The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, exploded in popularity in the late 80’s/early 90’s after the property became a multimedia juggernaut. Near overnight the Heroes in a Half Shell went from indie comic book darlings to dominating the television airwaves, toy aisles, and of course, video games. In 1989, the Turtles would arrive on the NES courtesy of Konami’s Ultra publishing division, and while the game gave players the ability to play as their favorite turtle and fight the likes of Bebop, Rocksteady, and Shredder, it didn’t quite feel like a TMNT game with even the iconic, ear worm of a theme song nowhere to be heard. There was also the matter of it being way, way too hard for its target audience. It wouldn’t be long though until the likes of Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael would come to invade other platforms with games that would build upon that first game and rectify its errors. On this day, thirty years ago in Japan, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan would arrive on Japanese store shelves for Nintendo’s then new Game Boy. A brief, but still highly enjoyable experience, this title very much feels like what the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game should have been.
April O’Neil, forever the damsel in distress in many a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game, has been kidnapped and it’s up to the four brothers to mount a rescue to save her. About the best thing that can be said about Fall of the Foot Clan’s story is that it allowed Konami’s artists to craft some gorgeous character art of the Turtles, mostly used to provide the player with basic context as to why you’re moving from location to location.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES was a sprawling, ambitious game – often too ambitious for its own good – that would never work on the Game Boy. While not quite the action packed, beat ’em up that Konami would produce for the arcade and eventually Nintendo’s home consoles, you’re tasked with completing five stages that have you essentially moving from left to right, attacking Foot Soldiers and other mechanical creatures that jump at you from both sides of the screen. Periodically you’ll have to avoid obstacles like boulders that roll at you, lasers, and moving spikes, but largely you’re downing wave after wave of Shredder’s army with your arsenal of ninja weapons. Upon starting the game, you’re given the option to pick a stage, and you can even jump to the fifth and final level, but doing so robs you of a brief epilogue that will only roll if you start the game from the very beginning.
There are no lives or continues in Fall of the Foot Clan, just the four turtle brothers, and when one falls, they join April on the abductee list. Once all four Turtles become captured, it’s game over. This makes it seem like Fall of the Foot Clan has a punishing difficulty, but it really doesn’t. Unlike the NES game, Konami really skewed the challenge to younger demographic who got a case of Mutant Mania, remedied only by filling up a toy box with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles merchandise.Levels always end with a boss, all taken from the cartoon like Bebop, Rocksteady, Baxter Stockman and of course Krang and Shredder, and while all present a greater challenge than the average Foot Soldier, they all have fairly easy to follow patterns. Fall of the Foot Clan is designed in such a way that allows you to play as your favorite character without feeling like they’re under or over powered – Donatello is not your go to hero this time around, and Raphael lovers never have to feel short changed. No matter the stage or boss, each turtle is up to the task of making it to the end.
This also plays into the visual design of Fall of the Foot Clan, and it’s in this area that older players will get most out of the game. As the Game Boy had a very limited color palette, the only way to differentiate one turtle from another was via their weapons. Each turtle is large and expressive on screen, with their weapon always in clear view, swinging them around in the few idle moments you’re not attacking Foot Soldiers. The size of the player characters is near perfectly suited to this game’s design, as they’re big enough to represent in detail each turtle, while also never being too large such that they take up too much of the screen or give you too little reaction time to avoid an obstacle. The boss sprites too are equally detailed, and when sharing screen real estate with the Turtles, there’s always enough space to dodge oncoming attacks.
Even with just five levels, there’s a distinct theme among all of them. You start out in the city streets and sewers, but then find yourself moving along trucks on a convoy and travelling down rivers on logs before entering the futuristic Technodrome. There are secret bonus games to uncover in levels to help bolster your score, but they’re also easy to miss and the reward of points isn’t incentive enough to seek them out. What also makes going through this short game a joy is the soundtrack. You get a rendition of the theme song that never overstays its welcome with a few other songs that might not stick with you exactly, but they were a good excuse to use the headphones that came packed with the Game Boy once upon a time.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan is by no means the deepest game you’ll ever play, but it’s a still a brief, enjoyable title best suited for die-hard Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fans. It won’t exactly challenge you, but it won’t frustrate you like the NES game did once upon a time, and the visuals, sounds and sprite design on every character, turtle and enemy alike, are excellent representations of the source material. If you have the means to play Fall of the Foot Clan and haven’t ever tried it, consider giving his thirty year old Game Boy gem a look.