It’s been awhile since we’ve had an old video game review, so what say we talk some turtles today, eh?
If you came up to me right now and asked for a list of my favorite video games, not per console but of all time, I’d first reply with a concerned “w-why are you in my house?” But then, ever the crowd pleaser, I’d probably attempt a top 10 or top 20 list that, if nothing else, I’d be happy with for the time being. Still don’t like you being in my house, though.
Anyway, there are three games that would not only be on that list, but have actually been locks for the majority of my life. All three appeared on the Nintendo Entertainment System, all three created a video game fervor on my part back in the day that was fairly unprecedented, and all three I’m still crazy about.
Those three games are: 1) the original Super Mario Bros., which is timeless to me in a way that the sequels aren’t – despite technically being inferior to said sequels in pretty much every way. 2) Batman: The Video Game, which not only fit perfectly into the Batmania I and countless other kids fell into in that 1989-1992 time period but was also that rare movie-based game that looked, sounded and, most importantly, played utterly fantastic.
And the third game? Had you been paying attention to the title or introductory sentence of this post (you know, I put those there for a reason, Ace), you’d probably have some inkling. Oh alright, here, take a look…
Nostalgia, thy name is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Released by Ultra Games (which was really just Konami) in 1989, this game – and that console in general – were huge hallmarks of my childhood.
No kidding, everything about that picture there takes me back like you won’t believe. The classic toaster NES, of course that’s just timeless in general, but that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartridge itself, man! Just the mere look of it, from outside appearances alone I mean, frankly, I think it’s a legitimate objet d’art. From that everlastingly cool label artwork (yes, I know it was taken from one of the original comic books) to even just the standard cart shell that (almost) every NES game had anyway; to me it all coalesces into a single entity of pure late-80s/early-90s-ness that, I admit, I’m finding hard to adequately explain. Maybe it won’t mean as much to someone who wasn’t there for it back then, but as a full-fledged TMNT kid entranced by the notion of actually playing as the heroes in a half shell, the very image of the cart just by itself is something powerful to me indeed.
The Ninja Turtles, the property as a whole, really was a force to be reckoned with at the time. If you were a kid, anyway. The cartoon, the movie, the comics, the toys, that inexplicable concert tour, the other endless amounts of merchandising; TMNT was just everywhere. So, for them to appear on the NES, which had also largely taken over the children of North America, well, that was both an obvious and necessary inclusion to the growing 8-bit Nintendo library, wouldn’t you say?
Heck, it was actually the first NES game I ever owned…and I didn’t even have an NES yet!
At first, the console was a phenomenon known to me via my neighbor, my cousins, and one of my friends at school. But before I got one for myself, and unlike Super Mario Bros. and Batman, which were, barring some scattered exceptions (like that Vs. Super Mario Bros. arcade), exclusives to the NES, I could play TMNT. Or rather, the sad MS-DOS adaptation of it. Even back then, I was cognizant of the fact it wasn’t very good. It didn’t play nearly as nicely as the NES version, it sure didn’t sound as nice, and while better graphically from a technical standpoint, it lacked the total dudes-with-attitude vibe the Nintendo version managed to pull off. Oh, and not that I ever even came remotely close to getting that far in it, but apparently it’s impossible to complete without cheating, too. Figures. (This game actually appeared on a number of home computers of the day, none of them seeming like they were very good; your mileage may vary.)
So, just how did I manage to finagle a copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the NES before, erm, actually owning an NES? At one point, a trip to Sears, initially for a as-promised-by-mom copy of the TMNT Fall of the Foot Clan Game Boy game, instead yielded a selection of on-sale NES games. One of said cheap games was, say it with me, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Evidently the pleading on my part – not to mention the fact it was cheaper than what we went there for – was enough to convince mom, because I went home with the game I had long been obsessed with that day. (Besides, it’s not like I couldn’t ever play it; I recall taking it with me to my cousins to play on their NES. Plus, it was only a matter of time before I got my own, and when, eventually, the neighbor down the street was selling his off cheap, man, I was ready to rock.)
