When Konami released Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles last year for consoles and the PC, all we wanted was a spirited beat-'em-up in the vein of the classic Turtles arcade games. While Konami managed to get the genre right, it unfortunately succeeded at little else, turning in a rather prosaic effort that didn't have much going for it beyond its cel-shaded graphics. A year later, Konami has churned out a sequel to TMNT, titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Battle Nexus. The one problem in the original game that the developers behind this game managed to correct was the lack of four-player co-op play, which is now available throughout all of Battle Nexus' modes. Unfortunately, they also somehow managed to make every other aspect of the game significantly worse. The gameplay has shifted from a simple beat-'em-up to an erratically difficult platformer with exceedingly lousy combat, and every other aspect of the game seems to be frozen in some sort of time warp, remaining totally untouched from the original and aging poorly to boot. Battle Nexus is more than just a step backward for this series--it's a step backward into a large chasm.
If you're a Turtles fan who has been hoping that TMNT2: Battle Nexus will be the game that gets the franchise back on the right track, disappointment is in your future.
While the story aspect of the last TMNT game wasn't a huge factor, it was at least better than what Battle Nexus has to offer. The storyline of this game is ripped largely out of the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series' second season, and it consists of an overarching storyline that puts the four heroic turtles--Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael--on a quest to rescue their master, Splinter. At the beginning, you'll have a couple of story paths available to you, as well as a couple of locked story paths. Each story branches out into an episodic series of misadventures that you must play through, and some of these missions even have multiple paths. What's weird is that there's obviously a fairly linear plotline that the game follows, as evidenced by the way the different animated cutscenes taken from the show play out. So, even though you can choose from a couple of different missions, only one of them actually starts in the proper place in the story.
Further compounding the disjointed nature of the mission structure is the ridiculously short length of each section. Some of the missions have a couple of parts--usually the boss-fight areas--but for the most part, the levels tend to be very, very brief, with only a scant bit of combat and a few jumps and obstacles to traverse. The levels where you have to fight off specific enemies to proceed tend to take longer, but those only surface about half the time. The rest of the time you can just run right through, ignoring all but the most persistent of enemies, and be done in a snap. Of course, you won't earn as high of a grade at the end of the level, and you may miss some of the game's collectible power-up items, but in the grand scheme of things, these bonuses are pretty meaningless overall.
Another weird and annoying thing about Battle Nexus is its character-management system. Each time you start up the game, you'll be presented with a character-select screen for one to four players. If you're the only one playing, you'll still have to select four characters from a pool including the turtles themselves and side characters like Splinter and Casey Jones. You'll be able to have only one character onscreen at a time, but you can switch between them on the fly. The reason for this is simple--at certain times during missions, specific characters' abilities are needed to proceed. However, this is set up in the cheapest way possible. For example, if you get to a door that has to be opened via a control panel, you'll have to cycle through to get to Donatello, since he's the smartest of the group, and logically is the one who can operate electronics. Of course, all you actually have to do is press his weak attack button in the vicinity of the control panel, and the door magically opens. For everyone else, it's just as simple. One guy can move heavier blocks, another can chop through certain objects, and that's about it. At times, you can actually circumvent these ability-specific objectives altogether. That's as much character-specific action as you're going to see in the game, which is pretty underwhelming, to say the least.
The addition of bad platforming mechanics serves only to make Battle Nexus even worse.
Of course, switching between characters is really the least of your worries while you're playing Battle Nexus--the generally unpleasant gameplay is what you'll be grinding your teeth about. While last year's TMNT was mostly just a dumb beat-'em-up, it had enough of a framework that it was possible to imagine the developers eventually building something playable on it. Instead, they managed to go in exactly the opposite direction, needlessly mucking up the action with a lot of silly platforming mechanics that are badly executed and feel wildly out of place. Many of the game's levels are weirdly reliant on moving platforms, timed jumps, and other mechanics that this game simply doesn't do very well. The platforming stuff feels forced, and some of the contextual stuff the game tries to make you do is just lame. Take, for instance, the wall-jumping mechanic. Sometimes you'll have to jump between a couple of walls to get up to a ledge--sort of like in Ninja Gaiden, or any number of other platform action games. Unfortunately, here the mechanic is so sloppy that trying to time jumps properly is just frustrating, and even when you get it right, the animation is glitchy.
Battle Nexus' combat is just as bad. The enemies weren't very smart in the last TMNT game, and they're just as brain-dead here. Only now, some of them are proficient at blocking, so you have to suffer through trying to beat up an enemy who not only can't fight properly, but who also knows how to turtle itself until you walk away for a while. Most times, grunt enemies will just stand there, slowly walking around in a circle until you get too close or attack. Enemies with projectile attacks will attack more often, and are often the most difficult, mostly because the game likes to put them together in significant numbers and tailor their attack patterns so one will always attack right after the other. On the other hand, you'll frequently find yourself without any enemies to beat up at all, as many levels feature oddly vacant sections.
What is perhaps most tragic of all is that none of the moves your characters can pull off are at all satisfying. Nearly all the attacks are holdovers from last year's game, and yet somehow they feel a little more random and poorly executed. Some characters, like Donatello, seem almost totally useless in combat situations, unless you're just hammering out supermoves all the time. Michelangelo, on the other hand, seems ridiculously overpowered, thanks to his multiple-hit jump attack and spinning kick attack. He's really the only character you ever need to use during boss fights, as most of these battles can be won by simply using his jump attack over and over again. The combat is just this brand of shallow throughout the entire game, and it makes trying to play through any of its modes an absolute bore.