It ain't easy being GREEN!
Gaming franchises are what the videogame industry relies on, much like film and music it is a necessity to have constants in the scene. Whilst the famous mascot style games such as the Mario or Sonic's of this world helped some companies gain cult status other franchises appeared across multiple formats over several decades helping to sell just as much hardware.
One such set of videogames starring four cool teenage ninja dudes who lived off Pizza and a sensei rat jumped from cartoon show to the world of joypads. A certain Argentine boy was never quite the same again...
Heroes in a cart-shell... Retro power!
Growing up in the 80s and 90s was glorious. Despite many difficulties, we had plenty of great things; the best gaming consoles ever made, awesome movies, a lot of great metal bands and no internet. For me, coming home from school circa 1992 meant two things: I was free from that educational jail and I could watch a new episode of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a series straight from the minds of two struggling artists: Kevin Eastman (a guy I had the chance to meet and he is the personification of awesomeness) and Peter Laird. The whole idea of four teenage mutant ninja turtles (it sounds a bit weird, doesn’t it?) came up as a joke when Eastman sketched a turtle standing on its hind legs, wearing a mask, with nun chucks strapped to its arms. He wrote on the top of the page: Ninja Turtle. The rest is history as the saying goes.
The TMNT - or Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles as were renamed in some countries - started in a comic book and then became so massive that were seen everywhere, from tea cups and bed sheets to action figures and the big screen. Of course, video games were not left aside and the four turtles whose names are based on painters from the renascence have been featured in 23 arcade and home video games since 1989, on just about every console and computer system imaginable. Here is part 1 of my guide to my childhood in a Heart-Shell, and no that's not a typo!
TMNT (NES) - 1989/1990
Their debut title became one of the best-selling NES games not made by Nintendo, with roughly 4 million copies sold. Developed by Konami and published by Ultra, the game holds the title of being one of the hardest games in the Nintendo 8 bit library.
The gameplay is a bit complicated, you control each one of the turtles and you can switch between them by pressing the start button. Since each turtle has their own unique weapon, you will need to know which one to use depending on the situation. The camera perspective also changes from being overhead at the beginning to a side-scroller view. You will find weapons scattered all over the place that you can use to expand your set of attacks, and pizzas that will replenish your health.
Apart from the side-scroller or overhead stages, you get to swim underneath a dam and even drive the Turtle Van, which is something you don’t get to do very often in TMNT games. Fans of the series could also enjoy beating down some of the enemies seen in the series: Bebop, Rocksteady, Mecha-Turtle and The Shredder among many others.
The graphics were pretty standard at the time the game was released, nothing too fancy though nothing poor either. You get the occasional flickering and slowdown so typical in games that were pushing the limits of the NES tiny processor. The pictures of the characters talking to you when you pressed start were a nice touch, if you add that to the locations, enemies and items, the result is pretty good in graphical terms. One thing that has always come to my attention is the scale of the Technodrome. They never get it right. It is supposed to be several stories high, how can the turtles reach the top so easily?
If you are wondering about the music, yes, the game included a midi version of the TV show, which was absolutely great, by the way. Having said that, the rest of the tunes are quite ok in my opinion, but the best part in that department, was the sound fx. Each weapon has its own particular sound, and that says a lot in an 8 bit game.
TMNT 2: The Arcade Game - 1990/91 (NES/Arcade)
Total bliss. One of the games that totally defined my childhood and I’m pretty sure others will feel the same way. I remember running to the arcade with other friends screaming out loud the name of the turtle we were going to choose. Awww, those were the days…
Released in 1989 by Konami this arcade game was a total hit. With all the hype the TMNT were generating, the arcade cabinet was a magnet for coins and kids who, like me, would spend hours playing this magical piece. The graphics, the sound, the possibility of playing up to 4 players co-op, the unlimited fun… a perfect example of what a game needs to be. The story is plain & simple: the Turtles need to rescue April and Splinter from the hands of the evil Foot Clan that has decided to take them hostages to lure the Turtles into a trap. How do they rescue their friends? Easy, pummel beat every foot soldier and boss until finally facing Shredder. Cool, huh? Controls were simple and way too easy to learn; one button to jump, another one to attack with some combinations, such as a special attack that is performed when the two buttons are pressed at the same time, consuming a little bit of energy.
