Between the rumour that Japanese developer Platinium is possibly making a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game and the new trailer that was released for 2016’s Out of the Shadows, it put me in a Turtles mood and I decided to revisit the game that started it all: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Konami/Ultra for the NES. Buy why look back at that game when you can play the two superior sequels, or Turtles in Time on the SNES you say? Well, I’ll tell you.
Back when this game was released, the world was swept up in Turtle-Mania and I couldn’t get enough of the Heroes in a Half-Shell. I had to get all the toys, all the vehicles, tune in on a daily basis to watch the cartoon, etc. Being a huge fan of the Turtles as well as our brand new NES, I was super excited to learn that I had another way to express my love for the Turtles: in video game form. I rented out the game from our local video store and, well, I loved it. I was bad at it and couldn’t get very far, but I loved simply playing a TMNT video game. I had nothing to compare it to as the arcade game hadn’t shown up, so this was the only game in town. As I got older and my love for the Turtles changed into my love for the Power Rangers, then to comics, I still looked fondly back on TMNT for the NES fondly, but then in 2006, I caught a glimpse of an internet video by a then new Angry Video Game Nerd tearing the game apart:
A lot of good points were made in the video: the jumping was annoying, the beeping was insufferable, the dam was stressful and hard and where was the classic TMNT theme that we all knew by heart? Years later I saw yet another video ripping the game apart, this time in a parody of the theme from the folks at Dorkly Bits:
Since starting this website I’ve played a lot of games of questionable quality that people hate: Superman 64, Spider-Man & the X-Men and Silver Surfer to name a few, and I’ve found that while these games are certainly not great, even flat-out bad, there are still good parts to them that make them at the very least worth playing once. Having never gotten that far in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and with new resources like gamefaqs as well as helpful YouTube instructional videos, I set out to do something I never did before: Finish Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. After a few nights of practise, I accomplished this mission and came back with a new respect for the game. It isn’t as bad as the internet would lead you to believe, in fact I like that it tries to be something more than just a simply beat-em-up which is all anyone has ever really tried to do with the license since the glory days with Konami.
With my triumphant play through now behind me, I wanted to do a piece in defence of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, specifically addressing the points made by the above two videos.
1) THE DAM IS IMPOSSIBLE!!!
No, it isn’t. The dam stage is probably one of the easiest stages in the game. It can be tricky at first, but after a few tries and when you know where all the bombs are, you can beat it with plenty of time to spare. There’s also only one area where the seaweed eats away at your characters life, and as long as you remember that you don’t have to beat the level with just one character, it takes the pressure off. In the very first building in the next area there’s a pizza that fills up a quarter health as well as one that fills up your characters life completely so don’t worry about draining a character that you don’t use that often too low.
2) DONATELLO IS CHEAP AND RAPHAEL IS USELESS
Yes to point one, no to point two. I agree that Donatello is way over powered, the point where I told a friend that the game should be renamed Donatello and the Other Three. Not only is Rocksteady cheaply defeated by Don’s long reach bo staff, but so is the giant Mouser later on and I can’t imagine beating the Technodrome boss with anyone else. I actually found Raphael to be the second best character in the game for a number of reasons. Firstly, his weapons kill enemies much faster than either Leonardo and Michelangelo, especially the abundance of robots and stationary guns that are found in Area Four where you have to locate the Turtle Blimp. Secondly, his range may be short, but his ability to hit a lot at once makes up for it. As powerful and far-reaching as Donatello’s bo staff is, it’s pretty slow. The two characters I sacrificed most when it came to being damage sponges and tricky jumps were Leo and Mikey who I found had no power in their weapons and were pretty useless overall. Needless to say I took issue with the “Leonardo’s dece” lyric in Dorkly’s song.
3) THE JUMPING IS AWFUL AND ANNYOING
It most certainly is…at first. There’s a tricky jump in the dam that can cause some mild frustration where you have to go through a small section more than once, and you can’t proceed to Area Four until you make a very difficult jump where there’s a low hanging ceiling in Area Three, but these are the only real tricky jumps, and they’re not even that hard once you realize that you have two degrees of jumping. If you hold the A button you’ll put yourself in spin jump that will not help you in the least. The trick is to merely tap the A button for a small hop which will give you more than enough clearance to pass the two or three difficult jumps you have to overcome.
4) WHERE’S THE THEME SONG?!!
I can’t say I don’t miss it, but after playing the Batman and Jurassic World Lego games where they play the iconic themes of those films over and over, I’m glad it’s not present. Besides, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on NES has a great, memorable soundtrack like all of the NES-era Konami games. As much as you hate the dam, you remember the catchy music as well as the boss theme and the music you hear when you descended into the first manhole.
Having played TMNT to completion, I urge fans to give it another shot if you have the means to play it, whether on NES, Retron or emulator as a last resort. The internet may have soured us to the game, but after a second look it’s not as bad as we’ve been lead to believe. Is it perfect? No. Is it hard? Yes, but so were games like Castlevania and MegaMan. A better description of TMNT is that it’s challenging, but challenging in a good way. Since Konami struck gold by creating a great wave of succesful and entertaining beat-em-ups, everyone has tried to recapture that lightning with little to no success. I like games such as this one, as well as Danger of the Ooze, that tried to do something different with the TMNT license. It’s an open-world game, a side-scroller, a stealth game at one point with an underwater section thrown in for good measure. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles doesn’t deserve the rap it gets, and I stand firm in saying that this game it’s not really that bad.