When it comes to game advertising, you've got to see through the lies and decipher the actual truth. So when Ubisoft announced that TMNT: Smash-Up was "developed by the team behind Super Smash Bros Brawl" (Game Arts, who only really developed a tiny part of Smash Bros.) and released trailers telling us to "have a brawl" it was clear what they wanted us to think: this was Smash Bros. with Turtles. It even has the word 'Smash' in the title. Despite this we're sure many of you had the same gut feeling as us: it was all hype and they wouldn't manage it. Now the final game's in our hands, and we're more than a little surprised.
Essentially, as Ubisoft implied, this is Smash Bros. with Turtles. You have up to four characters fighting it out on a 2D playing field over various interactive stages. Some are static with collapsible scenery, some are side-scrolling, some trigger a dramatic set-piece and take you to another stage. In fact, we reckon the only reason a lawsuit was avoided was the decision to give each character traditional energy bars instead of percentage meters. As a result, instead of having to knock opponents off the stage you simply have to wear out their energy to beat them.
This aside, it's still not quite Brawl. We'd say Smash-Up is more on a par with Melee on the GameCube. The bonus mini-games in Arcade mode feel a lot like the bonus stages in Melee's Adventure mode. One sees you getting to the exit as quickly as possible (just like the F-Zero stage) while another asks you to jump vertically and climb platforms before time runs out just like Melee's Metroid section. Oh, and then there's Eat the Pizzas: a task which should be immediately familiar to Smash Bros. fans if they replace 'pizzas' with 'targets' and 'eat' with 'break'.
So far, so similar. But it isn't all borrowed from Brawl - there are still some gameplay tweaks that give Smash-Up a feel of its own. There's much more emphasis on hand-to-hand combat than there is in Nintendo's game. None of the main characters have projectile moves and as a result you're required to get stuck in. This does unfortunately lead to two problems - it makes the game a little more button-bashy than Smash Bros, and means attack range is far too important. Characters like Leonardo and Donatello have a huge advantage over the likes of Michaelangelo and Raphael - their sword and bo staff giving them much better reach than their brothers' nunchaku and sai - and the difference in speed between them isn't enough to make up for it. Only April O'Neil has the perfect compromise of speed and power, making her one of the best characters in the entire game.
It Ain't Easy Being Green
Another disappointment is the lack of love for older TMNT fans. When promoting the game, Ubisoft claimed that since it was celebrating the Turtles' 25th anniversary it would appeal to fans of all ages, whether they liked the recent cartoon series, the old-school '80s series or the original comic books the cartoons were based on. While the Arcade mode's handful of cut-scenes are created in the style of the comics however, the rest of the game's graphics (and most of its characters) are very much based on the recent TMNT CGI movie. It's a disappointing waste of a 25 year-old licence, and while younger gamers who are into the Turtles these days will love it, older gamers who grew up able to perfectly recite the whole "heroes in a half shell" theme song will be gutted at that series' lack of presence. Smash Bros. is known for having loads of characters after all, so as this is a pretty obvious imitation there should have been plenty of scope for this. But where's Krang? Where's Rat King? Where's Baxter Stockman? All important parts of old-school Turtle lore and all regrettably booted in favour of forgettable modern characters like Fugitoid and Utrominator. This lack of content also extends to the game modes. The short Arcade mode should take 15 minutes to complete (though you do have to do it multiple times to unlock more stuff), Mission mode gives you 50 or so unique challenges to beat, there's your usual Survival, Battle Royale and Online modes and that's about it. There's nothing with any depth for single players - this game is very much a multiplayer experience.
Still, at the end of the day it's gameplay that matters and with a fair few unlockables and in-depth online multiplayer (where you can even create your own trophies and put them on the line), fans of the modern Turtles franchise will absolutely love this.