Gameplay wise the game is a typical side scrolling beat ‘em up. Each of the Turtles has its own set of advantages and disadvantages that help to balance the game’s difficulty, especially when playing co-op i.e. Donatello’s attacks are slower but his range of attack surpasses all of the Turtles, Raphael and Mike’s attacks are fast but fall short and Leo’s moves are a perfect mixture of speed and range (douche!). There are plenty of objects scattered around the stage that you can throw to inflict damage on the Foot soldiers; fire hydrants, parking meters, exploding oil drums… lovely! Another good thing was that if you didn’t have a coin to spare in the cabinet, you could just watch the screen and treat your eyes with the first part of the cartoon opening and some bits of the TMNT theme song. What else could you want? Oh, having a home version of the game, you say? Granted… (sort of).
Following its massive success in the arcades, developers wanted to cash in porting the game to the different home systems that were beginning to appear in every household across the world. Versions of this title could be played on the C64, ZX Spectrum, PC, Amstrad CPC and of course, the Amiga under the name Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles: The Coin-op in Europe in 1991. However the most popular home version of the game was the one released for the NES.
As a way to distinguish it from the previous title, the game was called TMNT II: The Arcade Game and took a major leap from the previous release on the system by adapting the arcade game to the less powerful NES console. This by no means equals to a bad game, at least, this is not the case. Yes, the graphics are very inferior to the arcade version but look amazing on the NES nevertheless. Characters had a high level of detail and the enemies look pretty colourful and solid. Some background details are missing or not perfectly done; the flames and some other tiny things, but they don’t really spoil the game on any level. The audio is a bit too repetitive, since the main theme song mostly stays on a semi-infinite loop constantly but it could be much worse. The sound fx are still top notch, even better than those in the previous instalment. The option to play up to 4 players co-op was also removed but two players could tag team in order to beat the game and have fun together without any issues. This ported version also included new bosses and new stages that were not present in the original arcade game.
Those lucky enough in the US who bought the game firsthand or received it from a very cautious user might notice that the manual came with Pizza Hut coupons! And that’s because the game also featured Pizza Hut logos, which might have been one of the first cases of in-game advertisement in gaming history, I believe.
TMNT: Fall Of The Footclan - 1990 (GB)
For as long as there have been TMNT games, there have been portable titles to go along with the assortment of arcade and home releases, so go get your Bo, katana’s, nun chuks, and sais ready again, because the turtles hit yet another platform: the powerful little Game Boy. TMNT Fall of the Footclan was the first appearance (out of three) of the Turtles in one of the Nintendo portables and a very good start it was.
The story of the game is pretty straightforward, as you may have imagined, April gets kidnapped again and the turtles ought to rescue their reporter friend who at that point seemed to suffer from a serious Stockholm syndrome being abducted constantly.
The player got to choose between the four turtles and each one of them represents a life. Once the Turtle’s energy is depleted, it gets captured and cannot be selected until a new game starts, which was kind of peculiar for a platformer game. Most areas have a secret bonus game. Once it’s been found, the Turtle will flash and will appear in any of three different bonus rounds. If you beat the round, the price will be a health refill and lots of points. The game is aimed at children so the difficulty level is really low, that is evidenced mostly during boss fights who are defeated after a couple of hits. One oddity is that the flying kick actually causes more damage than the regular punch, which makes things even easier.
Despite the shades of grey (I’m talking about the Game Boy screen not that book/movie made for old ladies who seek soft porn) each Turtle is easily recognizable by the weapon which can be used at all times, same goes for an unlimited amount of shuriken’s in the heroes arsenal. Each of the scenarios have their own look and feel, with exclusive patterns and cool details, so despite the obvious Game Boy limitations, the game overall looks great with maybe the exception of certain animations that look rather stiff, i.e. the weapons.
The controls are precise and the options menu even allows you to customize them. Letting you switch between A and B to punch or jump. One thing that is a tad annoying is how slow the Turtles walk, but considering the constant flow of enemies, it makes sense.
