These heroes in a half shell are back and ready to rumble in the upcoming brawler for the Nintendo Wii, developed by Game Arts. The turtles are making a comeback and drawing in a whole new audience with their cartoon revival in the last few years, as well as the recent CGI movie. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash-Up lets you fight as your favorite turtle in familiar locations for fans who have grown up with or who have recently begun to follow the series. We had the opportunity to stop by Ubisoft's offices to get a feel for the game and spent some additional time with it at the company's press event in Los Angeles a few weeks ago.
We were excited to find out that TMNT: Smash-Up will play very much like Super Smash Bros. in that you duke it out onscreen with a simple move set, but considering that it's based on health you don't have to knock anyone offstage. This isn't going to be a traditional fighter in which you'll have to memorize button combos and time them correctly; instead, it's meant to be easily accessible for anyone to pick up and play. Only a partial character roster has been revealed, and it includes the core group from the franchise: Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael, April, Shredder, and Splinter. We weren't able to get a total roster count or even a hint at whom else might be included, but we could definitely use our imagination and come up with a good number of characters that we'd love to see.
The controls work the same way with each character, and given that they don't come with special moves, it's fairly easy to get a handle on any of them. Their fighting style, speed, and range will differ, so April is surprisingly fast and fluid in her movements whereas Shredder is incredibly slow but more powerful. Our favorite was Donatello--who always has a tendency to perform better in Turtles games--because he moved with a decent amount of speed and his range was unmatched. Each character is surrounded by a colored aura to help you keep track of one another, because it can be a little difficult to distinguish Raphael from Michelangelo in a four-player match.
We were able to try two separate control schemes, one with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk and the other with the remote only. We liked the Nunchuk-and-remote combo better because we could control our character freely with the analog stick and use the D pad for our ninja powers. Holding the remote sideways was easy enough, except due to the limited amount of buttons, special attacks required the A and 2 buttons. Everyone has access to ninja powers, which are gained from items that drop periodically during the match. As long as you pick up the item before your opponent does, you can whip out some long-range attacks with a set of shuriken or breathe fire, which is an interesting sight when it's April doing the singeing. The A and B buttons (1 and 2 when using the remote only) are for your light and heavy attacks, so you can do combos or different moves depending on the direction in which you're swinging. At this point in the prebeta stage, the controls felt unresponsive at times, especially when we were changing directions quickly while trying to land a string of attacks. We hope that this will be adjusted further before release, but at this point, everything else is looking good. There is some light use of the motion controls, but only when you're stunned after taking a severe beating. An icon will appear over your head to indicate that you can shake your controller to recover.
The constantly changing environment contributes a lot to your success or failure, especially when elements such as running water or leaping crocodiles can cost you your match. We fought in Splinter's well-kept underground dojo as well as the shady Manhattan apartment rooftops, but it was much more chaotic and fun to fight in the jungle, sewer, and enemy-base stages that involved broken platforms along with strong currents--the wet and electrical kind. The jungle stage began on a huge log with a lovely waterfall backdrop, but after a few punches and swings, the log fell apart and we tumbled down into an area with three dangling logs and a very hungry crocodile. Crocodile warnings will appear during the match, so whoever happens to be standing at the bottom of the screen is guaranteed to be its lunch. This is your chance to play strategically; once the warning begins to flash, the crocodile won't appear if no one is hanging out at the bottom. If you can wait long enough and then knock someone off or cut the rope attaching his or her platform, your opponent will automatically be toast. This high-flying lizard doesn't just hang out in the tropics; you'll find it in the sewer stage as well. After you destroy the sewer door to the left of the stage, a rush of water (eww) pushes you and everyone else to a new area with multiple platforms. Water is constantly flowing here across all platforms, and it can be hard to move against the current to stay out of harm's way while going after your opponents. The final stage that we tried was an enemy base that had crumbling towers and electrical hazards. After you fall through the upper level, the area below has a strange orb in the middle of the platform that, if you hit, sets off this rotating, electrical booby trap that makes it difficult--and ultimately more fun--for everyone.
We learned that Game Arts has worked closely with Mirage Studios and Peter Laird, cocreator of TMNT, to capture that ninja turtle vibe. The game isn't based on any specific cartoon or movie, but it incorporates a combination of elements across the entire Turtles franchise. It's obvious that a lot of care was put into designing the characters and replicating familiar areas such as the dojo. The team was given access to Laird's library of comics and worked closely with him, receiving feedback in regard to the story and character designs. TMNT: Smash-Up's overall look is reminiscent of the recent CGI movie, with the leaner and meaner turtles and an ultrathin April O'Neil. Shredder has also taken on a more supernatural look, with glowing, demon-red eyes, and Splinter is exactly what you'd expect him to be. The voice actors from the current TMNT cartoons will lend their talents, which we imagine we'll hear more of when we receive new information regarding the single-player mode.
TMNT: Smash-Up is coming along nicely, and we're looking forward to finding out more details about the roster and single-player mode. If the controls can be tightened up, this could be an incredibly fun brawler for the different generations of turtles fans. Be sure to check back soon because we will update when more information becomes available. The game is currently set to be released in September.
[Update: Release date is now September 22.]