Because of the popularity of the franchise and the NES, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was one those games that, for a time, everyone seemed to have. And yet, today, it doesn’t seem to receive the widespread praise that other TMNT games from the same general era enjoy. The following, beat-’em-up-oriented games in the franchise, at least the ones prior to the 2000s TMNT reboot entries (and maybe even those now too, I dunno) are generally looked back on with copious amounts of gushing nostalgia. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in that pre-reboot-gushin’ camp too, but I never didn’t have a healthy appreciation for the one that started it all. In contrast to the later TMNT games, this first one here was one of the few that really tried to do something different, both in how it played and in how the story unfolded as you played. Was it ultimately successful? I think so. But, lots of people out there apparently don’t.
I have some bias towards it, I admit. BUT BUT BUT, that doesn’t mean I can’t look at it objectively nowadays, either. Or at least try to. Is it a perfect game? Well, no; it definitely has some faults, some trappings of the 8-bit era in general as well as some programming quirks that are occasionally infuriating. Still, nostalgia aside, I really do think it does more right than wrong.
(By the way, this review assumes you’re already somewhat familiar with the franchise as a whole, or at least the franchise as it appeared in the mainstream in the late-80s and early-90s. If you don’t though, I don’t know, go read every last word about it on Wikipedia or something.)
An early boss battle, featuring antagonists Bebop and Rocksteady and captured ally April O’Neil – as well as a good look at the platforming set-up typical of the game.
Unlike later TMNT games that were in the beat-’em-up vein, this inaugural NES edition is in the platform game genre; jump on platforms, hack away at enemies, traverse stages, face the occasional boss, proceed until you finally defeat the game. You know, a platformer. And a pretty difficult one, at that; many 8-bit titles in this genre were known for their hair-pullin’, controller-throwin’, cardiac-event-inducin’ gameplay, and, uh, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is certainly one of them.
The game moves fast, has tight controls, and doesn’t start out too difficult, but ultimately maybe doesn’t have the pick-up-and-play quality inherent to subsequent entries.
Part of that is due to the incessant, often respawning, enemies; they aren’t too big of a deal in the early going, but as the game progresses – and it doesn’t take too long to reach this point – taking cheap hits becomes a mandatory way of life. This becomes a particular issue later, when you’re required to make a lot of tricky jumps; one knock, and you’re likely falling into rushing sewer water or off a building. And late in the game, when you enter the de facto enemy fortress Technodrome and the enemy lasers really start flying, well, no one would blame you for rage-quitting. (Stick with it though, and the sense of accomplishment is palpable; I know this from experience.)
Doesn’t help that when a lot of enemies get on the screen the game slows to a crawl and the graphics exhibit a ton of break-up, either. You’ll take a lot of unavoidable hits thanks to this too, but ultimately it doesn’t break the game.
Your pause slash status slash character select screen.
Since the dawn of time, nearly every TMNT game has allowed you to select your preferred turtle to take into battle at the start; it’s probably considered a crime against humanity to not allow the option. (So where does that leave Radical Rescue?)
NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles takes that ideal to the extreme: from the onset, you can not only pick your turtle, but can also switch to any one at any point. Yep, hitting the ‘start’ button brings up your status screen, which not only provides a respite from the action, but also a map and vital information from allies Splinter or April, as well as your selectable turtles. Not only can you monitor their health and special weapons allotment, but can also choose the one that’s best suited to a particular situation. Unlike many (most?) other TMNT games, where the choice of a turtle is typically based mostly on personal preference, here they each have unique attributes, and choosing the right one at the right time adds a legitimate dose of strategy to the game.
Leonardo is the most well-rounded of the four, with moderate strength and decent weapon range and speed via his katana blades. Michelangelo is comparable strength-wise (maybe a bit weaker), but his attacks via nunchakus are faster, though with comparably limited range. Donatello is the strongest of the four, with his bo having by far the best strength and range of all four turtles, but he’s also the slowest, attack-wise. And Raphael, he’s second-strongest, but is otherwise, to be blunt, borderline worthless. As a lifelong champion of Raph, this hurts me deep to admit; his sai (sais?) are powerful enough, but their range is pathetic.