Melodies of the game sound good, and indeed, the TMNT theme is here to stay too. The rest of the songs are spot on, which is not a coincidence since Michiru Yamana (the bloke who made the music of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night) was one of the talented, nay sexy composers working on this game. Unfortunately, the sound fx on this one are rather dull, but they are mostly muffled by the music, so its nothing too terrible, really.
TMNT: World Tour - 1990 (Amiga/Amstrad/C64/PC)
Maybe not a game per se, but still if you consider Mario Paint and Art Alive games, I don’t see why I need to discriminate this one. Back in the early days of home computers there was a series of games called Electronic Crayon Deluxe which featured uncoloured palettes of characters from different TV shows (Super Mario, Inspector Gadget, to name a few), for kids to paint. Of course, the TMNT were not going to be left aside. Armed with 22 colours, the player could paint more than 30 landmarks the Turtles were visiting. The option to print the masterpiece is there too, if you fancy to redecorate your living room using your own art.
TMNT: The Manhattan Missions - 1991 (PC)
The darkest TMNT title was released solely for the PC in 1991, and goes by the name of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Manhattan Missions. Konami was having a hard time entering the home computer market, however the TMNT franchise would give them a proper way in thanks to Distinctive Software who had handled the Castlevania PC ports in the past.
Those early day fans that had enjoyed the very first issues of the TMNT comic books found a happy home in this game (much more in line with that period than with the popular cartoon), that mainly retells the origin of the turtles and their fight against the Foot Clan to keep Manhattan safe.
The story of the game is much more complex than in other games. Shredder has set a timer on the city, a 48 hour period of grace before he takes over. And the 48 hours are in real time, so better get ready. The game consists of five different stories that finally evolve into a larger plot. The player must travel through five different sections of four segments each which can be completed in any order, defeating a good amount of enemies. One neighbourhood will have the Triceratons as the main enemies, there are arms dealers that need to be stopped in a different area, there is also an arsonist that needs to be caught, ivory smugglers ready to be beaten and imprisoned, and even Extortion shows up threatening the west side of the city. Plenty of troubles for four teenage turtles, don’t you think? The cut scenes explaining what happens after and before the missions add a fantastic extra to the game.
The game very much resembles the NES title when it comes to the co-operation between the Turtles, which have a very unique individual move based on their weapon of choice. The more you use the turtle, the more skills it will display adding a sort of RPG element to the game. The turtles can be switched at any moment and, of course, there’s plenty of pizza slices that will recover your health. There is another option, though, that will replenishes health as well as pizza, and that is simply to put your Turtle to rest but that will obviously reduce the time you have left to save the city from Shredder.
Overall, a great TMNT game, amazing graphics inspired by the original Mirage Studios comic books, solid story, two player option and… Casey Jones! Making his first appearance in a TMNT game. Too bad the game was never ported or renewed.
TMNT 3: The Manhatten Project 1991/2
The third TMNT game on the NES was released in 1991 and was also a side scrolling beat ‘em up, following the success of its predecessor. No PAL versions of the game were ever released and the name was changed in Japan, where it is known as TMNT 2: The Manhattan Project.
This time Shredder interrupts the Turtle’s vacations by levitating Manhattan and - yes, once again - taking April as a hostage.
Controls are basically copy and pasted from the previous NES game (one button to punch, another one to jump, and a special attack when the two buttons are pressed), with a very cool add on: the ability to throw enemies by pressing the D-pad down and the attack button. The title introduced two different 2-player modes, one co-op and the other one lets you fight the other player. Cool, huh?
Eight very different levels separate you from facing Shredder and ultimately saving the city. From the hot and sunny beaches of Florida to Dimension X, the Turtles will have to beat foot soldiers, mousers, stone warriors, different bosses from the 1987 series and tricerat… wait, there are no Triceratons in this game!!! But why is there a picture of the Turtles battling a Triceraton on the cover art, then? I’ve been fooled!
TMNT: Back from the Sewers - 1991 (Gameboy)
A couple of years after the first title, a second game for the Nintendo portable was delivered. The game is pretty much an improved version of “Fall of the Foot Clan” in almost every aspect.
