When Konami released Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles last year for consoles and the PC, all we wanted was a spirited beat-'em-up in the vein of the classic Turtles arcade games. While Konami managed to get the genre right, it unfortunately succeeded at little else, turning in a rather prosaic effort that didn't have much going for it beyond its cel-shaded graphics. A year later, Konami has churned out a sequel to TMNT, titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Battle Nexus. The one problem in the original game that the developers behind this game managed to correct was the lack of four-player co-op play, which is now available throughout all of Battle Nexus' modes. Unfortunately, they also somehow managed to make every other aspect of the game significantly worse. The gameplay has shifted from a simple beat-'em-up to an erratically difficult platformer with exceedingly lousy combat, and every other aspect of the game seems to be frozen in some sort of time warp, remaining totally untouched from the original and aging poorly to boot. Battle Nexus is more than just a step backward for this series--it's a step backward into a large chasm.
While the story aspect of the last TMNT game wasn't a huge factor, it was at least better than what Battle Nexus has to offer. The storyline of this game is ripped largely out of the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series' second season, and it consists of an overarching storyline that puts the four heroic turtles--Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael--on a quest to rescue their master, Splinter. At the beginning, you'll have a couple of story paths available to you, as well as a couple of locked story paths. Each story branches out into an episodic series of misadventures that you must play through, and some of these missions even have multiple paths. What's weird is that there's obviously a fairly linear plotline that the game follows, as evidenced by the way the different animated cutscenes taken from the show play out. So, even though you can choose from a couple of different missions, only one of them actually starts in the proper place in the story.
Further compounding the disjointed nature of the mission structure is the ridiculously short length of each section. Some of the missions have a couple of parts--usually the boss-fight areas--but for the most part, the levels tend to be very, very brief, with only a scant bit of combat and a few jumps and obstacles to traverse. The levels where you have to fight off specific enemies to proceed tend to take longer, but those only surface about half the time. The rest of the time you can just run right through, ignoring all but the most persistent of enemies, and be done in a snap. Of course, you won't earn as high of a grade at the end of the level, and you may miss some of the game's collectible power-up items, but in the grand scheme of things, these bonuses are pretty meaningless overall.
Another weird and annoying thing about Battle Nexus is its character-management system. Each time you start up the game, you'll be presented with a character-select screen for one to four players. If you're the only one playing, you'll still have to select four characters from a pool including the turtles themselves and side characters like Splinter and Casey Jones. You'll be able to have only one character onscreen at a time, but you can switch between them on the fly. The reason for this is simple--at certain times during missions, specific characters' abilities are needed to proceed. However, this is set up in the cheapest way possible. For example, if you get to a door that has to be opened via a control panel, you'll have to cycle through to get to Donatello, since he's the smartest of the group, and logically is the one who can operate electronics. Of course, all you actually have to do is press his weak attack button in the vicinity of the control panel, and the door magically opens. For everyone else, it's just as simple. One guy can move heavier blocks, another can chop through certain objects, and that's about it. At times, you can actually circumvent these ability-specific objectives altogether. That's as much character-specific action as you're going to see in the game, which is pretty underwhelming, to say the least.
Of course, switching between characters is really the least of your worries while you're playing Battle Nexus--the generally unpleasant gameplay is what you'll be grinding your teeth about. While last year's TMNT was mostly just a dumb beat-'em-up, it had enough of a framework that it was possible to imagine the developers eventually building something playable on it. Instead, they managed to go in exactly the opposite direction, needlessly mucking up the action with a lot of silly platforming mechanics that are badly executed and feel wildly out of place. Many of the game's levels are weirdly reliant on moving platforms, timed jumps, and other mechanics that this game simply doesn't do very well. The platforming stuff feels forced, and some of the contextual stuff the game tries to make you do is just lame. Take, for instance, the wall-jumping mechanic. Sometimes you'll have to jump between a couple of walls to get up to a ledge--sort of like in Ninja Gaiden, or any number of other platform action games. Unfortunately, here the mechanic is so sloppy that trying to time jumps properly is just frustrating, and even when you get it right, the animation is glitchy.
