We’ve been talking all week about the turtles’ return to game form and the specifics of Red Fly Studio’s plan to unchain your inner turtle. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is trying to do a lot of interesting things. It’s attempting to merge the original spirit of the fiction with the appeal and accessibility of the new animated series. It’s injecting personality into the titular characters, not just in their dialogue, but their combat styles and mannerisms. It’s building a fighting scheme that’s trying to marry fast and fluid with balance and intuition and imbue elements of control and variety more closely at home in a fighting game than a brawler. It’s attempting to do all of this, but at the end of the day, it’s still a game – so let’s talk about gamification.
There’s no place like home
If Out of the Shadows excels anywhere, it’s in going the extra mile to incorporate all those little pieces of Turtles fiction that really drives home the experience. The game’s main menu structure, which could have been a series of colored rectangles: Campaign, Mission, Extras – has been smartly incorporated into the turtles’ interactive underground headquarters. You’ll roam the halls and visit the many facilities, each one with a unique purpose, as Frechette explains.
“This is [the turtles’] underground lair where the player will be able to go through different stations. Go to the fridge to view concept art, you can go over and see your stats in the workout area. You can go down to Donnie’s workshop and unlock some special weapons,” he tells XBLAFans. And what home to amorphous reptilian students of ninjitsu would be complete without a dojo to exercise that teenage angst? “If you’re familiar with fighting games, [the dojo] is where you go and see your move list and practice combos, get your timing down, that kind of stuff. Then we have Freestyle Training, which is basically just you against some dummy robots that Donnie’s put together.”
Frechette moves over to a map of New York City tacked to the wall. It’s covered with inked circles, pins and scribbled notes stuck over areas of the city. It’s obvious this is where the planning takes place and, fittingly enough, where the missions begin. “This is where the player’s going to be able to go to continue on with the campaign, or you can go to challenge mode. Challenge Mode is where you compete for online leaderboards – this will be with a single turtle, you’ve got him decked out – and now you’re competing against other players for score.”
Dark side of the Big Apple
Frechette loads a mission somewhere deeper into the campaign, showing off the dark, ominous aesthetic. As the turtles funnel into the moonlit back alley, the scene is closer to something out of Arkham City, than New York City. “We wanted kind of a dark urban feel to it,” Frechette says. “This is just one of the back alleys. You know, some nice moody rain. You’ve got passersby and cars going by in the distance. But [the turtles] are staying back here, right? So you get that feeling that this stuff is taking place in the midst of day-to-day life.”
Despite the name, much of the story seems to take place in the shadows, keeping in line with the fiction. The turtles remain hidden in back alleys and underground tunnels, always undetected by the world-at-large. “It’s not official or anything, but it always reminds me of the first movie, right? Where they’re these unknown heroes and then they start interacting with April [O’Neil],” Shaun Norton, the game’s PR rep says, drawing personal parallels between Out of the Shadows and the tone of the original film. “It’s not that, but it always reminds me of that.”
He’s right, of course, stealing the sentiment moments before I made the same connections myself. Out of the Shadows, if the name means anything, refers to the turtles’ coming-out party. I pressed for details, asking if there were any elements of the story that were on the table, but came up empty. “Not anything specific,” Norton explained. “It’s a new unique story created by [Red Fly Studio] that features familiar faces – friendly faces – and old and new villains.”
“We’re just going to say that there are definitely some familiar enemies, and there are some we’ve created just for this game,” Frechette echoes his tight-lipped excitement. “Stuff that – again, as a fan – it would be like, ‘Man it would be awesome if we could do this,’ and then being able to do that it’s like, ‘Yes!’”
Standing in the way of progress
In order to meet the escalating threat of what Red Fly has planned in the villainy department, Red Fly has built in a progression system that will give you the opportunity to tailor your fighting force. “So as you’re fighting you get scored based on attacks landed and combo bonuses and a style bonus based on how many variations you’ve done in a single combo,” Frechette elaborates. “Then you level up.” Since you’ll be switching between turtles on the fly in order to keep your combo rolling, your combo won’t tied to one turtle; therefore, the experience gained can be spent on whoever you want, whenever it’s time to upgrade.
“They basically have abilities trees. So every time you level up you get four ability points, and you can either spend all four on one guy,” he continues before rolling into an example. “If we’re playing co-op locally, I’ll give you two points, I’ll take two points and we’ll bring two turtles up. You can unlock combo finishers. There’s a couple levels for your weapon, two levels for your kick. Special counters and special stat upgrades.” Frechette goes on about the heavy emphasis on customization and the many ways each turtle – and the group – can be tailored. It sounds in-depth, though we didn’t get the chance to see it in action. But how far will you be able to go? There are only so many foot soldiers to bruise and thugs to pummel — only so many ability points up for grabs.
“We want you to do the Game Plus,” Frechette reveals nonchalantly. “Keep rolling with it, right?” Once you’ve scrubbed New York’s seedy underbelly it’s time to focus on a new turtle. “If you want to just bring one guy up, then you can play again and now you’ve [already] got your Mikey all decked out. Now you’re going to play as Raph and bring him up.” The end goal, it seems, is to deck out your fighting force, though how lofty that ambition becomes is up to you. “We’ve got easy, medium and hard difficulties. So if a kid picks it up, puts it on easy and just mashes attack, then they’re going to have fun. You put it on hard and you’ve got to start learning the combat system.”
Disclaimer: All in-game screens captured from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows Announcement Trailer.