Each turtle acts as a life, and should one be captured during the proceedings, you have opportunities later in the game to rescue them; neato! You also get three continues should you get a game over, but using one (obviously) takes away your special weapons, and late in the game, that’s pretty much another death blow all over again.
Speaking of the special weapons, you get several to help you on your quest: a ninja star, triple ninja stars, boomerangs, and the devastatingly-helpful scrolls, which are like energy wipes or something (the manual deems them “kiai”) . Except for the scrolls, which are always found in assigned locations, these weapons appear in the wake of defeated enemies, and they come in allotments of 20. You’ll want to save the powerful scrolls for the bosses and crazy tough later stages, but the other special weapons definitely come in handy throughout, especially the boomerangs, which are endlessly reusable, provided you don’t fail to catch one on its return or throw one off-screen.
There are missiles you can equip your Party Wagon with to blow up barriers, and ropes for traversing rooftops, but those are only present in one part of the game, albeit a fairly large one.
(You’ll also pick up “Mr. Invincibility” icons, which give you temporary spinning invulnerability. These are pretty scarce.)
Health is, of course, replenished via pizza icons. I think a TMNT game neglecting something that obvious would also be considered a crime against humanity, too. A single slice restores two health units, half a pizza restores four, and a whole pizza, uh, restores it all. (I point this out because you’ll take a lot of hits throughout the game, and doling the right pizza increment out to the most deserving turtle at the right time is vital to progressing. Luckily, pizza icons tend to be relatively plentiful.)
One final comment on the health system: in an apparent attempt by the programmers to apologize for the extreme difficulty of the game, when a turtle reaches half his respective life bar, he inexplicably becomes stronger. Enemies that would normally require two hits to defeat will go down with one, and so on and so forth. It doesn’t make much sense, but it does help matters, as well as provide an added strategic element: do you risk clearing out a stage with a dangerously-damaged turtle, or do you switch to one with more health until you can find some pizza? It’s like Sophie’s Choice or sumthin’, man!
(By the way, as you peruse this review, you just may ask, “hey, northern video person, where’d y’all get all these swell screenshots?” The answer to that is: I took them myself, via my own NES console and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartridge and video capture card. I consider emulation to be jive and I wasn’t about to rip someone else’s pictures, so yes, these were all taken by yours truly from my actual gameplay footage; a single, uninterrupted, cheat-less playthrough, in fact!)
An overhead map, typical of the game.
While the gameplay is primarily platforming-based, it isn’t just level/end boss/level/rinse & repeat. Nope, the world of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is actually more expansive than you first may expect.
As you can see here, there’s an overworld map throughout. Via that, you can enter manholes or buildings of your choice, sometimes even bypassing entire parts of the game. It’s just like Mario but with mutated talkin’ turtles, man!
In each new area, there’s a ‘main’ path to take that’ll get you to the next section fastest, but like a Sonic title, there’s also lotsa places to explore, even though they won’t necessarily progress you in the grand scheme of the game, aside from maybe netting you some more items (or further trying your patience). There’s so much of this game that’s burnt into my memory, to the point that I don’t even think of going beyond where I know I need to, that some areas are essentially new to me. Despite loving this game for the vast majority of my life, I think there are areas in this game I’ve still never even seen!
Unfortunately, for as good as they are at presenting a virtual ‘world’ here, the overhead maps also prove to be a little too large and, frankly, daunting. The first one is simple enough, but later stages can be somewhat disorienting, given their size and sheer number of places to go. Indeed, the first post-dam (more on that stage in a bit) world was where I tended to get hung up for years, not so much because I couldn’t complete it, but rather because I wound up wandering around and around and around, just trying to find the right place to go. I know the right direction now, but back then? Most of my playing time was spent there!
In short, it can all become a little overwhelming – especially near the end where the correct doorway/path to the Technodrome becomes randomized. *shudder* (Actually, I do believe it’s always only one of two locations, as far as I saw anyway, but don’t quote me on that.)
