Sewer Prince: The TMNT Test

by Mitchell Dyer

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When the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie came out last year, I bought the game on day one. Sure, I could have rented the sure-to-be-terrible film adaptation and saved myself $53.00, but I was too excited to care. Four hours after starting, I’d finished it and, surprisingly, was totally satisfied with it. The fluid Prince of Persia: Sands of Time-like platforming moves were great additions to my childhood heroes’ repertoire of acrobatic abilities. Now it’s all come full circle: the modified Prince moves from TMNT now make up the majority of the new PoP‘s move set… and I think I liked it better when my hero had a half-shell.

And it makes me wonder: was TMNT a practice run for what would become the new Prince of Persia? Abilities that appear in Ubisoft’s TMNT were obviously inspired by their million-selling Persian platformer, but after seeing the new PoP, I can’t help but feel as if Leonardo and crew were the market litmus test for a fresh set of stuff the hero can pull off.

Death is entirely cut out of the game in favor of immediately bringing you back to the last bit of solid soil you stood on after a foolish fall. And it makes sense — producer Ben Mattes said at the 2008 Penny Arcade Expo that it saves having to needlessly stick you behind a load screen after each mistake. But it’s far from being a concept unique to that game: TMNT did it the year prior. A lot of reviews have noted Prince of Persia as too forgiving, easy even, because it doesn’t punish the player. Of course, other critics claim that the mechanic makes the game more accessible, do it’s a double edged sword, I guess.

No matter how you look at it, where was all the forum chatter and critical conversation about the forgiving nature of TMNT? Maybe it doesn’t matter because it’s a “Kids’ Game” But it’s this Kids’ Game that boasted the unnoticed innovation.

Though the turtles were great wall runners and wall hoppers, there was still a bit to be desired with the movement. It was as fluid as it was fun, for sure, but you would frequently fall in to chasms because of the game’s sensitive control inputs. Thank goodness for the instant respawn-and-retry mechanic. Tapping the jump button, appropriately, sent Donatello leaping from his position on the wall, but it was often too sudden or quick to fully comprehend where you were headed. It sort of killed the flow if you weren’t able to keep up with the action, as you’d find yourself slamming in to walls or messing up your timing.

With PoP, the moves are seamless, but they feel sluggish thanks to a lack of response when hopping about. Wall running is a calculated process, to the point that you can queue up your next two jumps with a double-tap of the button without ruining the wall-crawling. Rather than slightly slowing down the frenetic movement in TMNT, Ubisoft put it to a screeching halt by making you watch the climbing rather than playing the majority of it. Pressing the B/Circle button allows the hero to grab on to rings to hoist himself up or across, but it’s an automatic movement that you don’t participate in beyond punching your thumb in to your controller.

One specific move that struck me as familiar was PoP‘s double jump. Crossing lengthy gaps is easily solved by having Elika, your AI-controlled co0perative partner, throw you  ahead after you’ve leapt from a ledge. Similarly, TMNT allowed you to call on one of your bipedal brethren to to give you the extra oomph needed to make a particularly long jump. This, above all else, is the most obvious thing that Prince of Persia takes from TMNT, and I’m baffled by the amount of focus Ubisoft put on this mechanic. It’s an incredibly crucial element to both of these Ubisoft action/platformers, yet the green-teens didn’t even get their due props.

Seeing the similarities between these games is strange to me; not because Ubisoft’s internal development is incestuously lending and borrowing between games, but because I want to play TMNT again, and leave Prince of Persia behind forever. Everything that PoP is getting praised for has already been done. It was done over a year ago, and I enjoyed it more when it was faster and more responsive than the slow-to-respond action in the holiday ’08 superstar. Both games are great, but the turtles were used as a test to see how people responded to expanded and evolved methods of platforming. It obviously worked. PoP is getting all of the praise.

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