Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) was released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1989 by Ultra, a subsidiary of Konami. The game seized on the popularity of the Turtles, who at the time were the hottest commodity in children’s toys. Unfortunately, the game became infamous for its high, if not downright unfair, level of difficulty, causing most kids to throw down their controllers in disgust, never to return again. This is a shame, however, as TMNT offers some varied level design, catchy music, and yes, some challenging gameplay. Here’s a short review.
Storyline: Like most NES games, TMNT is short on plot. The first level uses the traditional “damsel in distress” model, as the four turtles are enlisted to save April from Bebop and Rocksteady. In level 2, you must reach a dam, and once there diffuse 8 bombs before the timer runs out and floods the city. Levels 3-5 have you fight through an airport, the Foot Clan base, and finally, the Technodrome, where you face off with (and hopefully, defeat) Shredder. Only after completing the game do you find out that your true mission is to allow Splinter to return to his original human form. Not only does this ending feel a little tacked on, it is not in line with the Turtles timeline. Still, since this is an NES game, it gets a pass. 3/5
Graphics: From a graphical standpoint, TMNT is a success. In underground and interior levels (the vast majority of the game) sprite sizes are large and defined. Enemies, while not terribly recognizable to most Turtles fans, are nevertheless unique throughout the game, and are not mere palette swaps. The animations and cut-scenes between levels are well-drawn, colorful, and very impressive for a late-80’s Nintendo game. The only graphical failure comes in the overhead street levels, where sprite size is small and landscapes are generic and repetitive. However, these scenes make up only a small percentage of the game, and at the very least offer a few new environments. 3.5/5
Gameplay and Controls: Controls are frequently balky in TMNT. Precise jumping is often important, and the jump controls are loose, making for some frustrating misses. The weapons of the four turtles each have different strengths, meaning you’ll frequently be switching back and forth between your party members. You are able to do this seamlessly (even in mid-air) and is one of the game’s best features. Screen slow-down occurs when more than five or six enemies are on-screen, but this can be used to your advantage. One big knock is the almost-instant enemy respawn, which becomes all the more frustrating when you have to retrace your steps after missing a jump. 2/5
Overall: TMNT is definitely worth a re-visit, especially if you are willing to take advantage of save-states to get past some of the most frustrating areas. While it is certainly not in the pantheon of NES titles, it still can be a rewarding game to beat. 3/5