Wandering foot soldiers and, more distressingly, steamrollers roam these overhead maps, and later, bomb-droppin’ planes and searchlight-sportin’ choppers make appearances, so always tread carefully! At one point you get to cruise around in the Party Wagon, which is fun (plus it’s much faster and a whole lot safer than walking around on foot).
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a real, as I like to call it, “sit back and work on it game.” You know, where you set aside a chunk of time and build up the nerve to really work on a game. It’s definitely a change of pace from the usual straightforward beat-’em-up style of other entries in the series, and while I’m okay with it, I can absolutely see somebody else hating it.
Besides large areas to traverse and lots to see and do, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles also has something resembling a plot line. I mean, you don’t get an uber-detailed, line-by-line breakdown throughout, but there’s a real sense of progression running through the game.
A cutscene that helps advance the plot (and showcases Shredder’s apparently 3-D hand; I can’t have been the only kid who noticed that).
At one point, there’s a cutscene in which, after foiling a nefarious Foot Clan plot, the turtles return home only to discover their mutated rat/sensei/father figure Splinter has been kidnapped. It’s a neat sequence with some terrific graphics, but it’s a bit of an anomaly; a good deal of the plot advancement throughout is actually seen “in-game.” Which, by 8-bit platformer standards, is also kind of an anomaly.
For example, if you scroll waaaaay back up to that very first game screenshot in this article, you’ll see the very first boss battle, in which you face henchman Bebop while fellow bad guy Rocksteady holds reporter/turtle ally April O’Neil hostage at gunpoint. The kidnapping of April, a common TMNT video game trait, is ostensibly the main focal point at the onset. Well, defeat Bebop, and Rocksteady will grab April and escape. You then have to make your way to the end of the area and face Rocksteady in order to save her, after which she replaces Splinter as advice maven on your status screen.
One of the in-game moments that helps advance the storyline, as the Foot Clan escapes via helicopter. Side note: I dig the kickin’ NYC skyline in the background.
Then, as you’ve seen, Splinter is shown to have been kidnapped, which becomes the new objective. Once you rescue him, a short animation of the baddies escaping via chopper (Splinter’s exclamation of “OH!” implies this is an undesirable occurrence) provides the next plot point you must follow: making your way through an airport to get to the Turtle Blimp in order to give chase. (Yes, there’s a cutscene of the turtles entering the blimp and taking off. And in another nice touch, the sun is shown setting as the blimp flies away. In the sequence that follows, it’s then dead of night.)
Oh, by the way, while I’m hesitant to spoil it, there is indeed an ending and pay off to everything you go through in this game. Don’t expect fireworks with an 8-bit title of course, but it IS satisfactory, as far as I’m concerned.
Tecmo’s NES port of Ninja Gaiden (though it’s so wildly different from the coin-op that it’s only a “port” in the absolute loosest sense of the term) tends to get credit for popularizing the whole cutscene/plot/cinematic flair thing in 8-bit titles – and rightfully so. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles certainly didn’t invent the idea, but still, I don’t think it ever gets much credit for the sense of progression it manages to present. There’s a real idea of a larger world and battle at play here, which is pretty impressive when you think about it.
Unfortunately, to see most of that, you have to pass a certain part of the game…
The scene of many gamer nightmares? Undoubtedly!
Pictured here is the “dam sequence” of the game, and simply put, it’s one of the most notorious aspects of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES. While not the most difficult portion of the game, it certainly represents the high difficulty the game is known for aptly all by itself. It’s not hard to imagine that countless kids gave up on the quest at this point right here.
The setting: the Foot Clan has planted bombs in the dam (the instruction manual specifically points this out as the Hudson River, and swimming through the Hudson River back then, well, the turtles would have been going through things a whole lot worse than mutagen ooze…). Needless to say, this is unacceptable, and thus these bombs must be disarmed. Sounds simple enough, until you realize the bombs are laid out haphazardly around the dam, there are both electrified force fields and electrified seaweed to avoid, as well as underwater currents to fight through. Also, you only have a little over two minutes to do all that.
