IGN Review of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash-Up
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have ridden a few waves of popularity over the course of a couple decades and in that time they've starred in quite a few videogame adaptations... including standalone fighters. Games like TMNT Tournament Fighters on the Super NES and Genesis, and TMNT Battle Nexus and Mutant Melee on the last generation of systems explored the one-on-one brawling design, an idea that certainly fits these characters. The unfortunate thing is that the designs weren't exactly high quality -- and that's putting it nicely.
Perhaps Ubisoft realized the error of its ways: instead of trying to build a fighter from the ground up, the publisher had an established developer take their previous efforts and turn it into a Turtles game. In other words, the Wii Smash Bros. team recycled all the work it did for Nintendo and turned it into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash-Up.
We already know how good Smash Bros. is, and if you're a Wii owner you're doing yourself a disservice if you don't have a copy of the game. So, with that said, if you're going to have a developer clone the awesome fighting experience with a batch of new characters, you might as well go to the source responsible, right? TMNT Smash-Up does nothing to hide from its inspiration: everything about this game is Smash Bros., from the way you select your characters to the way the fights are introduced, all the way to the fighting mechanic itself that uses the Wii Remote, Nunchuk, Classic Controller, and GameCube controller in different configurations. There's even an online component.
Smash-Up is, essentially, a fighter that places all the usual TMNT crew in an assortment of arenas in two, three, and four-player battles. Fights play out exactly as they do in Smash Bros., meaning that attacks are pulled off with the two action buttons and special moves are performed by "smashing" the control stick to a position while hitting the button simultaneously. There are two distinct changes to the Smash Bros. mechanic: one, fights end after the characters' power bar is whittled down to nothing (or there's a ring out -- that much is the same). And two: characters can cling to walls and leap off them for devastating attacks. Beyond that though, this is Smash Bros. to its core, just with Turtles instead of Mario characters.
So, with that said, there's nothing really wrong with Smash-Up considering the foundation it's built upon. It's just nothing particularly original, and for the most part everything in Smash-Up is in its "inspiration," and done bigger and better than this game. Smash-Up's character roster is pretty paltry in comparison -- it does have the key players, but there's very little variety to be found. Smash-Up doesn't even really "celebrate" its franchise in the same way Nintendo does with Smash Bros.: Smash-Up isn't specifically referencing any TV show, comic or movie, but it's clear that the character models and some of the locations (like the rooftop at night) are based on the 2007 CG movie. No references are made to any other series, so you're not going to hear the classic 80s theme song or see those character models here.
Okay, I do have to mention one cool addition: Tag Team. In this mode you pick two characters for your team, and during the fight you can swap between the two to protect a weaker character or to even string together combos. The only thing Smash Bros. has that's similar is specific characters that can swap forms, like Zelda/Sheik and the Pokemon Trainer.
The rest of the game's presentation will feel extremely familiar: for those solo players you've got arcade mode, which is a fixed progression with a story attached to it. Here you'll earn credit in the form of turtle shells that can be used for the unlockables in a weird shooting gallery. Then you've got the Battle Royal for the multiplayer component, a Survival mode for a one-against-many challenge, and a Mission Mode that pits players in specific scenarios based on the characters in the game. Of course, you can take your fights online in the same Smash Bros. interface, but don't expect much beyond standard battles.
The Smash Bros. foundation definitely enables the designers to create some good looking environments and impressive character models. There are even arenas that alter their look and structure during the battle, either automatically or after a particular move: the sewer that gets blasted with pressurized water to send the combatants into a new area is one of the cooler effects in the game. But where the in-game visuals are pretty decent, Smash-Up's cutscenes are absolutely dreadful. I'm convinced that the development team had bigger and better things for the storytelling but ran low on time and budget, and what we're seeing is just storyboard-like animatics for the CG that was originally going to be in the game. The art, clearly a throwback to the original comic (and lifted out of the "limited edition" comic included in the box), just looks horrible and animates with the awkwardness of someone learning Flash for the first time.
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