Graphically the game pushes the limits of the Game Boy when it comes to the details in the backgrounds and some animations, however the Turtles themselves look quite plain. Don’t get me wrong, the shadows and everything on them is exactly right, but just as in the first GB game, you can’t quite tell the difference between the Turtles and well, their movement just doesn’t feel right. I’m really being a pain with this as I know the graphics look awesome for a Game Boy game, it’s just that the Turtles should be the center of attention, after all they are the main characters of the game.
Back from the Sewers is much more challenging than its predecessor, it even lets you choose between three levels of difficulty, something that was really needed in the first game. If you have made it this far reading, you would guess by now that the story of the game involves April getting kidnapped... Again!!! Through six levels this time (separated by smaller segments), the Turtles will have to brawl countless Foot Soldiers and other bosses to achieve their goal. A few elements of the NES games were added to the mix so in some stages Turtles will snowboard and skate, which helps avoid repetition throughout the story. The tunes of the game accompany the pace of the brawler mixing some beats with somewhat blues sounds. Again, the TMNT game has been perfectly executed.
TMNT: Turtles In Time - 1991/92 (Arcade/Snes)
Arcade halls welcomed a new TMNT game, this time called Turtles in Time. This title, a side scrolling beat ‘em up, plays and feels exactly as the TMNT the Arcade Game, not that this is bad or anything, quite the contrary. Those gaming purists out there might consider the game to be an improved copy & paste version of the first arcade hit, while there is some truth about that fact, I am of the opinion that if something is right, why change it? And that’s exactly what Konami did with this title, they improved it without touching any of the essential elements that made the game great. The result? A success.
This time Krang and Shredder not only kidnap April, but they level up by stealing the statue of liberty and sending the Turtles through a time warp, from which they have to escape in order to return to the present and set things right.
In terms of control, the game repeated the same structure used in the other titles, one button to jump another one to punch, a special attack when the two buttons are pressed together, but a running feature was introduced which made the combinations more versatile. The comment we heard the most at the arcades while watching or playing the game was: “Wow! Did you see that? You can throw enemies at the screen!” And yes, you could do just that!! How amazing was that, huh?
The success of the Turtles was so big at that time that a kind of “boy band” with guys in the Turtles disguises was put up and they were touring through several cities when this game was released, a sample of one of their songs (named Pizza Power) can be heard in the game. The SNES received a ported version of the game under the name Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time, which was completely flawless, and it was one of those games that made me envy SNES owners back in the day.
The game had the same features as its arcade counterpart and also added some extra bosses (yeah, that includes the blokes from the infamous third movie) although Cement Man was replaced by the coolest looking character of the series, Slash. Even the Technodrome stage was added to the home version. The only thing that was left out was the 4 player co-op mode of the arcades, but you could play 2 player co-op and have the same fun, especially if you were a loner without any friends and didn’t want to feel bad about it. A time trial mode and a fighting mode were also part of the SNES port, which as you can see, had plenty to offer. The game can be played after unlocking it in the PS2’s TMNT: Mutant Nightmare and there was even a downloadable game called Turtles in Time: Reshelled released for the PS3 and Xbox 360 that is basically an updated version of the game with sexier graphics and completely different soundtrack. A waste of money, in my humble opinion as it didn’t contain the same vibe as the classic title. The game was removed due to a license issue a couple of years ago, anyway.
TMNT: The Hyperstone Heist - 1992
With a heart full of sorrow I saw how those proud SNES owners were rubbing their TMNT title in my face. A younger Miracleman refused to accept that he was not going to get a TMNT game for his Genesis and Konami heard my prayers and gave me and all Genesis owners TMNT: The Hyperstone Heist.
It got me from the very first seconds, when I saw the sewer exploding, the night, the Turtles, everything was perfect. Turns out that Shredder had found some kind of magical stone and instead of doing something half decent with it he decides to shrink the whole Manhattan Island, evil, evil Shredder. He also manages to hijack the airwaves and challenges the Turtles who once again must rescue the city.
The game plays smoothly, the controls respect the original pattern but add a third button to run, instead of having to press the D-pad twice. The five levels of the game are long and end up with a cool boss fight introducing characters like Rocksteady (no Bebop, though) and Leatherhead from the TV series but others like Tatsu, from the first two movies. The only thing I consider weak in this game is the difficulty. It doesn’t take much to finish it, so the challenge is reduced to a few moments and nothing else.