You know, I’ve played through this dam so many times over the years that I’ve got it pretty much down to a science. Even as a kid I could beat it (once you know where to go and don’t try to speed run through, it really isn’t that hard). Today, the locations of the bombs are imprinted on my brain, traversing the dam as a whole is basically automatic response on my part. Really, the only thing that’s left to chance nowadays is how safely I can or can’t make it through the electrified seaweed maze. I pretty much never die during the level, but sometimes it takes two turtles to make that happen.
The really amazing thing about the dam is that it’s actually not the toughest section in the entire game; that honor belongs to the inside of the Technodrome and specifically a gauntlet of laser-wieldin’ flyin’ soldiers that you have to run near the end to make it to Shredder. For the inexperienced though, or those just utterly stuck in the water, that’s, uh, not much consolation.
But hey, if nothing else, it’s definitely a different gameplay element to add to the mix that is NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The game may be maddening from time to time, but it’s certainly never boring!
Look, I may love it, but there’s no question that certain parts of this game that are decidedly “not righteous, dude!” (That’s turtle-esque speak for what the layman would term “whack.”)
A big honkin’ Mouser! A good example of just how graphically-impressive this game is when it wants to be.
Graphically, I think the game is mostly good. Your turtle sprites aren’t particularly huge, but they’re well-detailed and walk around with some serious ‘tude; they just look tough. I still think they look genuinely cool, but back in the day? Man, you have no idea how obsessed I was with them. I used to draw pictures of these specific turtles! No foolin’!
Other characters familiar to fans are recognizable too. I’ve shown you Bebop and Rocksteady as well as April and Splinter, already. Of course there are the expected foot soldiers and mousers (aka common grunts), Mechaturtle, and, needless to say, Shredder at the end of it all. (Strangely, Krang doesn’t make any appearances – an oddity among vintage TMNT games.)
There’s also enemies of a more anonymous and/or generic nature. Robotic flies, dudes with chainsaws, fire-breathing guys who, when defeated, have heads that detach and fly around the screen, Foot Clan-emblazoned weather balloons that drop bombs, some kind of weird flying pairs of legs, ED-209 rip-offs, dudes running around on fire, annoying guys who ‘fall asleep’ until your back is turned and then they attack, a big mean frog (he looks a little like Napoleon Bonafrog, but wasn’t he always one of the good guys?), robotic kangaroos, deadly porcupines, deadly armadillos (?), deadly laser-wielding flying soldiers, deadly…well look, just about everything’s deadly, okay? (And, be careful; they tend to respawn!)
I don’t recall if everybody/everything here had a corresponding cartoon or comic book counterpart, but you gotta admit, there’s certainly a variety!
That variety comes with a caveat however, and that’s the flicker/graphical breakup/slowdown I mentioned 9000 years ago in this article. The flicker and breakup isn’t that big of a deal, but the slowdown kind of is. You can take even more unwanted hits than usual when it occurs, though luckily, it doesn’t occur too often.
Generally, for an 8-bit game, there’s a decent amount of detail in the levels, backgrounds, characters, etc. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is for the most part a solid looking, typical late-80s/early-90s NES title; it looks fairly nice, not as plain as early games on the console nor as “Microsoft Paint-y” as late releases. But, it’s not known (or doesn’t seem to be known) as a particularly impressive title graphically…
Before you fight *in* the Technodrome, you fight *the* Technodrome. Unique? Why sure it is!
…HOWEVER, there are points where it really does flex some graphical muscle. Maybe not to the level of, say, Batman, which came out in the same era but looked so good that it often bordered on being 16-bit in quality. (No joshin’!) But, when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles decides to “go big,” it goes from looking to good to looking really good.
