Mention Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to any videogame fan, and chances are they'll wax nostalgic about the two Turtles action games that Konami released back in the 80s and 90s in the arcade and Nintendo systems. It may be a sign of the times, but Konami hasn't quite nailed a hit with the Ninja Heroes the same way it did back in the 16-bit days, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: Mutant Nightmare is the company's third attempt at repeating the arcade versions' success since the franchise was revived a few years back. This time, Konami's skipped over the Game Boy Advance for a portable version. The Nintendo DS is the company's new outlet for the old-school TMNT design, but it's too much like the GBA version with some completely unnecessary touch screen elements tacked on.
Like the previous games in the TMNT series on the Game Boy Advance, Mutant Nightmare 3 is more in line with the old-school NES Turtles adventure Konami released under its "Ultra" label than it does with the successful side-scrolling brawler designs. So while there's a hefty amount of punch-kick-slash gameplay in TMNT 3, there's also a focus on platform jumping, level exploration, and puzzle solving.
There are four turtles in the clan, which makes sense that Konami offer up four playable characters for any of its TMNT games. Mutant Nightmare's level designs are segmented for each of the four characters, so if you select Raphael at the start of the game, you'll get levels that are made for his skill set of moves. All told there are more than 50 stages in the entire package, but that's spread across the single player adventure as well as Battle Mode, which sits as a game option outside of the main game.
The gameplay is a simple matter of going through the different environments as the different turtles, punching and kicking and comboing the different mutant creatures that apparently have some sort of grudge against the turtles. This game design might seem like the same flavor as the arcade designs, but it's a little more restrictive since the action is fixed on 2D plane instead of allowing for foreground and background movements. This 2D gameplay style has been proven successful in games like Viewtiful Joe, but unlike Viewtiful Joe, TMNT3 doesn't give a whole lot of freedom in the combat. It's a simple "mash the button until the enemy disappears" environment -- there's some technique, sure, but not nearly as much as what other development teams have done with the fixed 2D combat genre.
To spice up the action for DS owners, Konami has enabled "context sensitive" double-teaming techniques during battle and exploration. If players are in a jam, they can tap on a highlighted button on the DS touch panel to call upon a second turtle to clean up the screen
as long as they have a power-up in reserve. In exploration mode, these buttons serve as a special function that's context sensitive to the area the player steps into. If there's a ledge that's out of reach, a turtle button will light up that, when tapped, will bring one of the guys in from off-screen to toss your character up to that platform. Honestly, neither of these two touch-screen functions needed to be assigned to the lower display since the system still has a couple of buttons available to do the job. And besides, the horrendously piercing "BEEP-BEEP-BEEP" sound used to alert the player when a button's been highlighted is so loud and overused that it drowns out the rest of the audio.
The designers try to use the touch screen for other elements that aren't action oriented, but even these seen tacked on and unnecessary. To open a flood gate, for example, players need to whip out their stylus to turn a wheel to three or four notches before the time runs out. It's challenging if you use a finger, but that's due to poor touch sensitivity -- and besides, the game pauses to give players some time to pop their pen out of their system anyway.
Along with the old-school game design is, unfortunately, a very old-school graphic engine. The developers obviously lifted a lot of the established art assets from the second TMNT game on the GBA for many of the elements in Mutant Nightmare, and the previous generation art style really sticks out like a sore thumb in places. The designers try to push out some 3D elements, but they're all relegated to the background and rarely come into play during any of the action.
There are a couple of modes that improve the game's production higher than a simple, repetitive hack-and-slash. Along with four player wireless fights, there's also a Battle Mode that builds upon the engine that's created for the main adventure. Battle mode is unique in the sense that it offers a slightly different set of admittedly very tricky challenges, requiring players to maneuver through a series of enclosed arenas snagging as many gems as possible before time runs out. It gets tougher with each level, and it gets to a point where the last few levels may take you more than a few tries to complete.
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