Whether you’re a fan from way back or just casually aware of the craze, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) is a name to be reckoned with in the annals of geekdom. Ubisoft has been going all out this year to celebrate the 25th anniversary of these brawlers on the half shell, and now it’s time for Wii and PS2 to get in on the action. Does this Super Smash Bros.-inspired fighter have what it takes to impress Nintendo’s hardcore audience, or is this merely another re-shelling of the license?
Collaborating with key artists from the team that brought us Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Ubisoft has put together a solid fighting game with all the usual trimmings. Arcade is your typical story mode, mixing a handful of matches with a bit of presentation. Your sensei, Master Splinter, wants you to participate in a fighting tournament, but once the rounds are over, the real battle begins. It’s a very generic tale, loosely strung together, but the artwork should prove entertaining for older fans who got their start with the franchise reading the TMNT comic books.
From the outset, the pickings are pretty slim, and players will have to make repeat trips through the Arcade mode in order to get at most of the unlockables in the game. Arcade mode is pretty short, however, and setting the difficulty to “easy” will make unlocking characters and other goodies less of a hassle. The A.I. is pretty impressive, though, even on the easiest setting, and there are five levels of difficulty to choose from. The first few battles are one on one against CPU characters, though you’ll later be pitted against multiple foes.
In addition to Arcade mode, there is Survival and Missions. Survival mode is pretty self-explanatory, tasking you with staying alive as long as possible against an endless string of combatants. Beating your best time is incentive to make repeat revisits, and it’s a worthwhile addition for folks only interested in a bit of single-player action.
Missions are comprised mostly of having you defeat enemies in a specific fashion: “K.O. said opponent using a throw technique” or “K.O. your enemy with a strong attack,” etc. The missions feel more like an obligatory bullet point on the game’s list of features, and most folks will likely find it a chore to complete them all.
The real meat and potatoes of Smash-up, however, lies in its multiplayer components, and the developers don’t deviate at all from the Brawl formula. Both the local and online-multiplayer options allow for up to four players to get in on the action. Matches are almost every bit as fast-paced and chaotic as Smash Bros., and though there are some unique and very entertaining mechanics in Smash-up, the game almost feels like a Brawl expansion pack.
There’s a total of 16 different characters to choose from, three of them Rabbids from Ubisoft’s Raving Rabbids franchise. There are obvious choices, such as Shredder and Master Splinter, but the line-up includes a surprising amount of filler for such a limited roster of characters. Still, each brawler brings something unique to the fight, and the combat and controls are tight and satisfying.
Like Brawl, Smash-up keeps things simple. This isn’t SoulCalibur or Street Fighter, where you’ve got a seemingly endless library of moves to choose from. The focus here is on party-oriented chaos, and to that end, it’s a game that’s got some legs.
Wii owners get four control options to choose from, and like Brawl, you can set each button to execute specific commands. We found the Wii Remote and Nunchuk set-up to be the most responsive option, but preferences will obviously vary.
Smash-up’s mechanics are straightforward, though there’s enough here to inspire more serious players to get down and dirty. The analog stick moves your character, pressing up to jump and double jump. You’ve got a weak and strong attack, and each offers unique variations when combined with directional presses on the control stick. Grabbing enemies is executed by pushing both attack buttons simultaneously, and each character can block, dodge, or perform wall jumps.
Unlike Brawl, if you fall off a stage, you’re not limited to two jumps as your only option for making it back onto solid ground. If you time your directional presses on the analog stick just right, you can often wall jump back to safety, depending, of course, on which stage you’re battling in. It’s a really cool mechanic, one that requires a bit of finesse. Another technique unique to Smash-up is the ability to sidle up to walls temporarily, either to stay out of harm’s way or, more often, to launch an aerial attack.
These might seem like minor additions, but they do give Smash-up its own identity, making it a worthy alternative to Nintendo’s juggernaut franchise. Stages, too, are interesting and well designed, borrowing both from Brawl and the Dead or Alive series. Some stages will force you into new areas, and various hazards add an additional element of excitement to the already frantic action. The selection of items is fairly limited, though items do play a significant role during matches.
Smash-up has a strong foundation, and ultimately, the pedigree of its development team shines through. However, the game is by no means perfect. There are only a handful of new stages to unlock, and though Ubisoft covers all bases in terms of options, it’s a pretty barebones package overall.
When it comes to online gameplay, Smash-up performs better than Brawl, but it’s still not quite enough. Surprisingly, though the game just released, we had little difficultly jumping into matches with random players. We occasionally got logged off when unable to find a room, but for the most part, the matchmaking aspect seems to work fine.
The main issue with playing online is lag. Testing the game on a network with broadband Internet access, we experienced at least slight delay in every match we played. On average, though, it would take our character a full second or two to respond to the commands we input. If you happen to be lucky enough to get matched up with players who also have a decent connection, the delay isn’t nearly as bad. With such fast-paced fighting action, however, serious lag can render the game pretty much unplayable. We’re not sure if this is an issue that can be corrected over time, but if past experience with the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection is any indication of what we can expect, the future of online matches doesn’t look too promising.
In terms of presentation, TMNT Smash-up is solid but not great. The character models, especially the turtles, look excellent; they animate wonderfully, and the framerate (locally) is smooth. Most of the backgrounds look good in the sense that there’s almost no shimmer and the texture work is well defined overall. However, the art style isn’t very ambitious, and a few of the video tricks the game uses look cheesy. The voice work is sparse, and the character utterances are repetitive. The musical variety is also very limited, but it fits the TMNT thing well enough.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash-up isn’t quite fit to be a Brawl contender, but it’s a worthy companion piece for folks looking for more of that same type of chaotic action. The fighting mechanics are tight and responsive, in spite of a few technical shortcomings. It doesn’t feel weighty enough or polished enough to warrant a $50 price tag, but TMNT and Brawl fans alike might still get their money’s worth.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
Though some of the background visuals look as cheesy as the Turtles’ favorite pizza, the character models and animations are excellent. 4.2 Control
Smash-up is, for all intents and purposes, a Brawl clone, so the mechanics are simple. Everything’s tight and responsive, though. 3.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
There’s not much to the voice work, but it’s serviceable. The music is fitting, though there’s little variety here. 3.5
Smash-up’s online gameplay is more functional than Brawl, though it still doesn’t live up to expectations. The extras and unlockables aren’t that interesting, but the game’s good fun when played locally with friends.
3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.