For example, scroll waaaay back up and you’ll see Shredder in that cutscene screencap; dude looks just like he did in the cartoon. (Alas, no corresponding voice of the much-missed James Avery, though.) Also, as I showed you just a bit ago, there’s no mistaking that cool giant Mouser for a, uh, cool giant Mouser. (Wait, was that ever in the cartoon?) And as you can see right here and now, you’ve got the Technodrome, de facto enemy fortress and something you invade in most classic-era TMNT games, looking just as it should.
Speaking of the Technodrome, in a unique, and honestly sorta weird, twist, you actually fight it, as an actual entity, before going inside for the final sequences of the game. Since the Technodrome was supposed to be a humongous fortress, this doesn’t make much sense, but it’s yet another aspect that sets this game apart from later entries. I’m assuming there’s a tunnel or something inside that leads straight down to Shredder’s spacious lair, because unless it’s like a TARDIS or something in there, it’s kind of head-scratcher. (And stark realism is something I’m always looking for in a game starring four pizza-eating anthropomorphic turtles adept in the martial arts.)
Still, oddity or not, it sure looks neat.
Sound-wise, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is pure, unadulterated NES. In turtle-speak, it sounds “totally radical, dude.” No kidding, the soundtrack is great. The NES was capable or putting out some really terrific harmonized music. No, it didn’t sound like a full orchestra was emanating from out of the ol’ toaster or anything, and asking it do voice synthesis was usually unwise (hence, no likelihood of James Avery *sniff*), but when it comes to immensely catchy, downright cool musical scores, the NES is second to none. Super Mario Bros., Castlevania, Double Dragon, Contra, The Legend of Zelda, even less-obvious stuff like Rambo (the music might be the only thing some people consider good about that one), Jackal, Mission: Impossible or, once again, Batman, they all have music that just doesn’t get old (figuratively, I mean). It’s actually sort of hard for me to explain, honestly; something about the NES’ unique form of outputting music, the drum beats, the whole package, it just still SOUNDS. SO. GOOD.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is absolutely among the ranks of “classic” on the console, as far as I’m concerned. Okay, yeah, it falls in among the less-obvious choices when it comes to this subject, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t sound terrific; it does. Maybe some of that is nostalgia on my part – there’s so much of this soundtrack that’s veritably burnt into my memory that it’s actually some of the first music I think of when I think of the Ninja Turtles franchise in general. Yes, maybe even before their famous cartoon theme song (which, except for the “heroes in a half shell” beat at the end of a tune that plays whenever you complete a particularly major section, is otherwise totally absent from the game soundtrack here). But even looked at objectively, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES just sounds really, really good.
There’s a catchy marching beat (first heard when the title screen appears and prevalent throughout afterwards), a unique main Turtles theme, jaunty overworld tunes early on and evocative ones later, music that’s just completely appropriate to whatever situation you happen to be in. (Yes, even in the dam.) And when the sub-boss tune pops up during an otherwise ‘normal’ stage, as soon as it starts you just know somethin’ ’bout to go down.
The sound effects are also pure NES; not technically realistic for the most part, but they get the job done. The alarm that sounds off when one of your turtles gets dangerously low on health is the very definition of, erm, alarming. (Go figure!)
Okay, so the game looks good, sounds good, has a lot to see and do, but is relentlessly tough. Now let’s talk a little strategy.
Like I said before, all of the screenshots in this review were taken by me on an actual console, during a single uninterrupted playthrough. No cheating, either. Hey, the Game Genie was fun and neat and everything, but using one to complete a game would be a victory I consider to be dirty pool, or at least decidedly hollow. (And honestly, I’m a little iffy on the subject of using controllers with turbo, slow motion, etc. options, too. I didn’t use any of those, either. It’s one thing if said features were present and advertised via first party from the start, i.e. the Turbografx-16, but otherwise, the area starts to get a little grey to me. Your mileage may vary, of course.)
I do, however, consider whatever is programmed in the final, finished product to be, for the most part, fair game. Obviously a game-breaking bug is one thing, but otherwise, I tend to work under the assumption that the game is operating the way the programmer(s) intended. If they’re gonna allow me to take repeated advantage of health and special weapon icons, especially in a title known for its difficulty, well, I’m just gonna have to be okay with that.
