We come out of our shells to check out a work-in-progress version of Ubisoft Montreal's upcoming movie-inspired action game.
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Based on the upcoming animated movie of the same name, TMNT is an action game in which you'll pit the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles against tech-industrialist-gone-bad Max Winters. After being wrongfully fired from his job, Winters has decided to pursue a new career in the world-domination business, and has set about assembling an army of ancient monsters. In the years since their previous adventures Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael have grown apart, but in order to save the world they'll need to work together as a team and put each of their unique skills to good use.
Most of the early levels that we've played through thus far have taken the form of flashbacks in which the turtles, along with their sensei, Master Splinter, recall some of their earliest exploits. These levels serve as interactive tutorials, familiarizing you with the controls for the turtles' acrobatic movements, combat, and their unique individual abilities. If you've played any of the recent Prince of Persia offerings, you'll feel right at home with a lot of the turtles' acrobatic skills, which include wall-running, hanging from ledges, swinging on poles, and the like. None of these actions require you to use anything more than the analog stick and the jump button, although a second button is brought into play anytime you need to perform an especially long jump with assistance from one of the other turtles. As you play through the game you'll occasionally find yourself in situations where the turtles' conventional acrobatics just aren't up to the job getting you past certain obstacles. On these occasions you'll invariably need to use one of the turtles' unique skills, such as Michelangelo's ability to hover by using his nunchakus like helicopter blades, or Donatello's being able to pole-vault with his bo staff.
Combat controls are similarly uncomplicated, with two attack buttons, a jump button, and a block button affording you easy access to a number of powerful combo attacks and the like. Later in the game, when you're able to switch between turtles on the fly, you'll learn to perform "team moves" that briefly let two turtles team up to perform a particularly powerful attack, but even these are activated using only a single button. With the exception of boss battles, every fight that we've had in TMNT to date has pitted our currently selected turtle against anywhere between 5 and 20 enemies simultaneously. These enemies aren't particularly challenging or even aggressive at times, but the fact that they invariably outnumber you means you can rarely get away with simply mashing an attack button and hoping for the best.
While the controls for each of the four turtles are mostly identical, their different weapons and combos occasionally mean that your choosing which one to play as can make certain combat situations easier or more challenging. Donatello's bo staff is a great choice when fighting against foot soldiers armed with polearms, for example, while the lengthy backspin that Michelangelo performs at the end of a combo is great for hitting a lot of opponents in a short space of time without getting hit yourself. If you don't like to get hit because you're looking to achieve the best rank of "ninja" for the battle that you're involved in, you'll be happy to know that all of the turtles are able to perform an evade move of sorts that automatically sidesteps incoming attacks, so you can catch enemies on the counter. It's easy and quite satisfying to do, but using it often means standing still and waiting for the enemies to come at you; so it doesn't really pay off at the end of the level, when speed is one of the criteria that your grade is based on.
After beating any level in the game you'll be able to play through it again at any time if you want to try to improve on your previous score and unlock that level's corresponding "challenge map"--a small training-style level designed to further test your skills. Adding replay value to every level are collectible coins that, can only be picked up after you've already beaten a level--though you can see transparent versions of them on your first play-through. There are five of these coins to find on each level, and they can be spent on unlocking concept art, movies, and humorous game modifiers such as large character heads, cooking-utensil weapons, and Halloween-themed enemies.
TMNT is currently scheduled for release toward the end of March, shortly before the movie. We'll bring you more information as soon as it becomes available.