Ground Punch’s resident hipster and self-proclaimed indie expert, Jeremy Winslow, retreats to his cave for hibernation, only to find his slumber interrupted. Sleep depraved and angry, the wild JerBear’s roars echo and reverberate off the cave walls. Those who disturb fear not only his claws but his rancorous bite. Shrouded in an abyssal blackness and preying ever ferociously on approachers, JerBear watches voraciously, waiting for fools to enter. A message is scrawled above the entrance: “Welcome to The Bear Cave.” Tread lightly.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan had potential. With the pedigree of PlatinumGames it primed to be an excellent third-person character action game. Sadly, an uneventful narrative, chaotic combat, meager enemy variety, frustrating boss fights, and an omission of local co-op make this game one of the worst in PlatinumGames’ portfolio. (And I like The Legend of Korra, which is arguably terrible.) At least there’s plenty of pizza, even if it’s cold.”
Yeah, TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan was awful. So awful that I trudged through the entire game in one sitting just so I can get that stupid game out of my PS4 as fast as possible. I started it at 10 pm, finished it at around 2 am the next morning, then wrote the review the very same day. This must’ve been my quickest turnaround for a review. Like, 12 hours total, maybe shorter. But I had to shit on this game — it sucked, and I was disappointed it sucked.
So when it was announced on October 20 that Raw Thrills is planning to release a TMNT beat ’em up arcade cabinet based on the Nickelodeon television series, I felt a rush of both nostalgic excitement and restless trepidation. I have nothing against arcade cabinets or Raw Thrills (Coin-Op, here in Sacramento, California, is one of these most popular dive bars because of its increasing collection of vintage and new-age cabinets. That, or the massive booze selection) but I’m more apprehensive because of Activision’s lingering stench.
The combat was indiscernible and simplistic. The narrative was banal and predictable. The art style, while true to its source, lacked detail and polish. But the biggest disappointment about PlatinumGames’ third-person, character-action game was the omission of local co-op. Considering the turtles have had a multitude of quality games prior to Activision getting its grubby hands on the license — dating all the way back to the NES in 1989 — I’m surprised the publisher hadn’t looked into the series’ beloved tradition of couch co-op . Yes, I know it’s 2017 and even our single-player games require internet to function, but local cooperative play isn’t dead (despite the big middle finger from studios like 343 Industries and Microsoft, with their baffling logic for axing co-op splitscreen modes from Halo 5.) Time and time again, the games industry loves to tell us a genre or mode isn’t profitable as a way to exploit our naïveté and urge us to spend more money.
“Hey, TMNT fan!” Activision excitedly approaches you. “I see you’re enjoying TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan. Did you know it’s multiplayer?” You widen your eyes in interest. “That’s right! You just need to buy another console, another copy of TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan, and an online subscription, and then you and a friend can play as your favorite turtles and beat The Shredder together!‘ You hand Activision your wallet and it scurries away, chuckling as it fades into the horizon.
This new arcade cabinet from Raw Thrills is supposed to be a beat ‘em up reminiscent of other arcade-style beat ‘em ups like Battletoads (1991), Double Dragon (1987), Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (1995), The Simpsons (1991), X-Men (1992), and the like. And while this sounds enticing, I cannot help but feel cautious about this release for a few reasons. Activision’s TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan sold a combined total of 37 thousand units to date globally — across five platforms. Across three platforms, 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Danger of the Ooze sold a combined total of 58 thousand units globally. While a little trickier to pinpoint — specifically because sales figures for this game weren’t tracked on the Wii and Xbox 360 for some reason — even 2013’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles only sold an estimation of one thousand copies on the 3DS. The latter two games are based on Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, because every reboot needs “Tales of” in its title) that started in 2012. This leads me to believe this even-more-kid-friendly reboot isn’t resonating with traditional TMNT fans. (Like myself. And probably you, too.)
Now, of course, that’s not to say Raw Thrills will do an awful job at recreating the eccentricity you’d expect from the turtles. (Full disclosure: I’ve never played a Raw Thrills cabinet, so I can’t judge the quality of their setup.) However, basing an arcade cabinet on Nickelodeon’s rendition of the heroes in a half-shell doesn’t sound lucrative for two reasons: 1) Those children (or kids or tweens or teens or whatever) watching this new TMNT might not be familiar with the series’ past, and 2) Those watching this new TMNT might not be familiar with arcade cabinets.
With such a rich history of enemies, environments, and special moves dating as far back as 1984, limiting the cabinet to a recent reboot seems like a disservice to the franchise’s robust history. Although Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles does its best to capture the turtles’ essence, it fails to establish both the camaraderie between the brothers and their exceptional training. If you watched Nickelodeon’s reboot alone, you wouldn’t exactly understand why these anthropomorphic turtles were popular in the 80s and 90s.
In a discussion with Arcade Heroes, Raw Thrills said, “This new version of TMNT is a completely new re-imagining of the brawler concept. There are more moves, more environmental interaction, cool Turtle Power special attacks, voiceover from the entire cast (including Seth Green and others)… it’s really amazing.”
This sounds promising. But if Raw Thrills can’t capture the essences of the turtles, then we’ll have another TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan on our hands. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that.