For all of the booth space and PR devoted to the new Turtles games, they're really... not all that thrilling, at least if we go straight by the E3 build. Dom might steer you differently. Don't believe him!
Nor should you believe Donatello, for he is far out-of-character in the E3 trailer. If anyone is to declare the game "fucking rad" under natural circumstances, it should be either Raphael (for the first of the description) or Michelangelo (for the second). For Don to act out so -- well, it had to have been scripted.
I don't know. Playing the games, I'm struck by both a general sense of competence and a sense that these games aren't receiving quite the amount of care as Konami's original Turtles lineup.
The new show is popular, but it's nowhere near the Beatles-scale phenomenon that was the original Surge-licensed push of fifteen years ago. Although arguably far superior to the old series in some aspects (and believe me, I'll argue it), the new show is comparably small potatoes in terms of sheer influence.
Perhaps as a result, it seems that the new games aren't as high a priority as they might be. What is sort of disconcerting is that these things have the potential to be something really entertaining. The originals were never exactly high art, but on the scale of mindless circa-1990 videogame fun, they rank pretty close to the top -- especially when three other players were involved.
Oddly, the new games seem to only allow two-player co-op. Konami has offered other explanations for this, but my suspicion is that it has to do with the fact that the console version is being developed for all three systems simultaneously. This means that consistency demands the lowest common denominator, which means that the Xbox and Gamecube games are crippled because of the limited controller ports on the PS2.
This is just my guess, of course.
As I said, the games look like they've got some promise. They're bright and fluid. The characters animate well. The Turtles have a lot of personality. The two bosses I saw in the console game (a giant mouser, and a robot made out of junk -- taken from an episode of the new TV series) were creative and interesting to fight, even if the battles did tend to last a bit too long.
The real problem is -- well, no. One of two major problems is how sterile the game world is. (I believe that was Doug's way of putting it.) According to the notes Brandon handed to me, which he jotted down during his discussion with Konami, the development team is still working on making the levels more interactive. Perhaps "not as much" as in the old games (as the note says), but more than is in the demo.
I'm sorry, but how interactive were the levels in the original Turtles games? Every now and then you'd find a parking meter or a fire hydrant to slash. There might be the odd Exploding Oil Drum (to augment the authentic NYC atmosphere of the games). Aside from that, there wasn't a whole lot to do.
As it is in the demo, there's... even less. You walk from left to right, fighting dozens of clones of the exact same Purple Dragon thug. Maybe a spare Mouser or two. When the area is clear, you're flagged on. Occasionally the level will require that you walk up or down a side alley.
There are cardboard boxes piled in one of these alleys. I couldn't attack them. Well, I could attack them just fine. It's just that nothing happened. There were, of course, special cardboard boxes, placed in specific locations, which I was allowed to hit. Just -- not the ones which made up the scenery.
In terms of the controls -- well. Technically I suppose they're more sophiticated than in the old games. They have to be, really. They're mapped out rather similarly to those in Koji Igarashi's Lament of Innocence. That is, weak attack; strong attack; jump; extra item. There's a "slightly deeper" combo system, as Konami puts it. I managed to pull off some sort of interesting special moves, without knowing how I did it. I couldn't find any obvious way to reproduce them, but perhaps that was just my fault.
Oh. Right. Remember that I said there was a second problem? I've already alluded to it, but it's the fact that the new games are almost exactly like the old ones. The producer of the new games is from Konami's old Turtles team, and -- again, going from Brandon's notes -- the old team is supervising the games, along with Mirage studios.
The problem with this... eurgh. How do I explain it? It's the same difficulty you'll see in Wind Waker, only much more obvious in this case.
The game... more or less plays exactly like the old ones. This could be construed as a good thing, since the old games were so much fun. That was twelve years ago, however. At the time, those games pretty much took full advantage of the hardware and of the latest principles in game development. The new games do neither.
The characters still move just as they used to. When you execute just about any move, there's an agonizing recovery time. Attack, and wait. And wait. Then return to neutral stance, and you're allowed to keep walking. These huge delays do help in stringing together combos, but when the combo is over you still have to wait for the animations to complete.
It's not as big a deal as it might sound, but it does make the gameplay kind of frustrating. I don't always feel like I'm exactly in control. It's like the buttons are triggers, setting loose processes which have nothing to do with me as a player. I'm left to watch and admire what my Turtle is doing on his own.
One of the bosses requires some heavy platforming. Although a bit overdone in this instance, I wouldn't mind seeing a bit more of that, in favor of the flat, empty streets. If Konami chooses to vary up the level design in the final game, this could go a long way toward making the game feel more substantial. Vary the enemies a little more -- at least throw in a darned palette swap, fer cryin' out loud -- and tighten up the controls somewhat, and the fighting could become far less tedious.
The console game just needs reigning-in. It's not hard to see how it could be really satisfying. But it's not, yet. Not in the build I played, anyway.
As for the Gameboy Advance game (which I just realized that I've been ignoring up until now) -- well. It's also rather tedious. If anything, it seems like a direct sequel to the original Gameboy Turtles games. You remember those? The default gameplay is more or less identical. There apparently are a few extra modes, where you drive around on tanks or motorcycles, but I never encountered those.
The most interesting thing that happened to me was a scripted event where Raphael had to climb a building by sticking his sais into one of its walls. In theory, this could be a neat ability -- but it seems more like a gimmick than anything.
The control is loose here, as well.
The games aren't set for release until October, so maybe there's some time to brush them up. I hope so; there is some good work in here. The mediocrity is really just a crust on the top, which could easily be scraped away.
I'll keep watching, anyway.
Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh
lives in Eastman territory