This section right here is your key to [easier] victory!
Lemme explain: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles allows you to re-enter areas you’ve already been through. When you do so, obviously enemies respawn, but so do items. It’s a good way to replenish your whole squad when a pizza icon is handy, and I imagine I wasn’t the only one who took advantage of it both back in the day as well as nowadays.
An even more vital spot is in, as deemed by your status screen, “Area 3.” In it, there are two buildings, connected by a sewer running between them. There’s a full pizza icon down there, which is obviously helpful, but more importantly is what’s found in the right building: a scroll icon! Since it doesn’t take particularly long to get to and the sewers are located two screens beneath it, you can go in, grab some scrolls, head down and get the pizza if needed, or simply jump in the sewer water – which harmlessly brings you back to the overworld right outside the buildings. Rinse and repeat as much as needed and/or desired! (You can also grab a 3-pack of ropes in that sewer, and since I always habitually grab them on the way down, I wind up with far, far more than I ever would or could use. See that Raph/Splinter “OH!” screenshot earlier if you don’t believe me!)
Here’s my preferred method: I always load both Leo and and Don up to the full allotment of 99 scrolls, and usually Raph as well (but if not 99, then at least plenty for him). I won’t, however, give Mike any. Why’s that? Mike is the “daily driver.” Y’see, I tend to save Leo and Don for only when they’re needed (Leo generally sees almost no play time), and Raph for a boss battle or when I need him to take the brunt of damage instead of a better turtle. Mike though, I use him for the majority of the game.
So why not give him some scrolls too? Because it can be awfully easy to lose them. Ninja star or boomerang item icons pop up after an enemy is defeated, and in the heat battle or when you’re rushing through a stage, it’s VERY easy to accidentally grab one. Not a big deal if it’s the same special weapon as what you already have; then you just get more of it. But, since the scrolls never, ever appear after defeating an enemy, well, it would be serious heartbreak to accidentally replace 99 of them with 20 single ninja stars.
Using a scroll-less Mike for the majority of the game though, then it’s not an issue. I prefer to keep Mike loaded with the reusable boomerangs, but if I mistakenly replace them with something else, well, that’s a far less egregious offense. (I know this from experience!)
The final battle with Shredder. As you can see here, I had exactly one unit of health left going in, yet he basically went down without a fight! Why? The scrolls, man, the scrolls!
Since scrolls only come in allotments of 20, can repeating this practice over and over become monotonous? Well, yeah, a little bit. But, the scrolls make boss battles so, so much more manageable, and are practically a necessity inside the Technodrome, so it’s not like it’s wasted time.
The battle with Mechaturtle (in two separate forms!), the giant Mouser, the outside of the Technodrome (which has several weapons that need to be disabled), the various enemies inside the Technodrome, not to mention Shredder himself at the end of it all, scrolls may not technically be a requirement for any of it, but like I said, they sure life here a whole lot more manageable. (And in Shredder’s case, he’s actually really, really easy to defeat with them, despite the fact he has a weapon that can kill you with one shot! Just fire away at him as quick as you can; that’s it!)
Now, I’m not trying to make it sound like nabbing a buncha scrolls will let you cruise through the rest of the game unhindered; they’re certainly helpful, and will keep your blood pressure low(er), BUT, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is just plain challenging regardless. Sometimes, you just have to be cautious, strategic, and patient.
Using the right turtle at the right moment isn’t technically mandatory, but you’re probably gonna lose a lot of health unnecessarily if you don’t. And, you don’t always need to rush your way through; there’s no time limit in the game (except for the dam, duh!), so proceeding cautiously usually pays off – especially since you’re almost certainly going to take some cheap hits no matter what you do. It’s just a question of how many!
And, sometimes you just have to apply the 8-bit ideal of learning the moves and patterns of an enemy. Punch-Out!! this is not, but jumping over and/or walking under baddies as they attack can make a huge difference. Use your bean and you may not even have to do that much at all. The giant Mouser, for instance; it likes to shoot lasers out of its eyes at you. So simply stand directly underneath it, the lasers will pass harmlessly along both sides of you, and then when its mouth opens, jump up and fire away at its weak point. The thing looks far more fearsome than it actually is!
