I grew up like many kids in the late '80s and early '90s; I was hooked on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Everything about the heroes in a half shell had me foaming at the mouth, from the movies, to the hokey cartoon show, the action figures, costumes for Halloween, the video games, and so forth. In 2003, the Turtles returned with a brand-new cartoon series. In the U.S., it aired on the Saturday Morning Fox Box, a collection of cartoons that was formerly known as Fox Kids before it became the all-4Kids TV branded morning of shows.
Like in the late '80s, the powers that be behind the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles went on a merchandising spree. Though the new series for the turtles didn't reach the highs and fandom of the late '80s one, it still received plenty of stuff, and yes, that included video games. A multitude of Turtles-branded games released based off of the 2003 cartoon, and the first was a multiplatform game for the PlayStation 2, Nintendo GameCube, and Xbox known simply as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. If you're looking for the magic of the older arcade games, you won't find it here. In fact, you won't find much of value here at all.
It all comes down to a plethora of problems. The first is the nearly brain-dead combat on offer here. You have a light attack, strong attack, and the ability to throw shurikens of various types. There's no real discernible difference between light attacks and strong attacks, so the only real recourse of action here is to spam the light attack button, performing combos in this manner.
Every offense needs a good defense, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles doesn't offer much in the way of avoiding enemy attacks. You see, there's no block button whatsoever. This means you can get caught in a multi-hit combo, particularly by bosses who provide the stiffest of challenges over the otherwise easy enemy AI, and find a great deal of your health depleted in the process. Instead, what you're faced with is the need to use the left shoulder button to dash away from enemies before they can wallop you, which is by far more limited a defensive option than a block would otherwise be.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' 2003 offering is split up between six chapters which are divided up into multiple areas. What level design is here is the most basic of the basic, with linear corridors and occasional open spaces, all requiring you to move from one horde of enemies to another (the kind that usually appear out of nowhere). There is no real exploration to be found, as usually interesting locations in levels are blocked by invisible walls. When you do find a place of interest, it can house the game's sole collectible, a scroll that unlocks some form of concept art in the gallery section of the game.
Instead of the side-scrolling nature found in the more loved arcade games by Konami, 2003's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has 3D arenas and areas that provide different camera positions at various heights and angles that follow along with your turtle. Sometimes it can be to your detriment, however, as the camera can occasionally not keep up with the action or face you with a precarious angle or point of view.
In between some chapters, your turtle of choice enters Splinter's dojo, where they must complete a task to earn a reward. This can be an increase to their offensive or defensive abilities or it can be something as simple as learning how to jump and attack. Yes, you have to learn how to jump and attack in a beat-em-up. The otherwise baffling and impossible-to-know means to jump and then attack is locked behind completing one of Splinter's trials.
Playing solo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is quite the slog, as you're fighting the same number of enemies in solo as you would in co-op, many that can overwhelm you in groups. However, things become a bit more enjoyable with a second player. Unfortunately and confusingly so, there is no option to play with four buddies. Only two turtles and players can play at a time. Nevertheless, two players make for a funner experience, though one still full of button-mashing and little else.
The fact that you have to beat the game as all four turtles to face the true final boss and see the true ending (meaning that player one has to control one turtle through the game four times) adds longevity to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but the gameplay is so vapid and repetitive that this makes for more of a chore than a challenge.
The presentation for 2003's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles isn't too shabby. The cel-shaded style, which was popular for the time, looks excellent. Animations are moderately executed, but not all looks great, as areas themselves are a bit drab in appearance. Clips from the show look nice, though they make for a disjointed story that has little cohesion whatsoever. It's more of an episodic structure, and even then, it won't make much sense contextually to those who haven't seen the show. When not showing clips from the series, the characters just stand around in their 3D-modeled glory with limited animation. Finally, in regards to the audio, the voice actors do a nice job, but the music is mostly uninspired, something that is just background noise.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' 2003 offering is a repetitive beat-em-up with little reason to play through it more than once, despite its intention to have you play through it four times just to see the real ending. Yes, it's accessible, but the combat is so basic that there's no real joy from overcoming wave after wave after wave after wave after wave after wave after wa-- oops, better stop myself there-- of enemies. The only real challenge comes from the harder-than-ordinary boss battles, and this is mostly due to the lack of any sort of block button. Alone the game is tedious, with a friend there is more fun to be had, but not much more. The first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video game based off of the 2003 cartoon series is hardly worth a look unless you're a giant Turtles fan. Even then, I feel shafted of my five hours with the game.