It's hard to deny that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Battle Nexus is far superior to the previous TMNT game for the GBA. The graphics and audio are vastly improved, and there's way more to do besides thwacking carbon-copy thugs. Nevertheless, some of you may be in for a shock when you dive into TMNT2: Battle Nexus and discover that it's just as much a puzzle game as it is a Turtles-inspired beat-'em-up.
Konami has borrowed a page from Ubisoft's Splinter Cell games and incorporated stealth aspects into the Turtles' repertoire. Tap down on the directional pad and you can crawl into tunnels. Tap up on the directional pad while standing in front of a doorway or a recess in a wall and you'll fade into the background. Tap up near an overhang and you'll grab onto it. These moves come in handy, because our heroes begin each level unarmed, and powerful enemies like triceratons and sentries will pass right by them if they're hidden.
The stealth aspects spice up the game's fighting mechanics, which otherwise aren't all that unique or inspired. Each turtle has his own set of punch and kick attacks, combo moves, and weapon-specific special attacks, but most enemies go down just fine in response to rapid tapping of the attack button. Still, every turtle has at least one move that's more useful than the rest. Leonardo has a two-hit dash attack, Michaelangelo can throw his nunchakus like a boomerang, Donatello's bo can be used to juggle enemies, and Raphael can turn into a drill with his sai.
While Battle Nexus has its share of combat, culminating in boss fights at the end of each of the game's six worlds, the levels themselves actually pose more of a challenge. The first thing you need to do in each level is hunt down your turtle's weapon, which involves sneaking around and exploring the level until you find it. Before that, it's best to avoid enemies, since they're relatively strong and the ninja stars that you have only make them angry. Most levels have crates you can duck behind, dangling ropes and poles you can swing across. All these things allow you to pass by enemies unnoticed. Once you find your turtle's weapon, you need to backtrack through the level and grab as many crystal shards as possible. That's really the main objective in each level. A certain number of shards is required to complete each level and to unlock the game's final worlds. The shards aren't hidden, but actually getting to some of them calls for a bit of dexterity. There's something to figure out in every level--whether it's tracking down keys, dodging rampaging dinosaurs, working past a series of tricky jumps, or navigating through mazes that have electrified flooring and underwater sections. Just to make it interesting, some levels strap you into space ships or onto hoverboards and force you to gather crystals while jumping obstacles and shooting enemies.
Another interesting aspect of the level design is the fact that it isn't usually possible to grab all the crystals using a single turtle. Each turtle has different moves and abilities that enable him to access certain areas and collect those tough-to-reach crystals. Michaelangelo can use his nunchakus to fly through the air, Raphael can use his sai to climb up walls, and Donatello can see invisible traps and use his bo like a pogo stick to make airy jumps. Leonardo doesn't have any moves that are particularly useful in the environment, but his attacks dole out twice as much damage as the others' do. You'll have to go through most levels multiple times with different turtles to gather every last crystal.
Fans ought to appreciate the game's presentation. The backgrounds are colorful, sharp, and full of places to hide, and they obviously resemble locations from the current TV show. There isn't much going on in the distant background, and some areas aren't well lit, but the numerous interactive objects in each level direct your attention away from those flaws. The turtles look great, animate smoothly, and have a good variety of attacks and poses. The enemies are fairly large, and since the game is based on the story playing out in the current season of the cartoon, you can expect to run into sentries, triceratons, utroms, and key characters like Baxter Stockman and Fugitoid before all is said and done. The audio, while not particularly noteworthy, includes a good selection of peppy music, a decent variety of attack noises, and a smattering of high-quality TMNT speech samples.
Assuming you're into the whole stealth-puzzle concept, this game certainly offers a lot to sink your teeth into. The story mode has 33 individual levels, and there are separate race and battle modes, both of which feature 18 stand-alone stages and multiplayer link options for up to four players. The race mode gives players a way to enjoy the story mode's hoverboard sections outside the context of the main game. The battle mode is poorly named, since fighting isn't its focus. Instead, the goal in these stages is to grab a set number of crystals before the timer runs out. The levels in the battle mode are tiny, but they're packed with trampolines, pinball bumpers, ropes, and other objects to interact with. Also, the GBA game includes a set of hidden levels that can be unlocked by inputting the passwords given out by the console versions of Battle Nexus.
On the whole, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Battle Nexus is a good game that does the license proud. If you go into it expecting a traditional side-scrolling beat-'em-up, you're liable to be disappointed. However, if you can handle a puzzle-oriented adventure game that's peppered with boss fights and shooter levels, you should come away satisfied.