposition. A vast majority of Turtles titles are brawlers, as it just suits them. However, if you were to look back at some of Konami’s last efforts prior to giving up the franchise to Ubisoft, their idea was to make 3D brawlers that had you running around mindlessly mashing buttons with very little to break the mold. Ubisoft themselves managed to break up the brawling with some Prince of Persia-esque platforming and climbing in their title based off of the CGi move, TMNT, but the actual fighting was still tepid.
My idea for bucking the trend is actually one both companies tried, but utterly failed in their executions, and that is making all four Turtles playable at once. See, Konami actually did this in 2005’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: Mutant Nightmare, but not at all how I’m imagining it. All four Turtles were on the screen at once at all times, but they never really worked together, each instead focusing on their own foes without a care as to what his brethren were doing. Ubisoft, on the other hand, actually had them work together in the console versions of TMNT with a couple tacked-on team attacks and the ability to call in a brother for help getting across wide gaps, but all four Turtles were not on screen at all and could only be swapped out with a button press, and that was only after you gained the trust of your brothers by not screwing up jumps and fights. In fact, it only supported one player, which is a huge no-no for a Turtles game.
These games were headed in the right direction, but the results were nothing short of disappointing. The solution lies in making a brawler where all four Turtles are always on screen at once where they help each other constantly. The Turtles’ teamwork is seen pretty clearly in the first episode of the new series, where they band together to take down Snakeweed by drawing him into a trap. It doesn’t just have to lie with boss fights, but those could have the best set pieces in the game for some spectacular team-ups. The teamwork could work right in normal combat. For instance, Raph could be smacking the snot out of a Foot Ninja, knocking him backwards, where Donatello is doing battle with a foe near a balcony. With a quick shout-out to Don, he could take the unsuspecting ninja and quickly dish him over the balcony before going back to work on his opponent. I’ve seen cases in the show where one enemy will get double-teamed by two Turtles that coordinate attacks, smacking the enemy back and forth for a satisfying beat down. You could even set ambushes, with one Turtle waiting in cover for enemies to be knocked there way where they can pop up and either restrain the enemy or knock him out from behind. Enemies could have things dropped on them from the rafters or rooftops while they’re in the midst of battle. Turtles could springboard off of each other to attack airborne enemies. The possibilities are endless. With the right setups for dismantling foes, this could make for some satisfying combat instead of all four Turtles just fighting independently with basic combos. I’m not saying combo attacks wouldn’t still be in place, but there needs to be an emphasis on teamwork, as that is what the Ninja Turtles are all about.
I love stealth-action titles. Metal Gear Solid, Hitman, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution are all great examples of ones I’m particularly fond of. Now, the Turtles don’t necessarily need to reach that level of intricacy, but we need to remember that the Ninja Turtles are, well, ninjas. Stealth is in their repertoire. To bring out another example from the new show, in episode 4, the Turtles set an ambush in the sewers, where they picked off one Foot Ninja after the other, popping out of the shadows without alerting the group as a whole. I’d love to see something like this incorporated into the game. Being able to issue orders to your brothers with a top-down map to tell them where to go could allow for you to use your head in regards to where to place Turtles in such an event, as well as allowing players to command the Turtles on when to make their moves once enemies start prowling. In some cases, you could enter a large room where enemies are already patrolling the area and are forced to coordinate the Turtles without any of the enemies discovering them moving around. A cover system could be put in place to allow you to sneak around behind obstacles and walls. This doesn’t need to be a huge element of the game, but I’d like to see it peppered into some missions. It’d add some variety to the gameplay as well as emphasizing another trait of the Turtles.
The only time I can ever recall being able to drive the Turtle Van in a Ninja Turtles game was the original NES title developed by Konami and published by Ultra in North America in 1989. You could use it to drive around the city and run over Foot Soldiers, making it easier to get around, as well as combat some tank-like vehicles that would otherwise run over your Turtles should you be caught roaming on foot. Now, the Turtle Van, which is actually dubbed the Shellraiser in the new series, hasn’t made its debut yet, but I could definitely see some possibilities for some chase scenes with it. The toy version of the Shellraiser features a couple turrets and some hatches that open on the side and the front, so a version of it in the game could feature one Turtle on a turret blasting away chasing foes, one Turtle hanging out of each door staving off any enemies trying to hop on board, and the last one behind the wheel. It could make for some fun and chaotic missions where teamwork will judge whether you can lose your foes or end up in a scrap heap.
The Turtles each have their own hobbies, and that’s one thing that makes them all unique. These kinds of things could be incorporated into the game to help take a break from thrashing bad guys. Michelangelo enjoys skateboarding and video games, so taking his skateboard for a spin around the sewers and playing arcade cabinets in the Turtles’ home could be good ways to pass the time. Donatello loves inventing and building things with his genius mind, so he could perhaps make upgrades to the Shellraiser and develop gadgets for the Turtles to use during missions. Raphael, being the strongest of the bunch, could help with stat boosts like increased health and damage. Leonardo, as the leader, could help with learning new team-based attacks. Giving Master Splinter a visit could allow you to learn new individual attacks through training exercises for each of the Turtles. To top it all off, why not order up some pizza to give the Turtles some temporary stat increases before heading out on a mission? You could even have the Turtles head up to the rooftops of Manhattan in an open-world setting to tackle side quests like saving civilians and helping April out with some missions, seeing as she’s practically a part of the team in the new series. If there’s one thing a lot of games could use nowadays, it’s lots of relevant content to keep you playing.
This is what I’m talking about. A Turtles game for the current generation. Simple beat ’em ups just do not suffice anymore. While I still enjoy them, I demand something deeper and far more innovative from a new Turtles game and I hope that whenever Activision decides to pull the trigger on developing one, they make one that isn’t some simple collect-a-thon with mindless button mashing like some games aimed at younger audiences can be. With a game like this, it focuses on all of the key traits of the characters it’s based off of, while also making for a varied and content-heavy experience for people to enjoy, whether they’re playing alone or with three other friends.