Basically, my strategy boils down to this: use Mike for the main gameplay, bring Raph out for boss battles or to keep Mike healthy, use Don for his strength and reach when necessary, and save Leo for last, whenever that may be. Take advantage of easy pizza respawns/refills when needed, keep lotsa scrolls on hand, and generally proceed with caution.
Do all that, and it’s still a hard game, but certainly not unbeatable.
1989’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the first of four TMNT games to appear on the Nintendo Entertainment System:
Despite the fact the 1989 coin-op was the only TMNT game of my earliest years to rival the first NES game in me-obsessiveness (no joke, the machine was seemingly everywhere; I can still recall it’s side art and glowing marquee beckoning me in the movie theater lobby), and thus a title I’m happy to see present on the NES, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II on the console doesn’t play as well as you or I would prefer to remember. The fighting system is a little wonky and involves a lot of hit-walk away-hit…unless you just feel like rushing in and taking a lot of cheap shots from the Foot Clan.
Tournament Fighters also appeared on the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, each with its own unique aspects to set it apart from the others. The NES version was a very late release on the console, one that probably shouldn’t have happened but is kinda neat that it did. While used copies have been pricey for some time, it’s particularly expensive to acquire a copy nowadays. (I’ve played it before, but this is the only NES TMNT game I don’t currently have. One-on-one fighters were never the specialty of the system, and I’m not big on them either, so I want this cart more for collectability and fandom sake than anything.)
And as for The Manhattan Project, well, it’s not only the best TMNT game on the console, but also one of the best beat-’em-ups in general on the console. It looks and sounds terrific, and plays wonderfully. It may not have the recognition or coin-op clout of II, but when it comes to 8-bit TMNT beat-’em-ups, it’s a superior game in every facet.
But, needless to say, I still come back to that first NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Everything about it, from the look to the sound to the, yes, even that extreme difficulty, it’s just so ingrained as a part of me. The era it hails from, the TMNT mania that was so prevalent among kids, even something as simple the comic book advertisement for the game, it all fills me with such a strong sense of nostalgia for the game, the console, and that time in my life. (Speaking of that print ad, I found a spare copy in a 25¢ comic once; that ad now proudly hangs on a wall in my house. No, that’s not a joke.)
Is all of that enough to consider Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a GREAT game nowadays though? While subjectively I obviously think so, looked at from an objective standpoint, I’m just not sure. It’s difficult and flickery and occasionally overwhelming. Maybe a tolerance for 8-bit platformers is essential. Or maybe, and I dread saying this because it’s a phrase I genuinely despise, it’s something you had to grow up with to fully appreciate. If something is truly great, shouldn’t it be timeless regardless of when it’s played/seen/heard/etc. or by whom?
Of course, my pontificating here is pointless; like music, movies, television, art, and yes, video games, it’s all subjective. You can look at all of the facts surrounding a property, have a perfect understanding of the era whatever it is hails from, but that still doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll like it. In the end, it simply comes down to individual taste.
As I said way at the start, lotsa people sure don’t like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES. I can’t totally separate my memories from it, but taken on its own, I still think it’s a genuinely good game. Once, again, it’s not perfect, but it really tried to do something different, and personally, I think it was more successful than it wasn’t. At the end of the day, I find the game just plain fun, and I suppose that’s the most important thing here, isn’t it?
So before ending this review, here’s what I want: you know those cheap new retro all-in-one handhelds that have been popping up, the ones that collect a number of old console and/or arcade titles? I want Konami to give us one of those, dedicated solely to classic TMNT games. You hearin’ me, Konami?! The original NES trilogy, and maybe Turtles in Time from the Super Nintendo, please? That would be SUCH a no-brainer purchase – as long as this first NES game was included, of course. That’s the prerequisite man. I gotta have that one.
(Or they could release a handheld with nothing but the 1989 arcade. I could live with that, too.)