Music and specifically the sound effects are one of the best I have ever experienced in a Genesis cartridge, and even if graphically it looks a little bit darker than TMNT IV Turtles in Time, the sound makes up for that.
TMNT III: Radical Rescue - 1992 (GB)
The third and last game for the classic Game Boy would have a different approach. Well, the story still has a kidnapped April, but this time Shredder has also taken three of the Turtles, so it is up to Mikey, the best Turtle (yeah, I said it) to save the day.
This instalment delivered some peculiar elements that reminded me of Metroid. No, I’m not drunk and definitely don’t deserve a bullet to the head, so put your weapons down. This is the first (and come to think about it, the only) TMNT game where you have free level exploration. Players are given a map at the beginning of the game that is accessed by hitting the select button. If you are not Japanese it won’t be very helpful, though, as it requires deciphering and memory, but it will have to do.
If you are from the land of Godzilla and Tenchu, you are lucky, because the map in that version of the game was much more complete and user friendly, or shall I say Turtle friendly (hehe) Pizzas, hearts and other elements that will aid our hero in his quest remain hidden and the map won’t show them, so it’s up to the player to go out and explore, explore, explore. You see why I was referring to Metroid before?
The game starts with only the option to choose Mikey but once the other Turtles have been freed from imprisonment, they become available to play with. In order to liberate the other heroes in a half shell, you will need to find the key to its cell by defeating the boss that holds it, could be Leatherhead, Bebop, Rocksteady. Scratch, you name it.
Fighting skills of the Turtles are practically the same with the exception of range, but each one of our green friends has a special ability that enables the player to access another area of the map. Mikey can use his nun chuk’s as a helicopter, Leo can drill with his katana’s, Donnie can climb walls and Ralph can withdraw to his shell, with is quite useful to get into tiny spaces.
Control wise the game hasn’t introduced anything new, with one button to jump and another one to punch. The game responds well to the commands, which is another reason why any Metroid lover should try this one. The graphic aspect of the game is almost perfect for a Game Boy release, there is a nice amount of shading, the sprites look good, my only complaint (yet again) is that there is no way of telling the Turtles apart by looking at them, the only difference between the four is their weapon, which is something that Konami couldn’t solve in three instalments.
In the music department the game kept the quality of the previous releases without forgetting to include the TMNT theme, which won’t ever get old. In my opinion, the best TMNT game for the Game Boy which, for some reason, never became too mainstream and should be getting more respect and some more reviews out there.
TMNT: Tournament Fighters - 1993/94 (NES/SNES/Megadrive/Genesis)
The 8 and 16 bit consoles were starting to say their final goodbyes to a generation that will never ever forget them, and so to the Turtles. The last game of that golden era was TMNT: Tournament Fighters, a game that was released on the Genesis, SNES and NES. A 2D fighting game with several differences between the systems it was released on. Let’s check them out, shall we?
NES version (1993)
You know, fighting games were not abundant in the NES library, so this title is a bit of a jewel especially because Japan never got this game (now you know how it feels!). Despite the obvious limitations of the system, the game plays pretty well, and the roster of selectable characters matches the one its big brother had. Among the characters (Leo, Mike, Ralph, Don, Casey Jones, Shredder) a new character is introduced: the dragon Hothead. This character required so many sprites that you could not play a match against a cloned version of it.
Fights lasted three rounds and the best of two, was the obvious winner. Super moves were possible only when you got hold of a red ball that Splinter threw at some point during the match. Nothing super impressive, but quite original.
SNES Version (1994)
Also known as TMNT: Mutant Warriors in Japan, the game is normally considered the best release although the Genesis version matches it and surpasses it in some aspects as well, but more on that later. In case you were wondering why April was not kidnapped in the NES version, well, here she has been, so the Turtles must travel throughout the US in their Turtle Blimp to rescue her. Since they don’t know exactly where she is, every character you defeat will guide them to the next location. This part of the story is shown to the player by means of dialogue before and after the fight, a feature that can be a bit boring at times but it helps to immerse the player in the story.
