Smash Up is a surprisingly solid Super Smash Bros. clone that stars the heroes in a half shell.
Very few franchises from the '80s can claim to have lasted for more than 20 years; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of them. Starting as a black-and-white comic by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the turtles eventually achieved widespread fame as Saturday morning cartoon characters. Divergent from the original comic books, the series went on to become a phenomenon that spawned movies, merchandise, and of course, video games.
With 2009 being the heroes' 20th anniversary, Mirage Studios decided to celebrate in a grand manner, creating a new TV movie called "Turtles Forever," releasing collectible toys and re-releasing the old movies on Blu-Ray and DVDs. In the video game world, there was a remake of Turtles in Time for the Xbox Live Arcade and PSN, and the subject of this review, TMNT: Smash Up. Published by Ubisoft and developed by Game Arts and members of Team Ninja, the title is a Super Smash Bros. clone starring the cast from TMNT, and it's a very solid effort with a few warts.
If you have played any Super Smash Bros. title, Smash Up shouldn't be a foreign concept. The game is a 2.5D fighter, differing only slightly from fighting games of yesteryear like Street Fighter. Instead of learning complex moves in a 3D environment, the fighting has been simplified in an effort to make it accessible as a party game. Up to four players can participate in energetic, frenzied battles.
In Smash Up, the object is to deplete your opponent's health bar or toss them out of the ring, a slight departure from Super Smash Bros.'s damage counter. But at times the stages will be filled with hazards and obstacles that quickly turn the match into a race to save your life. Additionally, you'll find items such as bombs and power-ups that let the characters perform various ninja attacks; these items help you defeat your opponents. It's these little nuances that made the original Nintendo franchise a hit with gamers around the world, and this game does a good job of preserving this tradition, even if it doesn't quite reach the level of polish that the Super Smash Bros. franchise is known for.
For starters, the gravity is quite low, making the characters feel "light". This somewhat compensates for the fact that the characters lack a third jump, as the low gravity allows players to jump higher and farther. There are also some advanced techniques, such as wall jumping, wall attacks, and air dodges. While not impossible to perform, these moves are very tricky, often seemingly performed by sheer luck. Players can also beat their opponents to the point of making them dizzy. When this happens - and it happens often - you have to shake the controller in order to snap out of it. This feels forced, and since it's a constant occurence it gets tiring quickly.
But for all its faults, Smash Up can be really fun, especially since the core mechanics are presented very well. There are two forms of attack: basic, which just requires one press of the attack button, and special, which is performed while pressing the attack button any holding any direction on the D-Pad. This allows players to perform combos and attacks without the need to memorize complex button sequences. Smash Up is focused on the player's skills, which by itself makes the game worth trying out.
The stages are excellent in their design, despite being reminiscent of the stages found in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. A few of them are gimmicky and not particularly relevant to the entire TMNT franchise, but they are all laid out well, giving players enough room to perform tricks. They also shine in their creativity. The Cruise Ship stage, for example, starts out like a regular stage but then hits an iceberg, forcing players to flee the ship and continue the fight on the back of a whale.
The roster is solid, but quite problematic. The main characters are here, such as all four turtles (Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo), Shredder, April O'Neil, Master Splinter and many others. The roster also features appearances from TMNT characters that have played a significant role in the TMNT storyline, such as the Fugitoid and the Nightwatcher. The problem is that the roster is quite small, lacking the strength and potential seen in recent Super Smash Bros. games. Even worse, instead of using the space for three more important TMNT characters, there are three Rabbid characters: Raving Rabbid, Splinter Rabbid, and Ninja Rabbid. As funny as they are to play with, there is a laundry list of characters - such as Rocksteady and Bebop, Leatherhead, Baxter Stockman, and many more - that didn't make the cut. It is disappointing that the final roster doesn't use the franchise to its full potential.
Smash Up does a bang-up job with a variety of modes, though, even if all of them have been borrowed from the Super Smash Bros. playbook. The first mode is Arcade, which doubles as the game's story mode. Co-written by Peter Laird, the story is very basic. Master Splinter has organized a tournament that serves as training for the turtles, April O' Neil, and Casey Jones. The winner gets to receive a trophy and one personal item from Master Splinter. But as is tradition in the turtles saga, things gets complicated with the presence of Shredder and thus the tournament becomes a race to defeat him and Karai. It is a solid mode to play through once you understand the concept of the game, but the story repeats with every character (although each character has an unique ending). You can only play as the good guys, as there is no story for the villains present. Once every few bouts a set of six mini-games will appear, such as "Proceed" (in which you race to the end the of the stage), "Survive" (board platforms and avoid being eaten by the sharks), and "Dodge the Kunai" (avoid the kunai knives until time runs out). Successful completion of these mini-games will earn players shells that can be spent on character trophies.
The next mode, Mission mode, has players participating in battles with specific requirements, such as protecting a character, eating a set number of pizzas, or defeating a set amount of enemies before the timer runs out. As you complete each set of missions, more are unlocked until you get through all 50 missions. Completion of these missions can net additional content, such as concept art and additional mini-games.
Battle Royal works as the game's main multiplayer mode. Four players can participate in free-for-all battles. The rules, such as the time limit, number of lives, and the usage of items, can be changed before the match. Tournament and Swap Out both feature other ways to play with friends. Tournament is self-explanatory, and Swap Out allows players to quickly jump in and out between matches. There is also a Practice mode that allows you to train without the pressure of battling other players.
TMNT: Smash Up also features online play. You can choose between friend battles, in which you battle the friends you have shared Friend Codes with, and online battles, in which you set up a match with a random player. Online play, despite its promise, proves to be just as problematic as in the only multiplayer mode in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Matches are riddled with lag unless players have an optimal online setup; even with a decent online configuration there's no guarantee that matches will be smooth. However, finding opponents is much easier than in Brawl, with players being able to start a match at any time as long as there are other players connected.
There are also additional bonus modes. In Trophy Room players can collect figurines, acquired by playing a shell tossing mini-game. Shells are also given to you while playing the mini-games within Story mode. Once you collect the trophies, you can view them at your leisure. You can also create a trophy for the tournament mode. Last but not least, in the Bonus Content mode you can look at character artwork, movies, and other items related to the turtles' history. It is a neat addition that fans will enjoy.
In terms of presentation, Smash Up has been well-crafted. The characters mostly resemble their counterparts from the 2007 film, while some of them have been modeled after their cartoon representations. However, the stages steal the show with their design and stunning backdrops. The textures are low resolution, unfortunately, making it look less sharp than it could have. The characters are also very basic, but because of this the game runs at a fast pace. The music is largely forgettable, with the rare stand out tune here and there. The voice cast from the 2003 cartoon reprises their roles here, and they do a good job with their characters.
In the end, TMNT: Smash Up has tough competition, with Super Smash Bros. Brawl still being a popular choice for gamers. While its flaws prevent it from being a serious contender, the game is a surprisingly fun and a solid effort that fans shouldn't miss. It may try a bit too hard to be like Super Smash Bros., but its modes and gameplay make it a title worth checking out if you want to take a break from Nintendo's fighting game.