I kinda like being a turtle
Say what you will about Ubisoft’s handling of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles licensed games since they took over for Konami around 2007, but you have to admit that the green guys are still marketable after years of comics, films, animated series, action figures, and even video games. The time around, Ubi and Game Arts have brought PlayStation 2 and Wii owners a new kind of beat-em-up in the vein of the Super Smash Bros. series (which Game Arts assisted in development), which seems to take most of its aspects from the 2007 film and the 2003 cartoon. You can play as any of the four turtles, Master Splinter, or their friends Casey Jones and April O’Neil, with villains such as Karai, the Shredder, and the Foot Clan ninjas available as unlockable characters (the Wii version also has TMNT-themed Rabbids as guest fighters, though you’ll have to work harder to unlock them).
Each of the characters fights with a unique array of attacks that can be triggered using a combination of the directional pad/stick and one or two attack buttons. The game accomodates for several different control schemes, including the standalone Wii Remote, the Remote + Nunchuk controller combo, the Classic Controller, or the Gamecube controller. The controls are responsive most of the time, but the game sometimes has trouble distinguishing whether you’re holding the control stick in a direction and attacking or pressing both at the same time, sometimes leading you to execute a different move than the one you intended. While you can use just the Wii remote to control the action, it’s recommended that you try using one of the attachment controllers, which allow for more versatility and ease of use (save the “point” mechanic, which is only useful for one or two stages and probably won’t get used that much anyway).
The goal of the game is to beat up your opponent as much as possible until his/her health drops to zero. You can use your character’s weapons, or you can pick up an assortment of weapons and power-ups, like bombs, kunai, or the turtles’ favorite food: pizza (which restores health). There are also about a dozen different arenas for the turtles to fight in, some of which have parts that can be (or get) destroyed to open up new areas. The battles are frantic and fast-paced, and the computer AI is competent enough on Normal difficulty, and gets more tenacious when you bump it up to Hard without resorting to dirty tricks…most of the time.
There are several game modes to try out: Arcade Mode, where you fight several successive battles and participate in bonus rounds, culminating in an encounter with the Shredder; Battle Royal, Survival and Mission modes, which are pretty much exactly what they say on the tin; a Tournament Mode, where 3-8 players can battle it out to see who’s the best of the best, and a “Swap Out” winner-gets-to-stay round robin. Arcade Mode can be completed rather quickly (around 15-20 minutes per character on normal difficulty), and you can only play as the heroic characters there, so you’re more likely to get mileage out of the other play modes where you have access to the expanded roster (though Tournament and Swap Out modes require at least two human players). If you have plenty of time on your hands, you can unlock the minigames from Arcade Mode to be played at any time, as well as concept art, promotional movies for the cartoon and for the Turtles Forever special.
It’s also possible to play the game online with up to three other opponents from either your friends list or at random. If you choose the Matchmaking option, you’re set up with random human opponents and can only participate in Battle Royal matches. To play in tournaments, Swap Out games or compete for custom-made trophies, you have to select the Friend Battle option (which requires you to have a Friend Code handy whenever you want to stage a match). On the bright side, getting connected to an online match is very easy, and there is little to no lag during battles.
Smash-Up’s scenery and character models closely resemble those of the 2007 movie. The 3D rendering is done well in most cases, but some arenas (such as the sewer and cruise ship at night) can get too dark to see everything clearly. There isn’t very much in the way of exposition, but the Arcade Mode sometimes breaks up the action with cutscenes that are drawn in traditional black-and-white comic-book style. Artistically, they look great, though there’s very noticeable distortion when the camera zooms in or out of a particular scene. The sound is about the same caliber as the graphics…nothing special or memorable that stands out, but nothing exceptionally irritating, either. The cast sounds a lot like their counterparts from the 2003 cartoon series (Casey retains his Brooklyn-tough guy accent, Michelangelo his high-pitched party dude voice, etc.), which can be good or bad depending on your personal opinion of the 4Kids voice actors.
Like some of the other games in the Ubi-Ninja Turtles era, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash-Up has its share of problems, but it’s still a decent enough fighting game (and, of course, a decent enough TMNT game) to play on a Friday or Saturday night with a few friends. We’ll serve up three stars (out of 5) for this game and call it a night.