Back in October of 2017, there was news of a brand-new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles beat-em-up coming from Raw Thrills. At that point, we didn't have much of anything beyond a single IAAPA promotional flyer. However, I still applauded Raw Thrills for being bold enough to reinvigorate a nearly-dead genre when no one else was. (Barring that gosh-awful 2009 Justice League beat-em-up from Global VR. It had so much potential but unfortunately did not hit the proverbial mark.)
Since then, a lot more concrete information has surfaced on TMNT 2018. We've seen quite a bit of gameplay footage, and now, we have a slew of official screenshots to dig into. Naturally, in typical Wilcox Arcade fashion, I can't resist embarking on an overly-long analysis of this footage and each and every screenshot. You know me, kiddos.
First, let's look at the gameplay footage, because it paints a more "complete" picture of what's to come. (I may have to update this section later, because Raw Thrills announced on Twitter and Instagram that more gameplay footage is to come at Amusement Expo 2018. I ain't complainin'!) To start us off, let's take a good look at 4-minutes of gameplay from the first level in the game: T.C.R.I. (Techno Cosmic Research Institute).
The first thing we saw in the video was (naturally) a menu screen. It's very simple and intuitive. It "feels" like the 2012 TMNT series; there are lots of deep black and purple hues. Whether or not a level select screen was a good idea is entirely up to you. While you may prefer the strictly chronological progression of the original TMNT games, I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with having these options. (Level select screens are a staple of Raw Thrills games, after all.) You'll still have to play through all three levels to unlock the final level, of course, and it gives you the option to play your favorite levels out of order. As long as the story flows, I have no problem with it.
Then, there's a loading screen. Why are there loading screens in modern arcade games? We didn't have this problem in 2010, so why do we have it now? (Just felt like interjecting that question before moving on.)
And now, we arrive at the part that everyone was waiting for: the gameplay. It's certainly very exciting when the turtles jump through the windows and the players are immediately thrust into gameplay. My first thought when looking at the T.C.R.I. level is that it feels so right. The dark, purple-heavy color scheme practically screams TMNT 2012. The opening section of the level in particular is beautiful. The textures are so rich and clean, the lighting effects are so stunning, and the architecture is so well-modeled. Raw Thrills was definitely going for series accuracy here. And of course, there's plenty of quality voice acting from the official cast. (Note: I don't watch the 2012 TMNT series; I'm a diehard fans of the 2003 4Kids series. However, I can appreciate good appropriation of a source material.)
At the beginning we also see those Pac-Man Battle Royale-esque lines pointing from the control panel to one's onscreen character. When it was revealed that these lines would be in the game, many people were worried. It seemed so intrusive, so weird! However, after watching gameplay, it's clear that this is nothing more than a little guide to help players get their bearings together once thrown into the level. (Or very, very occasionally when in the heat of a frenzied fight.) By my count the guidelines lasted about 8 seconds, and only a few of those seconds were gameplay. It's not going to hamper our TMNT beat-em-up experience by any means.
The gameplay itself looks very, very good. The turtles move quickly (something that is almost required to keep a beat-em-up from growing too stale) and in only eight directions, just as it was meant to be in these side-scrolling types of games. I know some of you may have wanted a little more modernity (like 16 directions of movement or analogue movement-speed sensitivity), but I think it will be just fine. Raw Thrills has designed these turtles to move exactly how we remember them moving, instead of shoehorning new technologies into classic gameplay.
And speaking of classic gameplay, TMNT 2018 nails it in more ways than one. Based on all this glorious footage, this is a game that pays all due respect to Turtles in Time. I can tell that it plays nearly identically to the impeccable Konami formula. Raw Thrills clearly heeded the old adage: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Of course, there is one slight difference. Now, instead of having a second, more powerful attack that uses up some of your health, there are charged special attacks called "Turtle Power". From what I've seen, Turtle Power does a lot better job of A) breaking up the occasional monotony of the beat-em-up genre and B) giving players a much fairer way out of tough spots. I don't know about you, but I never used the other attack button in the old Konami games. Why would I wanna lose health, ya know? Turtle Power gives players a much better option.
And of course, there are also items to shake things up, like these shuriken:
One thing that is the slightest bit different from the original games is the difficulty. In every video I've seen, TMNT 2018 looks much easier than the originals. Of course, the difficult does scale as the game goes on, but it doesn't look too bad in the first two levels. Depending on your perspective, this may nerf the gameplay a bit, or it may make the game fairer. I personally have no problem with the difficulty. The way I see it, TMNT 2018 is a game that's begging to be 1CC'd by average gamers like me. And I believe that Raw Thrills has done nothing but make the game the slightest bit fairer. I'm sure it will be plenty difficult in the fourth unlockable level Shredder's Throne Room. (If not, definitely ask your arcade operator to crank up the difficulty.)
From what we've seen so far, I have only two major concerns. For one thing, the graphics aren't...perfect, so to speak. The game looks nice, but it's just not on the level of SEGA Nu, or even the PS4 for that matter. (Character models in particular are rather low-poly.) Though I'm a firm believer in gameplay over graphics, I believe Raw Thrills owes it to arcades to start pushing polygons a bit more. In ye olden days, arcades were where you found graphics and sound that were better than what you could get at home. Now? Not so much. Like I said, the gameplay is so good that I shouldn't even care. Still, graphics are still a concern. (I will admit, though, that some of those environments looks beautiful.)
