Well, here's a surprise. There have been many Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games over the years, and the vast majority of them have been absolutely rancid. Indeed, last year's movie tie-in was so inconceivably craptastic that it wasn't fit to shred for terrapin litter. So imagine our surprise when we sat down for our first hands-on session with Smash Up and the shocking realisation began to dawn on us that... no, surely not... it can't be... yup, it's actually really rather good. Believe.
Here's the deal. It's the Turtles' 25th anniversary this year, so to celebrate, Ubisoft called up Japanese developer Game Arts with the idea of creating a Wii-exclusive brawler to mark the occasion. So, why should you care? Because Game Arts count ex-members of the Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Dead Or Alive (the much-loved busty arcade beat 'em up) teams among their ranks. Clearly, when it comes to fighting games, this lot know their onions.
So Fresh, So Green
Smash Up wears its influences on its sleeve without shame or subtlety. It's clear that Ubisoft want to capture the Super Smash Bros. Brawl crowd (and with 8.5 million copies sold it's a big crowd) so they've gone and done exactly what Ubisoft do really well - make the exact same game again. Yes, Petz, My Fitness Coach - we're looking at you. The difference here though is that they've gone about it properly. They've done their research, they've hired the right guys and, from what we've seen, absolutely nailed Brawl's freewheeling, chaotic spirit. And, with the Turtles, they've got some compelling characters to hang their pastiche on.
In simple terms, what we've seen of Smash Up so far is great fun. You've got a story mode (Ubisoft wouldn't give us specifics on that at this stage), a standard one-on-one mode, four player brawl and online. The controls are as simple as they come. You can play with the Remote and Nunchuk, or just by turning the Remote on its side, NES style. 1 is light attack, 2 is heavy attack, B is block, A uses any 'ninja power' items that you can pick up and the - button offers up a cheeky Smash Bros-style taunt. You can grab your opponent by pressing 1 and 2 together, at which point your victim has to waggle away to free himself or risk being pummelled.
You can double jump as in Brawl and, like Nintendo's classic fighter, there's a big focus on flinging your opponents off the screen and using the environments to your advantage. In one stage a giant crocodile periodically pops up to munch any player at the bottom of the screen, while in another there's an electric billboard waiting to fry anyone bashed into it.
What's more, the stages all evolve as the fights progress. A sewer stage sees the fighters periodically flushed from room to room, while a jungle stage sees the action move downwards through the forest canopy as branches are broken.
The full roster of fighters is yet to be announced but so far we've seen the four turtles, Master Splinter, Shredder and April O' Neil. As well as the likes of series regulars Casey Jones, Bebop and Rock Steady, we reckon you'll also see a few cheeky guest cameos from some of Ubisoft's other franchises too.
Full online play has been promised and as anyone who's played Brawl will know, this is where the real challenge lies for Game Arts. Nintendo's fighter was plagued by game-ruining lag at times but Ubisoft insist that their servers will be more than capable of hosting smooth online matches. We'll see. All things considered, we're really impressed with how this is shaping up. Visually, this is undoubtedly one of the most attractive achievements on the Wii, there's no noticeable slowdown and the fun factor is there in spades. Brawl fans looking for more of the same could be in for a tasty little after dinner mint here, and with the half-shelled heroes big anniversary approaching it's nice to see a game that finally promises to do them justice. Bring it on.