The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) are kicking it as high as ever, with a television show on Nickelodeon, an ongoing comic book series from IDW Publishing, and a second movie produced by Michael Bay coming out this summer. The franchise, which features a quartet of anthropomorphic turtles named after Italian Renaissance artists that do battle with a variety of strange and quirky villains, has been around for over 30 years, but the brand is timeless. To further take advantage of the Turtles‘ popularity, it’s getting a new video game, which releases later this month: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants Take Manhattan.
Developed by PlatinumGames (The Legend of Korra; Transformers: Devastation; the Bayonetta series), with a story written by Tom Waltz (author of the TMNT comic book series), the Turtles will be going toe-to-toe with minions from the Foot Clan with the high action and humor the brand is famous for.
Robert Conkey, Activision’s producer for Mutants in Manhattan talks to [a]listdaily about the upcoming game (which releases on May 24) and the ageless appeal of the TMNT.
What is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan about?
It’s a fast-paced action brawler by crack action developer PlatinumGames. In the game you can play solo or with up to 4 players in online cooperative gameplay. And you’ll want your friends to help you with this one, because you’re up against some serious opposition; the Foot Clan are in full force, and are led by iconic and extremely formidable villains including Rocksteady, Bebop, Slash, Wingnut, Karai and Armaggon, not to mention the incredibly powerful Shredder and Krang.
What convinced the team to base the game on the comic book series instead of the current TV show?
Actually, it’s not solely based off of the comic series. PlatinumGames wanted to pull from more of TMNT’s history than just one source would be able to cover. The world, characters, and cel-shaded art style are crafted as a stand-alone universe that pulls inspiration from a multitude of sources in TMNT’s history, including the original Eastman and Laird comics, the ’80s TV show, the IDW comic book series, and Nickelodeon’s fantastic contemporary 3D animated series.
Platinum told us that for reference, they looked at everything that exists in TMNT, including the original black and white comics, the Turtles musical and the Michael Bay movies. They were particularly drawn to the humor of the ’80s TV show and the animated 3D movies. In terms of art style, they really loved the work of the well-known IDW artist Mateus Santolouco and used his work as a source of inspiration for the game.
In what ways is Tom Waltz contributing to the game?
PlatinumGames had many, many Skype meetings with Tom. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who knows the Turtles’ personalities and tone better than Tom, and thanks to his help we think that really comes across in the game’s cut scenes and story. PG’s director, Eiro Shirahama, noted that whenever there was a design change, there would inevitably be revisions or changes required in the story; this happened several times on TMNT, and every time Tom took the change requests with an enthusiastic smile, and dove back into the script to ensure that our gameplay and story matched up perfectly.
The characters Karai, Wingnut and Slash are appearing in a game for the first time. What can you tell us about them?
I don’t want to spoil too much in terms of story, but we adore those characters and felt they were past due for some love in a video game.
In terms of boss fights, that each of them are unique and challenging boss fights will test players’ skill and teamwork in unique ways. Karai is blindingly fast and powerful, Slash is massive and uses his claws and entire body as weapons, and Wingnut flies above the Turtles, requiring them to get creative with their approach.
How did Platinum become interested in making a new TMNT game?
Activision is a licensing partner with Nickelodeon, and we needed to find a developer to work on a TMNT game for 2016. We’d already worked with PG on previous titles and knew their team very well. When we started looking for a new TMNT developer, their studio was immediately at the top of our list—PG’s unique talents are perfect for this type of title, and when we brought it up to them, they were very excited.
How will Platinum’s distinctive style be seen in the new Mutants in Manhattan?
In terms of art, the game is at the high standard of quality we’ve come to expect from PlatinumGames—the effects are flashy, the animations have real impact and are very satisfying, and there are tons of cool, empowering, and sometimes hilarious moves that will crack a big smile for any Turtles fan.
For gameplay, this is very much a PlatinumGames brawler—it is primarily a two-button combat system with light and heavy attacks that can be combined to create a variety of combos. While there are dodge cancels, counters, and other mechanics you would expect from a PG game, the meat of the depth comes from timing and synergizing your abilities with the other Turtles.
In single-player, you need to manage all four Turtles yourself and can swap between them instantly, and in multiplayer, you’ll need to work together with your teammates to combo the enemy. Communication is key.
A good example of the depth and strategy would be Mikey’s signature ability, Cheerleader, which refreshes all other Turtles’ cooldowns instantly. A great tactic is to have all the other Turtles activate their abilities immediately, putting them on cooldown. Then they call on Mikey to use Cheerleader, refresh them all, and perform the hugely damaging combo again. This type of teamwork becomes crucial to success, particularly against bosses and at harder difficulty levels.
Additionally, all abilities can be upgraded and assigned as part of your Turtle’s loadout. There is a large pool of assignable abilities and a huge number of viable “builds,” and we’re really excited to see how creative players get with the system!
Each Turtle also has a “combo attack” move that is strong on its own, but becomes extremely powerful if two Turtles use theirs at the same time.
Do you or the team at PlatinumGames have a favorite Turtle or villain?
There are so many awesome characters in TMNT that opinions vary wildly. It would be tough to name just one Turtle or villain that the team could call their favorite!
Personally, I’ve always been a huge fan of Raphael, because his “cool but crude” personality was so much fun. Also, sais are awesome.
Are there any challenges in creating and promoting a new game in such a longstanding franchise?
PG’s director, Shirahama-san, told me that their take on this was that—as a Japanese developer—they didn’t necessarily have identical exposure to the Turtles as Western audiences did, and that made it somewhat intimidating to make a TMNT game focused on an American/European audience. The hardest part was deciding which parts of the Turtles’ rich 30-year history they should reference or draw from; they made sure they understood all of the various worlds, and what it was about each series that really got fans passionate about them. Once they were sure they understood the Turtles in their entirety, they felt confident in pulling from multiple places to create their own video game interpretation of the Turtles.
Everyone involved really loved the humor of the original series and ran with it, and PG also wanted to ensure we remembered that they are in fact teenagers, and sometimes behave like them. They did a great job of weaving these themes into the story and even the gameplay itself.
What do you think makes the Turtles such appealing characters after being around for over 30 years?
In my opinion, they have the perfect balance of humor, action and depth. The way they treat one another, and how they are perceived from the outside world makes them really fun to watch/play/etc. The successes of the toys, films, comics, and shows continue to gain them new fans, to the point now where generations of fans can share their enthusiasm with one another. And everyone has a favorite Turtle after all, right? They’re each very differently personable, which makes it easy to connect with them.