'TMNT’ Marketing Is Proof Activision Sold Players A Broken Shell

Platinum deserves better.


PlatinumGames’ TMNT: Mutants In Manhattan is a dull, terrible game. That was unexpected, since the best stylized action studio in Japan creating an adaptation of a beloved comic and ‘80s cartoon series is a gold-plated idea — especially since Platinum already did essentially just that last year, with its excellent tribute, Transformers Devastation.

Platinum’s reputation is also typically sterling, having really only made one other poor title (a game based on The Legend of Korra). Compared to the likes of Vanquish and Metal Gear Rising, among several others, they’ve got a good track record. And from what TMNT’s trailers showed, it was poised to make good on all the insane action and pop visual style that is the developer’s signature.

But that, evidently, was just the problem. Activision, which published both Devastation and TMNT, used marketing that leaned heavily on footage from cutscenes. If you’ve watched a game trailer, I’m sure you know how common this practice is. Yet there’s a couple of key differences between each game’s presentation that, now, feel like harbingers.

Devastation uses probably just as much cutscene material, boasting its visual flair. Any gameplay shown was done so in a cinematic style, so the footage captured was done with the actual game UI turned off. The gameplay launch trailer took advantage of the game’s broader design scope to show a number of gameplays and actions from various transformers. The game looked like fun because it turned out to have a lot of polish.

TMNT’s marketing rode high on that success, and for whatever reason, its trailers attempted to emulate the style and approach of Devastation’s. But here, it comes off as disingenuous. A little thing like the ratio between what’s a cutscene and what’s gameplay is much more off-kilter and becomes a bigger deal. (The UI, which is hideous in the final game, is also absent).

The comparatively small amount of gameplay shown is made up of brief cuts of all four turtles performing some stylish group attack, surrounding an enemy or group. There’s hardly any variety to most of it, and it flashes back to more explosive story scenes fast enough you don’t really get much time to process what you just watched, let alone think about it.

What’s far more egregious is what isn’t shown. If you’ve spent any time with Devastation, you can see bits of its skeleton in TMNT; it doesn’t quite get all the way there. Devastation surprisingly had a (modest) open-world map and the relative complexity that goes with it; TMNT drops you in levels of the same style – but it isn’t really open world at all.

Instead, you have an ability to highlight waypoints pointing to mission locations. It’s not the worst idea until you realize that the extent of TMNT’s open world is a collection of generic, barren spaces, useless until you’re given the next timed and seemingly randomized objective. Complete enough of these and you can fight the level’s boss in a small arena, which is where the story scenes that made the game look so dynamic and exciting are shown.

It doesn’t help that including marketing of the turtles on their own — before launch, four trailers introduced the move set of each characters in mostly solo showcases — does nothing to show the unavoidable chaos of having three other A.I. turtles with you at all times.

Not that you’d play a game like this solo. Still, between the lack of UI and the clear viewpoint of the action, even with the whole team fighting, it makes for an awful representation of the game. In reality, TMNT plays with about as much depth and adroitness as a PS2 brawler – switching between turtles on the fly (half of whose special moves have shared cool-down timers) is simultaneously pointless and confusing, and in general fights just come off as blind and without direction.

To be fair, I don’t think any of this is for lack of effort on Platinum’s part. Stylistically, the game often looks great, and you can see the flourish of things like animations where it seems clear the team put real effort in to try and salvage the experience, or at least pay deference to the source material.

The design is just so incoherently incomplete it feels like Activision didn’t give Platinum enough time to actually make a finished game. Considering it was released just before the publisher’s first financial quarter ended, it doesn’t seem far-fetched. Either way, it’s a harsh lesson in corporate opportunism.

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