Let's get the obvious out of the way first: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash-Up borrows heavily from Nintendo's heavy hitter, Super Smash Bros. Brawl. It's understandable, given that some of the same people worked on it. Be that as it may, does the mutant clan have enough turtle power to roll with the big dogs?
Ink blotches splatter the pages of a black and white comic-book, illustrating a tame, and at times laughable, plot. With co-Turtle-creator Peter Laird on board, you'd expect something special, but there isn't anything here that's particularly memorable. The story exists only as a backdrop to frame the frantic fighting--nothing more, nothing less.
After selecting a hero in arcade mode, you'll face off against several opponents, ultimately ending in a showdown with Shredder. "Heroes" being the operative word here--you can't play as the bad guys in arcade mode. Unlike Brawl, where you tackle an unpredictable barrage of enemy pairings, not to mention larger-than-life foes, Smash-Up puts you up against the same sequence of opponents each time you play. Your only real motivation is to unlock alternate characters.
Practice, survival, battle royal, swap out and mission mode make up the rest of your choices, bringing with them a substantial amount of variety. Mission mode's 50 events, which force you to tackle enemies and obstacles while adhering to specific restrictions, easily steal the spotlight here. In one scenario you have feed your opponent to an alligator, while in another, you can only use power-ups to defeat your Practice, survival, battle royal, swap out and mission mode make up the rest of your choices, bringing with them a substantial amount of variety. Mission mode's 50 events, which force you to tackle enemies and obstacles while adhering to specific restrictions, easily steal the spotlight here. In one scenario you have feed your opponent to an alligator, while in another, you can only use power-ups to defeat your opponents. It's seldom the same thing twice.
Most of the arenas are rigged with various instant death obstacles, and have a high level of interactivity. Whether you're bolting down the deck of a sinking cruise ship, or fiercely attacking a beehive, arenas offer just as much of a fight as the enemies you're up against.
Outside of the traditional fighting modes, there are tons of mini and bonus games. These brief, challenging scenarios earn you shells, a form of currency you use to unlock trophies and items. They provide simple, goofy fun, and a welcome change of pace from the constant fighting.
If you have a Wi-Fi connection, Smash Up lets you participate in tournaments, battle royals, and one and one brawls online. If you set up a match using friend codes, you tailor your preferences, but you when you play pickup games, it's all luck of the draw when it comes to what sort of arrangement you'll get. We didn't experience any major lag issues during our review, but you can expect to wait a minute or two for bouts to begin.
Smash-Up is stuffed to the brim with options, modes, and unlockables. There are 16 characters in all, including four hidden rabbids. With its online play and a decent variety of modes, it's safe to say that Smash-Up is at least trying when it comes to its feature set.
Much like Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the fighting mechanics are simple: you can attack, defend, and throw. You won't be pulling off extravagant combos, but there's enough depth here to satisfy both novice and hardcore players alike.
All the fighters are equipped with weapons tailored to their size and maneuverability. Smaller characters have more reach, whereas the slightly larger characters are more powerful. The characters all favor specific strategies, but certain control issues hold the fighting system back. Getting hit by a fierce attack leaves you momentarily stunned--an awkward gimmick considering it brings the match to a screeching halt. Also, you can only use power-ups if you're firmly planted on the ground.
The most awkward gameplay mechanic, however, is the moon-like gravity. Characters feel far too floaty and weightless, leaving them suspended in the air for a questionably long time. It allows for some Matrix-style maneuvers, since you can leap off walls for an attack, but you won't be able to shake the feeling The most awkward gameplay mechanic, however, is the moon-like gravity. Characters feel far too floaty and weightless, leaving them suspended in the air for a questionably long time. It allows for some Matrix-style maneuvers, since you can leap off walls for an attack, but you won't be able to shake the feeling that someone needs to switch the gravity back on.
Smash-Up does have its share of ring-outs, but they are far less frequent than in Smash Bros. You're much more likely to be knocked out by your opponent, or fall victim to an environmental kill, than thrown out of bounds. You'll also find yourself fighting the traps littered in each arena more often than you'd prefer, at times making your opponent seem like only the second biggest threat.
The difficulty is also off the charts. On one hand, we easily held our own playing arcade mode on hard, yet certain scenarios in mission mode were downright brutal, even on easy. The challenge is a nice change of pace, though it feels uneven at times.
It's almost shocking how much Smash-Up tries to emulate Brawl, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the flow and presentation of the game. Expect some déjà vu moments, like when the announcer counts down each battle.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but Smash-Up unfortunately doesn't stand up to the same level of quality as Brawl. Arenas offer more than enough eye-candy, but their bland textures look as if they've been ripped from the PSP. The sound fits well with the game, but the music, a boring compilation of metal, falls flat.
Given that Smash-Up's release coincides with the Turtles' 25th anniversary, we're slightly disappointed that the art style doesn't evoke memories of the cartoon series we know and love. We can't help but feel a tinge of annoyance with how puny Shredder looks, and we really wish fan-favorites like Bebop and Rocksteady were in the game. It just doesn't feel like a smart use of the license.
With such an ample list of modes and options to choose from, you get the feeling that Smash-Up is attempting to distract you from its core fighting engine, which ultimately doesn't feel quite right. In the end, it's a poor man's version of Brawl--passable, but ultimately not comparable. If you can't get enough of Brawl, give it a shot, but don't expect the next coming of Smash Bros.
Reviewed on Nintendo Wii.