My other slight issue with the game is one that I have with all Raw Thrills games: the music in nigh inaudible. Loud, bombastic sound effects are fun; I get it. However, memorable music is a key part of any game. Watching that gameplay video, it seemed as if the music had been cranked down to a minimum and the sound effects were cranked up as high as they could go. The menu screen had the only audible music. And when I went to watch Turtles in Time gameplay to compare, I found that, yes, I could hear the music—and it was really good! I only bring this up because it's a concern I've had for a long time. I miss the days of killer arcade soundtracks. At this point, I'm not even sure if the theme song from the show is present in the game.
Still, it looks great so far. Krang's return should be proof enough:
Next up is the second level: NYC. Raw Thrills has once again proven that they really understand the aesthetic and tone of the 2012 TMNT series.
With this level, I'd like to note how much I appreciate the interactive environments. A lot of things can be screwed with, from fire hydrants to trash cans to parking meters. It's just a nice touch that gives the Turtles' world some more life. There are also lots of little details sprinkled throughout. Every store and venue the player passes by has its own unique name and design. There was definitely some care put into this game.
I feel as if I should also point out some of the pickups in this game. There is, of course, the classic pizza health:
A new pickup that increases your Turtle Power:
An assist pickup that calls in Metal Head to blow up all the dudes onscreen:
This little shell powerup that turns your turtle into a little tornado:
And a smoke bomb:
Based on the Turtle Power, items, and powerups sprinkled throughout the levels, it's clear that Raw Thrills took vast measures to ensure TMNT 2018 never becomes monotonous. Though I love beat-em-ups dearly, I must admit that some can get so tiresome and repetitive by the end of the game. Mark my words: TMNT 2018 will not be one of those games. There's so much to do and see that you just can't get bored! With all the little gameplay variations one can encounter, each gameplay experience will always be fun and unique. (At least, that's how I see it. What do I know?)
I also greatly appreciate the circles around everything. Each player has a color-coded circle around them with a small indicator to the side (blue circle that says P1 in this case). Pickups (like trash cans and health) will have green circles around them. While they may seem a bit intrusive to some, I think the circular indicators do a great job modernizing beat-em-ups. It keeps things grounded and eases confusion during frenzies. (Think of the player indicators from Smash Bros. It's just that but in a beat-em-up.) And of course, I also appreciate how enemies are color-coded by their abilities. I'm glad Raw Thrills maintained that feature from the original games.
In the first two levels, we determined that the game was faithful to the original Konami games and managed to expand the beat-em-up genre tenfold—what more could there possible be to analyze?
Well, two more levels. But that's it; I promise.
Our third stop is the Sewer level. I think it's very clear from the sewer surfin' in the beginning that Raw Thrills ain't messing around with the classic Turtles vibes. I've seen complaints that they "copied" the original surfing sequence, but like...this entire game is an homage to Turtles in Time. It doesn't really bother me.
It's clear that, by the time players get to the Sewer, things get fairly hectic. Even so, I couldn't help but appreciate all the little details. Like Raw Thrills promised, there are lots of interactive environmental objects, such as the sewer pipes. I also really like how every character (for the most part) has unique animations. Michelangelo and Raphael, for instance, run very differently, because they're different characters. Raw Thrills definitely injected a lot of personality into TMNT 2018.
I still find myself very conflicted on the graphics, though. Something about those environments looks so good. There's so much detail, and they seem to have high-resolution textures and solid polygon counts. But for whatever reason, the character models don't look great to me. I'm not bothered by the art style; it just seems as if the characters are somewhat low-poly.
Still, I ain't complainin' too much. The more gameplay I watch, the more I am convinced that TMNT 2018 is going to be a perfect game. Raw Thrills has so perfectly captured the spirt of classic beat-em-ups while still innovating in ways that feel natural and evolutionary. Mark my words: this will be a good game.
Because I've run out things to say, let's wrap things up by looking at official screenshots from the Sewer level. (Yes, I got them from ArcadeHeroes.com. I need to start e-mailing arcade game developers to tell them that, yes, I am the arcade press, too! I need these precious press releases and screenshots for my blog!)
For whatever reason, I really enjoyed seeing that Mousers (the little grey robots below) were in this game.
I like the graffiti on this subway car. The textures in this game are surprisingly nice. What I don't like, however, is the fact that the train tacks are mostly comprised of two-dimensional textures. That's a little iffy in 2018, graphically speaking. The game still looks fairly nice, though.
Look, it's the Turtles' lair! And there are some arcade games! Raw Thrills nailed the TMNT 2012 universe. Seriously, this game feels like stepping into the show. Everything was crafted with care.
Baxter Stockman looks different than how I remember him. TMNT 2003 problems, am I right? (Oh wait. You probably all watched the 1987 TMNT series. My bad.)
And here's Shredder, from the unlockable fourth level Shredder's Throne Room. Something about these graphics aren't jiving with me. I sincerely believe that the polygon count just isn't up to snuff. Those textures look great, though. I'm so conflicted.
Luckily for you all, there is one thing I saved for last. You may have noticed that I didn't point out the boss battles while digging into all that gameplay footage. I decided I would rather centralize that information. Here are most of the bosses in order:
Regardless of how you feel about Raw Thrills, there's no denying that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is going to change everything. Like I said on Twitter: at the very least, we see more beat-em-ups from other companies. At the very most, we see a resurgence of true genre diversity in the arcade industry. You know it's true, kiddos; other companies love to copy Raw Thrills. It's why we still see Fast and the Furious clones in 2018. For once, I hope other companies copy Raw Thrills. Let's see some more beat-em-ups; let's take some more risks. It's time for us to shake things up in the arcade industry.
Thank you, Raw Thrills. I still dislike Injustice Arcade, but at least we've got Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Raw Thrills has some big shoes to fill, but I think they can do it:
Keep it real, ya sweaty nerds. See ya next week. Hopefully.