Thursday, August 13, 2009

turtles in time re-shelled: nothing to see here

it's pizza time!Like many children of the early 90s, I was eager to download, play and love Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time Re-Shelled on my Microsoft Xbox 360 Home Video Game Console. It was done up in full 3D, featured the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and just before release it had been marked down in price from 1200 Microsoft Points (fifteen real dollars) to 800 (ten). What a bargain! How could I lose?

Turns out that even at 800 points, this one’s sort of a rip-off.

Turtles in Time is your standard arcade beat-‘em-up – waves of enemies charge you, and you mash all the buttons until they’re dead. There are other things in the game too, which I will list according to how annoying their accompanying voice clips are: pizza in boxes gives you health (“It’s pizza time!”), spikes on the ground in certain levels will trip you up (“My toes! My toes!”), and sometimes enemies or obstacles will set you on fire (“Hope you brought the SUNSCREEN!”).

See, here’s the thing: even though the game is rendered using a new, relatively attractive 3D engine, the rest of the affair is sort of lifeless, devoid of the effort that could have made it into a decent XBLA release. The half-dozen voice clips are funny-goofy the first few times and increasingly irritating as time wears on, it’s not particularly difficult, and the game’s designers have done nothing to enhance the game in any direction other than graphically. Yes, there’s online multiplayer, but cars released in 2009 don’t get praised because they have built-in air conditioning. Stuff like online multiplayer is to be expected in this day and age (I am talking right at you, Flock!), and if I want to play a redressed arcade game with online multiplayer, well, I already own Ikaruga.

I think the developers meant for the Achievements list to give Turtles a little more oomph, as nearly all of them require multiple playthroughs to acquire – you have brazen examples like “beat the game as all four Turtles” mixed in with the more subtle “avoid all obstacles on course X.” You aren’t going to get these without playing this game two dozen times, which creates the illusion of replayability without actually offering up anything new. No thanks.

Nostalgia is clearly meant to carry Turtles in Time the distance, and it does for awhile. There’s something about these old side-scrolling games that is innately appealing to many gamers, reminding them of childhoods spent with the NES and Sega Genesis. If you need evidence of that, just look at most of the Xbox Live Arcade lineup – Geometry Wars is Asteroids gone mad, Mega Man 9 is a straight-up reboot of a long-running franchise, and you can even snag the original Contra in all its pixelated glory. What makes these offerings different from Turtles in Time Re-Shelled is that they know their worth – Geometry Wars is short, but it offers up something new and goes for half the price of Turtles. Contra is a straight port, but it, too, adopts the unassuming five dollar price point. Mega Man 9 meets Turtles in price, but kicks its ass in value – its level design, gameplay and music go toe-to-toe with the best entries in a decades-old, well-loved franchise.

It’s not just about price, but also about context. Turtles was released as part of Microsoft’s second “Summer of Arcade” promotion, which the house that Windows built uses as a chance to score some easy bucks during gaming’s traditional summer slump. Last summer brought us the phenomenal Braid, the still-popular Castle Crashers and the much-praised Bionic Commando remake. This summer, Turtles was their lead-in. Hopefully the rest of the titles are more interesting, or we’re in for a ho-hum August.

If you asked me to sum up my experience with Turtles in two pun-laden sentences, I’d say this: Don’t shell out any money for this one, folks. You might as well throw it in the shredder. Thank you.