“I wanted to take the balance of Arkham Asylum, you know – when to attack, when to counter, that balance – and add in more of a fighting game element,” says Chris Frechette, Lead Designer of Red Fly Studio’s upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. He wants to bring more control and variety to the scheme, as he says, “Recognizable combos and special attacks so you feel like, ‘I just did that,’ and it’s not just a random attack.” Frechette has been guiding us through his action brawler, intent on recreating the fast and fluid teamwork-centric combat that’s the cornerstone of Turtles fiction.
When it comes to three-dimensional fighting schemes, it’s hard not to consider Arkham Asylum’s one of the greatest of the generation. It’s easy to pick up and play, empowering when employed against the mobs of thugs and street-trash that attack from all sides, and it’s extremely difficult – and rewarding – to master. But Frechette isn’t content to just repurpose what’s been done. As he walks us through what to expect when Out of the Shadows arrives, it’s clear he’s aiming for a whole new level of combat.
The building blocks of butt-kicking
Out of the Shadows begins in the same place most brawlers begin: with basic attacks. You start with your weapon attack and a kick, creating links to form chains that become combos. Those combos can then be blended together to form extended combos. It’s a battle of escalation.
“Timing becomes a big element to it,” Frechette says. “What used to be attack-attack-attack-attack is now attack-attack-pause-attack, and now I do a juggle-launch. Or pause-kick, and now I do a double 360 kick. You get that feeling of the original arcade in the timing and variation.” It sounds simple at the outset. It sounds like it will ease players into the nitty-gritty of the Turtles’ particular brand of justice, which feels like it was the studio’s intention.
Out of the Shadows quickly veers from the path of least resistance, almost out of necessity. If you take three decades of Turtles’ fiction into account, you know that any true-to-form TMNT brawler has to have these turtles working together. Each turtle has their own style and their own moves, their own ways of sending a foot soldier sailing headfirst into a trashcan. That’s where the fighting game elements come appear.
“You build your combo similar to Arkham, hold attack-modifier and attack, and you’ll get the Turtle Power K.O.” Frechette demonstrates, driving Raphael’s knee into the face of a gang member like a slow-motion sledgehammer – knocking him cold. “The other unique piece is the special attacks, and this is where I think we really have an element that hasn’t been brought to a brawler before.” Attacking enemies builds your “Special” meter, which fuels the special moves exclusive to each turtle.
“I can use the attack-modifier, and I can rotate the right stick 90, 180 and 360 degrees, to do special attacks that do more damage, knock enemies down, they can break blocks, they can stun enemies,” Frechette notes. These special attacks are unlockable, can be purchased with earned experience and often compliment a turtle by adding extra utility in areas in which they might otherwise struggle. “With Leo, I can do a 360 and it’s an area-of-effect slash. So they’re bigger attacks that can take out multiple enemies.”
When you knock those enemies down, but not out, you can drop the hammer by performing shell shock attacks – one-hit knockouts that can be used on downed enemies, showcasing a little personality from each of the turtles.
“There are also team-attacks, so like I can link up with Don and he’s going to spin me around, or I can get with Raph and do the bowling-ball – straight out of the first move.” Frechette wants to inject the spirit of the turtles everywhere possible, particularly in their teamwork. “There are a lot of combat tactics [where] you can juggle enemies up into the air, and then somebody else can go and knock them down, so it’s kind of like an alley-oop. Or in volleyball: I set it, you spike it. I wanted to make sure that element was available – stuff like that we just really wanted to hit home.”
Float like a butterfly, sting like a Turtle
Outside the Turtle Power finishers, the combo finishers, and the unlockable special attacks, there are unique throws, counters and evades to manage the fight. “Crowd control becomes a big part because enemies are always going to attack from behind. If I feel like I’m surrounded, I can either get myself out or throw a guy as a projectile and kind of create space for myself. The basics are that you can use it to kind of dictate where you end up after the counter goes down”
“You’ve got evade which you can use to flip over enemies and flip backwards, I can go to the side, you know, stay fluid.” Frechette continues. Each member of the team has their own strengths and weaknesses which dictate when to stick, and when to move. “Mikey can’t chew through guys as fast as Raph, so You’ve got to stay moving.
Every level showcased during the demo contained interactive sections the Turtles used to whip around the fight. “There’s also a lot of environment interaction. You can run and swing around pipes and boot guys or I can flip off of wall[s], over containers, you know, run across cars. They’ve always got something going on.”
As Frechette mops up the few remaining gang members, he reiterates what he’s really trying to get across with Out of the Shadows’ brawler/fighter hybrid system. “What I wanted was [a system] that’s not just a random attack out of a hat. They’ve got upwards of seventy unique attack animations a piece. Some of which are just aesthetic and some are very deliberate. There’s always something going on that shows them having fun.”