Story mode of the game allows the player to select only one of the four Turtles, however the Tournament and VS modes have a wider variety of characters to choose: Cyber Shredder, War, Aska, Chrome Dome, Wingnut, Armaggon, Fake Brother, and two unlockables: Rat King and the dreaded Karai, one of the hardest bosses I have ever encountered.
Despite the fact the roster of characters is large, one cannot help but notice that the classic characters are nowhere to be found, I mean, where is Casey Jones? Where is Rocksteady? Fake Brother? C’mon!
A.I. in this game is its main flaw. Even if you put the game on the 0 difficulty, there are some fights that are nearly impossible. Karai is a boss that will humiliate you time and time again and that's if you are lucky enough to get to her stage. On top of the insane difficulty, the story mode has limited continues, which might be something that adds more challenge to a game, but this particular title didn’t need more difficulty. The graphics of the title though are designed marvellously, there are some backgrounds that may seem a little too plain, but that’s it. This is one clear example of how Konami used the colour palette of the SNES to its advantage.
The music is by no means extraordinary but a little above average, with catchy tunes here and there that you won’t be whistling after playing the game, but you won’t be hitting your head with a brick trying to remove them from your brain either. The FX are definitely good and the game has nothing to envy other big fighting franchises on that department.
Sega Genesis / Megadrive Version (1993)
It was the mighty Sega’s black 16-bit console the first to have the Tournament Fighters game and its own toy line by Playmates, and one of the worse the TMNT ever had if I may add. Here the Turtles have to rescue their master Splinter with the aid of all their friends.
One look at the selectable characters and you will notice that this time, Konami picked the right roster. Players could finally select the likes of Casey Jones, Ray Fillet and… wait, it cannot be, but is that April O’ Neil? Yeah she is, not only she has not been kidnapped this time but I can kick her arse many times for all the previous games where I had to rescue her. Plus, she looks like Blaze from Streets of Rage, doesn’t she? Shredder is not here but instead we got a beetle of some sort named Sisyphus (?). Triceraton, Krang and Karai are the last three non-playable bosses.
The game uses a 3-button config, where one button punches, the other one kicks and the final one taunts and also performs a desperation move when the character’s health has reached a critical level. Characters look gorgeous in every aspect, though the animations sprites sometimes lack fluency. The backgrounds however take away everything the artists had done right with the characters. The different stages look frozen, there is almost no animation and some of the details the drawers decided to add simply make everything worse. For instance, there’s a kind of lava Cyclops in one of the backgrounds that not only gives me the creeps, but I also think that he will try to kill me one day, seriously.
Sound fx are average at most with some digitalized voices sounding like they were recorded by a person who was being tortured under water. The music is not bad and sometimes I have found myself humming some of the songs. The A.I. issue the SNES version presented is here as well, some boss battles would make Mahatma Gandhi pick an AK-47 and shoot a bunch of sheep. After a couple of fights the AI won’t yield and will make the player’s life hell. Though flawed in multiple aspects, I still consider the Genesis / Mega Drive version of the game the best. Maybe it is a bit of nostalgia or maybe the little fanboy in me, but check for yourselves and then maybe you will consider me right.
RetroGameGeeks Final Thoughts...
I have to admit it's a bit strange writing a final thought when i'm not even at the finish line regarding the games released however I feel this is a perfect time to draw the line under the 8-Bit and 16-Bit console entries in the series. It's a good moment to hit the pause buton as they say.
What you can all see (hopefully) from the huge amount of text, video and pictures on display is just how diverse and just how fantastic this gaming franchise actually was. From playing on the go thanks to the handheld we all know as the Nintendo Gameboy to at home experiences on the classic machines like the Sega Genesis / Megadrive and the NES / SNES if you felt like getting your TMNT fix after watching the cartoon show or reading the comic books then something perfect for you was out there.
I may be getting ahead of myself here but I think many others will agree that some of, if not in fact THE best games ever created feature on this page with Turtles in Time, Hyperstone Heist and the now legendary Arcade game standing out as games to go out and play again and again...
So why not do just that folks, it's going to take me a while to finish off part 2 so for now grab your weapon of choice, select a turtle and go nuts!