“I was a huge fan as a kid. I had the toys, watched the movies, memorized the soundtracks,” says Chris Frechette of Red Fly Studio, Lead Designer on the next chapter of the Turtles’ (TMNT) tale. He’s seated at the other end of a small demo room littered with consoles, peripherals and colorful cushions. To his right sits Shaun Norton, Public Relations Director at Sandbox Strategies, who invited XBLAFans to tour the forthcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows from Sandbox’s West Coast office, tucked away in an unassuming San Francisco backstreet.
Everyone in the room is a professed Turtles fan – it’s a safe place. We reminisce about TMNT: the films, the comics, the action figures and the animated series. We chat while the big-screen TV loops a placeholder Turtles tune from the ‘90s, fueling the nostalgia-laced conversation. It’s here that we discuss why the has-been franchise is ready for another run, and why Out of the Shadows is more than just a license – it’s fate.
A dream come true
Out of the Shadows is the latest in a long line of TMNT-licensed games, many of which haven’t done the franchise any favors. The cheap ports and transparent cash-grabs that are so often associated with licensed games have blemished the Turtles’ otherwise bankable name. But Frechette expects to change all that, and he’s loving every minute of the opportunity. “I feel like I’ve already hit my peak,” he says. “I mean how could it get better than working on this? That’s how much I really love it.”[springboard type=”video” id=”697075″ player=”xbla001″ width=”640″ height=”380″ ]
The game builds upon the third animated series currently airing on Nickelodeon and ushering in something of a revival for the Turtles. “Out of the Shadows is Red Fly and Activision’s take on kind of where the franchise is now. Inspired by the show but not an actual recreation,” Norton explains. “I mean it’s an inspiration but these guys have put their own twist on it and taken a grittier, more realistic approach.”
That twist is absolutely apparent. Out of the Shadows doesn’t look or behave in ways you would expect from a children’s animated series. It’s dark and serious, brutal at times and juvenile at others. It’s a creative blank check to make the game that Frechette and his team at Red Fly have adamantly envisioned.
“This project to me was literally a dream come true,” Frechette reveals, serious and sincere. “Several weeks before we ever had communication with Activision about it, I had a dream about building a combat system around the Turtles and the fun team elements we could incorporate. So I go back to the office and tell everybody. They’re like, ‘Sounds kind of crazy, man.’ Next thing you know it starts happening.”
For the fans by the fans
Crazy’s a good way to describe the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ meteoric rise in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. What started as a funny sketch and parody comic by co-creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, turned out to be a mainstream merchandising goldmine. “As a spoof comic I don’t think they were [expecting it] to take off like it did,” Frechette notes. “If you saw the old stuff, Eastman and Laird weren’t the greatest artists either. It had a style. It had a very unique style, but you go back and look and you’re like, ‘This anatomy’s a little wild.’ But it took off.”
Since that crude sketch, the franchise has been reinvented countless times, each iteration tweaking the story. The series has swapped styles, tones, gimmicks and taglines in continued efforts to allure the incoming next generation. While the new Nickelodeon series does supplant some of the original fiction, Norton explains it’s merely a jumping-off point. “It’s definitely a standalone,” he asserts. “It’s within the realm of the fiction, inspired by the same universe, but its own compact little dimension.”
“And then again,” Frechette jumps in, “what would those cartoon turtles look like in a realistic, grittier, darker New York setting?” The more we listen to their motivation behind Out of the Shadows the more it becomes increasingly clear they’re swimming upstream – starting at the bottom, trying to get back to the source. They’re putting an old twist on a new classic, and it’s exciting. “This is genuinely a game for the fans by the fans.”
By leveraging the new series’ appeal, injecting some of the original’s moxie, and playing to the core tenets that made the Turtles great, Frechette hopes to unite the fractured generations of Turtle fans. “If you’re a 30 year old, you’ll find something you’ll like. If you’re 12 and you just fell in love with the new Nick cartoon, there’s going to be something you’ll enjoy as well,” he promises. “I’m hoping there are kids out there that get it and their parents walk in and they’re like, ‘Give me the controller. I want to play.’ That would be awesome.”
We’ll be talking more Turtles all week long as we continue to delve into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows in preparation for its summer release on Xbox Live Arcade.
Disclaimer: All in-game screens captured from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows Announcement Trailer.