Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - NES (also ported to various formats)

The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ('Hero' Turtles, you say? GTFO)  console and computer game is a bit of an oddity. During 1989 at around the end of the cartoon show's second season, Konami released a 1-4 player scrolling beat 'em up based on the show into arcades. It was an instant massive smash hit. Not only was the game itself great...extremely playable, excellent looking and full of music and speech samples from the TV show (which was probably the most popular kid's programme at the time on both sides of the Atlantic), but the beat 'em up genre was already riding high on a massive wave of popularity at the time with games like Double Dragon, Renegade, Final Fight and Golden Axe all doing the rounds and raking in impressive amounts of money from arcade goers. So when Konami also released a Turtles game for the massively popular NES console, you'd be forgiven for thinking that it'd be a port of the arcade game.....but you couldn't be more wrong.

The Turtles game that hit the NES was a 2D single player hack and slash platformer with some overhead sections inbetween....a very different beast to what had wowed gamers in the arcade. The license alone still ensured that it was a top seller...over 4 million copies sold...but for many who wanted to play the arcade game at home with their friends, it was a huge disappointment.

Despite this, it's still quite an interesting and unique game in it's own right and does a decent job of capturing the atmosphere of the TV show, if nothing else. The music sounds fab for the most part and the areas are well drawn out and designed, with a good mixture of underground and sewer stages as well as a number of building interiors. Although you can only play as one of the Turtles at a time, you can also switch between them whenever you need to, so if one takes a lot of damage and is low on energy you can swap him out for a fresh Turtle or you can make tactical use of a specific Turtle's weapon....if there's guys on a ledge above you for instance, you may want to switch to Donatello and use his long reaching bo staff to take them out.
Going for a ride in the Wagon

This mechanic does however present problems of it's own. If you swap to another Turtle, the old Turtle still keeps it's existing energy bar and this carries across even when you defeat a boss and move onto the next stage so if you don't make sure to find a pizza and top up, you may find yourself unable to use a particular Turtle at a crucial moment. Picking up a pizza will only replenish the currently selected Turtle's health too, so if you've got all 4 needing a top up, you may have to scour around for more pizzas which can be pretty time consuming. The team members are also massively unbalanced too, with Donatello having both the most powerful and longest reaching weapon (fnar!), Leo being weaker but still having decent up/down attacks but then both Michelangelo and Raphael both being about as useful as a chocolate teapot with weedy short range weapons and no downward attacks. If one of the guys loses all their energy and gets captured, that's it...they're out of the game completely, permadeath style until the whole team goes down (and having to 'continue sends you right back to the start of whichever overhead map stage you're currently on, with any collected weapons or items removed)...this also makes things massively frustrating if you get stuck with either Mike or Raph near the end of a stage.

Oh, and did I mention that you can only continue twice, before it's back to the very start of the whole game?

Seaweed = death
The original TMNT game also has one of the most notoriously difficult levels in all of well known NES games....the underwater section by the dam where you have to defuse bombs. Whilst I've never struggled too much with this section myself (even after not having played the game for years, I was still able to do it first try, albeit with switching around of the Turtles to conserve their energy bars) it was a game breaker for many people. The swimming controls are sloppy and a little unresponsive, unseen currents keep nudging your Turtle towards hazards and making them swim slower in some directions, the amount of traps and hazards is pretty ridiculous, with spinning blades, electric zappers and even lethal seaweed out to get you...and on top of this the time limit is extremely tight and out of time and it's an instant game over and back to the start of the dam level, and you have to go through a lengthy 2D platforming section before you even get to the underwater bit. It's extremely poor game design, and even though games back then were just generally tougher, a checkpoint or 2 at least wouldn't have gone amiss.
Who are these guys?!?

The variety of enemies is also...shall we just say...a little weird. While the bosses are the usual suspects like Bebop, Rocksteady and Shredder (although oddly enough no Krang, even though the Technodrome itself features in a boss fight), the normal enemies range from Mouser robots and a couple of Foot Soldiers to a downright bizarre selection of mutant eyeball thingies, giant frogs, some weird robot that spits fire at you and then explodes and attacks you with it's head, guys made out of fire, bomb dropping robots and strange flying things that attack in groups. Hardly any of these enemies appeared in the TV show, and it feels like an odd design choice for Konami to have put them in here. It actually makes me wonder if when they started development on the game it was something else entirely and then just had the Turtles shoehorned into it when Konami got the license. Its probably something we'll never know the answer to. They also respawn constantly whenever you leave the screen too, so be prepared to fight them over and over and over and over again.

So do I think it's a bad game? No. It does try do be a deeper experience than just going for the easier option of being a brawler, but it's one that could have (and should have) been quite a bit better than how it turned out. Some of the platforming sections are frustrating in the extreme, requiring fairly precise jumps and not helped by the floaty controls for jumping at all, and the team members being so unbalanced in their abilities really does hurt things, as does the inability to play with a friend. Some of the enemies take a silly amount of hits to's bad enough when you've got enemies on the first stage taking 2 or 3 hits to take down, but by the time you get to the Technodrome, a lot of the enemies are taking 5-6 hits a time each unless you've managed to collect a lot of subweapons along the way to take them down with, but it is still fun to fight the more familiar boss characters, and it's the only Turtles games so far (to my knowledge) that allows you to drive around in the Party Wagon and blast things so it does deserve some credit. Most people would be better off just sticking to one of the more well known scrolling beat 'em up games from the series though.

TromaDogg's Final Verdict: 6/10


  1. Great read and brought back some great memories (curse you under water bomb defusals). I look forward to the next piece you write.

    1. Cheers, bud. I've got a whole load of reviews in the works. Thanks for reading!