"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows" is developer Red Fly Studio's largest release -- having previously worked on ports of Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 titles and smaller titles for the Wii and handheld gaming devices. It also stands as a beacon of hope for fans looking for a new Turtles game to wipe clean the taste of 2007's "TMNT" movie tie-in.
Whether or not it truly succeeds in doing so may simply depend on just how big of a Turtles fan you are.
The best thing about "Out of the Shadows" is its endless supply of fan service. While the story and characters are clearly very heavily influenced -- if not directly tied into -- the new Nickelodeon television series, the overall visual tone is decidedly more mature than the show. Younger (and some older) fans of the current series will enjoy all of the references to the show -- including the turtles' lair, the annoying-yet-funny cadence of Krang-speak and Michelangelo's penchant for naming things.
Older fans will appreciate the dedication to capturing each of the turtles' personalities, fighting styles -- Raphael is easily the stand-out here -- as well as a more in-depth-than-you'd expect ability and weapon upgrade system. Any fan of the 1990 film will be grinning ear-to-ear when they hear "T-U-R-T-L-E Power" playing at the start menu.
When you get down to the gameplay, many of its shortcomings become evident very quickly. As stated, the combat system is deeper than you'd expect from a straight-up brawler and allows for many a radical moment when you perform team attacks with friends.
However, it never quite shakes the impression that the core system is a slower, clunky and generally poorly executed version of the combat system from "Batman: Arkham Asylum." With combat being the primary focus of gameplay, this is one failure that is an annoyance for the duration of the game.
Likewise, the general presentation of the game is smartly conceived yet poorly executed. Static and re-used comic book-style images tell the story as dialogue plays over which feels more of an afterthought than artistic, the game is littered with geometrical bugs and the entire game is imbued with a Michael Bay kind of film grain that makes the love the developers clearly have for these characters difficult to see.
This all may seem a bit harsh though in light of everything the game offers. The online co-op works great and it's incredibly fulfilling to pull of a four turtle shell bash on a baddie, the in-game dialogue is fun and whosoever idea it was to allow the player to upgrade Raphael with knuckle-dusters is an absolute genius.
There's even a fully operational arcade cabinet in the turtles' lair that allows you to play through each of the campaign stages in a couch-coop callback to the original 1989 arcade.
"Out of the Shadows" is a game that was made with a lot of love for Turtles' fans new and old. It has a lot of great ideas behind it that don't always quite live up to their potential.
If you're looking for a game to satisfy your need for some Turtle Power in your life while delivering fun co-op combat then look no further. If you're looking for this beloved franchise to finally get the lean, mean, green AAA title it deserves -- keep waiting.
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows" is rated "T" for teen by the ESRB and is available now for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3.