In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash-Up, you and some friends pick from a roster of beloved characters and proceed to beat the heck out of each other in a diverse array of arenas. Sound familiar? The similarities between this game and the Super Smash Bros. series are clear, from the fast-paced action to the presentation to the announcer's voice. Yet there are a number of notable differences that set Smash-Up apart. Some are positive, like the more-straightforward combat that make it easier to succeed with a variety of characters. Some, like the not-so-sharp visuals and inconsistent victory conditions, are negative. These rough edges keep Smash-Up from making a legitimate bid for the Smash Bros. crown, but it's still an entertaining brawler in its own right.
Most of the fighters are longtime TMNT standbys, though a few of the unlockable characters will be unfamiliar to lapsed fans. While each character does play differently, their core movesets are fairly similar. You have a basic attack and a strong attack, the latter of which is slower, but has a bigger range and is more powerful. Using either of these attacks while pushing the analog stick in a given direction will activate a different move, so like in Smash Bros., you have a solid array of moves that are very easy to perform. Unlike in Smash Bros., none of the characters have flashy special moves. Though one character's strong attack may involve a katana while another character's involves a gun, the range and power of these attacks aren't drastically different. There are no lightning bolts, and nobody is swallowing anybody else. The moves are similar enough that you can choose any character and still have a reasonable degree of success, but they are also different enough to make each character unique. Combat isn't flashy or diverse, but this makes Smash-Up accessible to Smash Bros. veterans and new brawlers alike.
But just because there aren't crazy special moves doesn't mean the combat isn't engaging. Because the differences between characters aren't as drastic, successful players have to get the most out of their repertoire. Positioning and blocking are as important as striking. You can launch quick attacks from the walls and dodge strikes while jumping, making the air as much a part of the battlefield as the ground. There are also ninja power-ups that you can grab and use, including fire breath, throwing knives, bombs, giant magical claw marks, and your own personal tornado shield. If you don't like the power-up that has appeared, you can hold a button to call up a pointer, which you can then use to change the power-up. In theory this adds an interesting strategic wrinkle to the game, but in practice, it's tough to find a spare moment to point and shoot.
The action is fast-paced and frantic, though you will encounter some rough patches, especially if you're accustomed to playing Smash Bros. Most notably, when you are knocked down, you often stay on the ground unable to move just a bit longer than you'd like. It's not a huge difference, but over the course of the match, you'll undoubtedly be knocked down enough to notice the delay. This can be frustrating at first, and though this frustration wanes as you play more, you'll still have aggravating moments of prone impotence. Smash-Up also gives you a split-second chance to break your opponent's grab, but the analog stick wiggling and Wii Remote waggling required to do so don't seem to register consistently (Wii Remote and Nunchuk, GameCube controller, and Classic controller are supported). On the whole the combat is fun and engaging, but there's nothing particularly exciting or unique about it.
The arenas that you fight in do their part to help spice up the action. Only two are static, enclosed areas. The rest feature hazards like bottomless pits, collapsing structures, or vicious monster crocodiles that can devour you in an instant. One level forces you to traverse a moving train as your opponents uncouple the cars in front of you, though you can easily get caught in a frustrating damage loop if you are left behind in a tunnel. For the most part, these arenas are varied and interesting, though they aren't exactly pretty. When the camera pulls out, it can be tough to judge distances, and the visuals aren't as clean and sharp as they should be. It can be hard to differentiate between characters, especially when there are similarly clad fighters in a match (four green bipedal turtles, for example). To help you spot your character, Smash-Up puts a glowing aura around each fighter. These colored outlines are certainly distinct, but they can also be fairly distracting. Fortunately, you can turn them off and use the initials that appear below each character to guide you, but it's a shame Smash-Up's visuals aren't quite up to speed with the gameplay.
In addition to four-player battles, you can take on a series of solo fights in Arcade mode. This short story arc features some lame cutscenes, but victory allows you to unlock the playable characters you'll encounter there. (Other, stranger characters are unlockable by completing a large number of matches in other modes or by using a cheat code.) You'll play a few minigames throughout your journey, and these are reasonable diversions that allow you to earn shells, which you can then use to unlock bonus items. An amusing shooting gallery lets you shoot shells at targets to unlock figurine parts, and you can also spend your shells to build a trophy that you can wager in online matches. Smash-Up features smooth online play that lets you fight with friends or jump into a random match. There are also various ways to set up local tournaments for up to eight players, and there's a mission mode that presents a long list of different battle scenarios for you to complete. This all adds up to a lot of extra stuff to do and goes a long way toward giving you more bang for your buck.
Smash-Up is best when played against some friends on your couch, but there are some issues in the Battle Royal mode that can mess with your matches. In a number of different match types, the victory conditions are not always consistent. At the end of each match, your match statistics are displayed in four categories: lives left, knockouts, times knocked out, and remaining health. In some Knockout matches, the player who reached the requisite number of KOs (five) lost to a player with only two KOs. In similar matches, the first player to five KOs won. It's unclear whether this is a bug or whether the game is using some undisplayed stats to calculate the winner. And in some Last Man Standing matches, the last man standing came in second. Whatever the reason for these irregularities, you'll find the inconsistent scoring to be baffling at best and aggravating at worst.
Despite these scoring issues and the not-so-great visuals, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash-Up is a fun, engaging brawler. The combat is solid and fast-paced, and though it's not exactly innovative, it's good enough to support some entertaining fights. If you're looking for a new source of Wii-powered beatdowns, Smash-Up fits the bill.