Battle Nexus' combat is just as bad. The enemies weren't very smart in the last TMNT game, and they're just as brain-dead here. Only now, some of them are proficient at blocking, so you have to suffer through trying to beat up an enemy who not only can't fight properly, but who also knows how to turtle itself until you walk away for a while. Most times, grunt enemies will just stand there, slowly walking around in a circle until you get too close or attack. Enemies with projectile attacks will attack more often, and are often the most difficult, mostly because the game likes to put them together in significant numbers and tailor their attack patterns so one will always attack right after the other. On the other hand, you'll frequently find yourself without any enemies to beat up at all, as many levels feature oddly vacant sections.
What is perhaps most tragic of all is that none of the moves your characters can pull off are at all satisfying. Nearly all the attacks are holdovers from last year's game, and yet somehow they feel a little more random and poorly executed. Some characters, like Donatello, seem almost totally useless in combat situations, unless you're just hammering out supermoves all the time. Michelangelo, on the other hand, seems ridiculously overpowered, thanks to his multiple-hit jump attack and spinning kick attack. He's really the only character you ever need to use during boss fights, as most of these battles can be won by simply using his jump attack over and over again. The combat is just this brand of shallow throughout the entire game, and it makes trying to play through any of its modes an absolute bore.
But what about the four-player co-op mode--the thing that seemed to be most sorely missing from the last Turtles game? Well, it's here, but that's about all you can say about it. It nice that it's present and available throughout the entire game. However, the fact that the game itself is terribly ill-suited for multiplayer essentially ruins the whole experience. All the platforming and wall jumping and such makes the whole matter of trying to get through a level with multiple people downright infuriating, and the camera frequently loses track of characters who move too far offscreen. However, the most insane thing of all is that all four characters share the same life meter. Any damage any character sustains brings down the communal life bar, which, as you can imagine, leads to a lot of shouting matches with those who are performing poorly. Basically, it boils down to this: If you can actually get friends to play this game with you, they'll probably hate you afterward.
The game also contains an unlockables system, in which you collect antiques throughout each mission in an effort to unlock items in April's antiques store. Most of the unlockables are just concept art and things of that nature, but the one thing you can unlock that's actually pretty cool is the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game. Apart from the audio being totally different, this is the same game you came to know and love in arcades, and, of course, it supports four players. The messed up thing, however, is that you have to slog through most of the main story mode to actually get to the game, which really isn't worth it. What's interesting is that once you actually do get to it, it basically shows you that a 15-year-old arcade port that's only a few hours long can still be vastly superior to this mess of a game.
Battle Nexus features the same cel-shaded look as its predecessor, with no notable differences to speak of. Last year, the graphics were at least a little impressive, but this year, they seem kind of dated. The models all look pretty nice--at least the models for the main characters--but there's no variance in animation to speak of, nor much fluidity. The environments are drab and sterile, with no real aesthetic appeal. And even with the relatively modest levels and characters, the game simply can't hold its own in terms of frame rate when a number of characters appear onscreen at once. This is mainly a problem on the PS2, but the Xbox version has its bad moments too.
However, no visual aspect of the game trumps the game's camera in terms of sheer awfulness. Much like in the last game, the camera system is purely cinematic, moving on a set path through each mission. However, seemingly to cater to the four-player nature of the game, the camera will frequently zoom out to a ridiculously distanced angle, completely screwing up your ability to properly gauge your character's jump distance and generally making the onscreen action look very, very bad (especially when it decides to let you completely disappear offscreen for no good reason). If the camera weren't the gigantic bother that it is, Battle Nexus' gameplay might have been slightly better, since dealing with the annoying jump puzzles would have been a lot less harrowing.
Much like the graphics, Battle Nexus' sound design seems to have followed the same path as last year's title. The voice actors from the TV show reprise their roles here, though largely in absentee form, since most of the dialogue is apparently ripped right out of the show--and, frankly, most of what has been sampled isn't really that great. Plus, the characters will simply blurt out the same annoying one-liners over and over again, just like last year. At least you're spared this time around from hearing the words "Eat feet!" ad nauseam. The in-game soundtrack and sound effects are mostly inoffensive, though nothing about them stands out as being especially good, either. Overall, you're not going to enjoy any of what this game provides in the audio department.
It isn't too often these days that you come across a sequel that manages to offend the senses as badly as TMNT2: Battle Nexus does. The last game was decent fan service for younger followers of the TV series, but Battle Nexus will not appeal to any member of any audience.