Many a Saturday morning in my youth was spent watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I actually spent enough time watching those fearsome fighting teens to still, all these years later, be able to sing the theme song (turtle power!). Out of a sense of nostalgia for my youth, every time a new video-based TMNT product (film, games, video, etc.) appears, I feel compelled to check it out, if only momentarily. And, unfortunately, it is only momentarily that the latest TMNT release, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Smash-up, a 2D fighter, is exciting.
On the Nintendo Wii, the game can be played either with one's remote and nunchuk, remote alone, classic controller, or Gamecube controller, and no matter the control scheme chosen, players will be very underwhelmed. In a vein very similar to the most recent Smash Bros., there's nothing terribly complicated about the fighting moves (which is perfectly fine), but Smash-up also lacks other crucial elements to a fighter, things like good graphics and compelling gameplay. In the end, Smash-Up feels more like a stripped-down, minimalist version of a release, and rather inferior to Smash Bros., which admittedly set the bar pretty high for this style of game on the Wii.
Smash-up lacks the special moves contained in Smash Bros. and most other fighters. The different characters do perform slightly differently, but not to the point where one can't easily switch from Michelangelo to Leonardo to April and then to Splinter without ease. There are some special "ninja" power-ups which allow players to utilize some throwing stars or dynamite or bombs, all of which function the same way for every player in the game.
The truly surprising thing however about Smash-up is that it starts off so well. A quick look at the menu indicates that there are several different modes of play available including Tournament, Battle Royal, Survival, Arcade, and Mission. Selecting the Arcade mode – essentially the "story" mode – one is treated to a none too in-depth introduction in which Splinter explains to his students that he's decided to hold a fighting tournament in which they are all too participate (along with himself, Casey, and April). While it's not a terribly great story, fighters aren't really none for their genius attempts at intricate and clever storytelling. No, what's fun about it is the comic-book inspired look to it. The graphics aren't the sharpest, but the style certainly indicates some effort and thought went into creating the background to the game. Of course, the incredibly slow pace at which the story unfolds turns out to be a far better foreshadower of what is to come than the manner in which the story is told.
The single biggest problem with the game is that after one's player gets hit a couple of times or knocked down they have a horrible tendency to freeze, either on the ground or simply dead on their feet. What initially seems like a fast-paced, frenetic style of gameplay comes to a screeching halt at these moments, moments which are all the more frustrating because the computer player never seems to contend with them to the same extent.
The back of the box states that the game has "life-like stages, destructible environments, and surprises around every corner." The environments may have a few things here and there that can be destroyed, but they tend to be few and far between and the surprises touted on the box are really less than what one might expect. As for the life-like stage, this reviewer has never found himself on a capsizing ship which runs aground into an iceberg, or even the Turtles' secret lair in the sewers. With the distinctly subpar graphics, one can't imagine that the box is discussing the quality of what appears on screen either.
In any case, after the initial few stages of Splinter's tournament, the evil Shredder and his gang break up the proceedings and the player's chosen turtle must set off alone to stop his nefarious doing by… pretty much just fighting a few more levels.
The game is playable over Nintendo's Wi-Fi Connection, either with friends (which you can add) or having the computer create match-ups. Playing with friends, one can set up many of the match types available in single player mode (Battle Royal, Survival, Swap Out, Tournament, and Trophy Tournament). The advantage to playing online is that those whom one plays against have the same unfortunate tendency to pause on their feet or while on the ground. However, the game also sometimes momentarily pauses during online play – something which truly hinders gameplay.
There are some unlockables present in the game – mainly more characters – but as with the fighting-style itself, there simply is not much depth to it. With more characters, more stages, a better story, and far better graphics, it's tough to imagine that anyone wouldn't rather play Super Smash Bros. Brawl over Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Smash-up. Or, at the very least, they would have to be far more nostalgic for those pizza-loving heroes in a half-shell than most people. But, this game does come with a TMNT mini-comic book.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Smash-up is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Cartoon Violence and Mild Suggestive Themes. This game can also be found on: PS2.