In the 80s the Ninja Turtles were ……the shit. From the comics to the cartoons to the action figures Turtle mania was in full effect. The apex of it all came with the movie in 1989, introducing the “fad” to everyone in the nation. At the crest of all this anticipation of the NES game was extremely high; it’s Ninja Turtles, how could they screw it up? Somehow Konami found a way, breaking the hearts of millions of innocent kids like me back in the day. This version of TMNT remains one of my biggest gaming disappointments of all time.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was released in 1989 for the NES through Konami’s Ultra games imprint. A weird amalgamation of the comic book and cartoon series the game starts out as a simple rescue mission for April O’ Neil but then eventually dovetails into fighting Shredder in the Technodrome to restore Splinter to his human form. Honestly they could have had the Turtles on a mission to save a McDonald’s bathroom from corruption and we would have happily ate it up. Although this is primarily an action game it’s hard to pigeonhole the game into one genre since nearly every level features a different gameplay element.
Gameplay is broken down into two parts. The overworld sections are top down as you explore each hub and its various sub-levels. Until chapter 3 these only serve as bridges as you search the sub-levels for items and pizza. You have your choice of any of the 4 turtles and can switch between them at any time. Aside from their individual weapons they all have separate life bars, an important distinction. Your turtles function as your lives as once they are all gone its game over. The strength and range of their weapons are the determining factor as to who you’ll use the majority of the time. Sub weapons such as boomerangs and throwing stars can be found and are extremely powerful but have limited use. You’ll be saving these for the bosses I assure you.
The game’s greatest strength comes in the variety in gameplay. Every chapter features a hub but then offers something unique, such as the bomb defusing under the dam in chapter 2 or navigating the turtle van in chapter 3. But despite all of this the game just wasn’t what everyone was expecting or looking for.
What the hell are some of these enemies? Jesus Christ the source material had plenty of enemies ripe for inclusion.
The look of the game feels like it was a completely different product with the Turtles shoehorned in to sell extra copies. The foot clan are barely recognizable and the regular enemies consist of a weird assortment of……I don’t know what the hell to call them. You’ve got men on fire, frog men, jumping eyeballs, and mechanical contraptions that defy logic. These all feel like something out of a Castlevania game. There are cameos from characters from the cartoon, such as Bebop, Rocksteady, and the Mousers but those feel like token gestures to appease the fans. The turtles license comes across as an afterthought. But the biggest offender is the difficulty.
This game is hard. Unbearably hard. Right from the beginning you’ll see the signs. Enemy placement is beyond retarded, with many situations forcing you to take a hit to proceed. You have 4 Turtles but two of them are f*cking useless. Save Donatello as he is the best character with the longest reach and destructive power. If you find yourself stuck with Michaelangelo and Raphael you might as well quit. There are very few opportunities to “rescue” a Turtle once they die and the game has limited continues. Every chapter is gargantuan by NES standards with far too many sub-levels that serve no purpose other than to waste your time and resources.
You are given no direction, leaving you at the mercy of trial and error with each chapter a featuring a veritable maze of stages. It’s not an exaggeration to say that a legion of gamers have never gotten past the dam and that’s only chapter 2! That’s how hard the game can be. Think of almost any frustrating gameplay element of the 8-bit era, it’s here. Enemies respawn as soon as you scroll even inches off screen, most jumps have enemies waiting to knock you off a platform forcing you to backtrack, it’s borderline ridiculous at times. There is nothing wrong with a decent challenge so long as it is fair. I can’t say that about this game.
I bet 90% of you reading this are looking at the screenshots and saying “I didn’t know that was in the game!” You’ll have to be a ninja or a savant like me to reach these parts.
Don’t play this game and have your memories of the Ninja Turtles sullied. Millions of us fell for it back in the day and suffered through the game just to play as the Turtles. Sad but true. You don’t need to do the same. Konami wisely made better use of the license starting with the first arcade game, play that or its NES port instead.
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