It was only a matter of time before the legendary cartoon show made a shift over from one television channel to the other. That channel being channel 3 or even 4 depending how your Nintendo Entertainment System was set up. Konami and Ultra Games took the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to a different medium when they brought it to the NES back in 1989.
The game itself is a 2D single-player side scrolling action platformer that where you play as all 4 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as you work your way through different areas destroying bad guys. Each turtle can leap really high and cross small gaps just by walking over them in the same way that Mario could always run small gaps.
As for the differences between the turtles, Donatello has the longest ranged, slowest and most powerful. Raphael has the quickest, shortest and least damaging. Michelangelo and Leonardo are somewhere in between. Leonardo can take out shorter enemies without having to duck. The game lets you pause the game to select a different turtle.
On top of their default weapons, you’ll find special weapons like ninja stars for long distance attacks. You’ll also find boomerangs and other things. Finding one special weapon replaces your current one. They aren’t as necessary as it is in games like Ninja Gaiden or Castlevania, but they are helpful once in a long while.
Each turtle has their own energy and when one loses all their energy, they’re gone until you find one of the rare places to rescue them. You can find pizza to restore health, so if you know one turtle is low on health, switch to them and let them pick up the tomato pie. Water is instant death, but only sewer water, because the game has you disarming bombs while swimming in the second level.
As a game, its more difficult than fun. Difficult as opposed to challenging. Most everything can kill you quickly and like a lot of Konami games there is knock back. There are dozens of enemies, jumps and traps. It makes the game pretty brutal at times. Especially the second level that has the turtles underwater, disarming bombs, all while avoiding electrical currents and harmful seaweed.
You go between the side scrolling areas by way of a top down map. You can jump in the turtle van and run over foot soldiers or you can get out to fight them and go into sewers or buildings. These top down areas seem almost pointless, but I suppose they do allow for exploration and getting lost in later levels. Several areas that are unnecessary to go in, but that’s the point of exploring them. You can skip a lot of content once you learn the layout and it transforms a difficult game into something that takes a little over half an hour once you get efficient.
This is a game that requires some precision jumps and the turtles control pretty poorly. There is quite a knock back when you get hit, but that seems common in Konami games when you think of Castlevania. Jumps are tough to control. It just doesn’t feel enjoyable at all. It is just a missed opportunity for what could have been a great debut for the turtles on the NES.
Speaking of a missed opportunity, the enemies have something to be desired too. At the height of the TMNT cartoon show’s popularity, we all assumed that there would be more foot soldiers and references to the show. Outside of bosses and a foot soldier or mouser here and there, a lot of the game was filled with bizarre enemies that hadn’t appeared on the show. Perhaps they were from the original comic book and not just Konami’s imagination. I have no problem with unique enemies, but they had the television license, so they could have used it better.
When you delve deeper in the game, it goes from being remotely realistic with sewers to death traps with spikes, barriers and convener belts. The game realizes that you have had enough fun and its been too easy. So it wants you dead.
Between the levels you get little cut scenes with April O’Neil or Shredder. April says fluff text like don’t let the Foot Clan destroy the damn. You have my support. At least she’s saying something, but anything else could have been better. Splinter tells you to get in the blimp and chase the helicopter. You can do it! Encouragement is encouragement I guess. In the game’s defense there is a cut scene of the turtles loading into the blimp and taking off and that was nifty at the time to see.
The bosses stay closer to the cartoon shot. You’ll face Bebop, Rocksteady and Shreder, but then the game runs out of ideas. So you’ll take on giant mouser robots and even a miniature Technodrome. I only assume its the mini version from the cartoon, because its as tall as the turtles can jump. From the company that brought us Contra, you should have been climbing the side and battling the eye at the top.
With everything being said, Konami was known for its tough games. Its arcade quarter muchers and one hit deaths. I suppose the turtles were lucky to have as much energy as they did. Kids my age never talked about how fun the game was, they only talked about how cool the ninja turtles were. its like the game didn’t matter, just as long as it had the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in it, that’s what made it so playable over and over again, no matter how tough it was.
The next two turtle games for the NES were much better, because they both went from a 2D action platformer to belt scroller style beat’em ups.