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TMNT: Out of the Shadows, Away From the Comforter


You kids and your rainy rooftop anti-heroes. Back in my day, we had to make do with the Teenage Mutant 'Hero' Turtles, a tubular gang of brightly drawn crime fighters that spread dude-lingo across comics, cartoons and - if you were lucky - curtains.

In Europe and Africa we got 'hero' instead of 'ninja,' mainly to soften the violent imagery conjured by the covert assassins of feudal Japan. That's clearly the wrong message for a show hinged on the improper disposal of disgusting, mutagenic waste in a densely populated city.

The 1980s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon had its charms, more so in the dreadful puns and pizza worship than the fangless fighting. The combat was high in energy, but the turtles trounced their foes with creative knockouts and garbage can lids repurposed as offensive cymbals. The violence was masked in environmental euphemism, and that may be why it isn't explored in much depth whenever the turtles appear in a video game.

Gallery: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows | 4 Photos

TMNT: Out of the Shadows is a modernized adaptation in several ways: it's for digital storefronts, it's aligned with the most recent Nickelodeon cartoon; the Unreal-powered alleys and sewers convey a grimy, lived-in city; Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael are more menacing, imposing figures that belong on those rain-drenched rooftops. And when Red Fly Studios designer Chris Frechette describes the game, he talks about combat systems with enthusiasm.

If you're old enough, you're assured some element of nostalgia in any Turtles game, which matches well with the simplicity of the side-scrolling oldies. But that bittersweet recollection of Turtles-branded bed sheets wanes in the repetition of mindless brawling and the sad realization that there is little substance to reference. This TMNT doesn't intend to just coast on cowabunga.

If the combat game is the hook – and it will be if you're over anthropomorphic reptiles – it had better be good enough. I wasn't able to play TMNT: Out of the Shadows, shown to me in a very early state, so I can only speak to its ambitions.

I picked a demonstration of Donatello, partly because he does machines, but mostly because his staff would make it easy to watch his motions, attack range and enemy hit detection. Even at this stage his attacks appear powerful, connected by playful animations, blocks and counterattacks. Your attention can flow between multiple minions of the evil Foot Clan, and eventually builds up to special attacks initiated by mimicked motions on the right analog stick.

There are always three other turtles with you. They can be inhabited by other players online (or just one friend with you on the couch), and if not the artificial intelligence takes over. When you're playing well, Frechette tells me, you'll find a pleasant cadence in regular attacks, environmental asides – like a swing-kick from a pole – and special attacks dealt in unison with a nearby turtle. There's certainly a greater number of choices in combat than ever before, though I'll have to play the game before I can say whether the game encourages them well enough.

Unlike Donatello, Raphael is a slow, burly fighter with a crack running across his shell. According to Frechette, people might be surprised by this bruiser interpretation of the character. The real surprise, though, is that his attacks are demonstrably different in style and motion. We all have our favorites at the character selection screen in, say, Turtles in Time, but it's different to have those motivated so much by how they move and fight. As long as you have a decent dive-kick, right?

TMNT out of the shadows, out of the comforter
Donatello, as interpreted by Andy Helms on OK Totally

From what I've seen, this bale of turtles (that's the collective noun, I checked) elicits discussion of combat mechanisms, co-op play and presentation. If TMNT: Out of the Shadows succeeds, it will likely be on those grounds, and not how effectively it captures our Saturday mornings gone by. The turtles are different these days, and not quite the same 'heroes' I remember.

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