Level Up: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) has always been a huge love of mine.  Seriously.  I had the sheets, turtle shaped pillows, toys, video games and yes even those stylish TMNT whitey tighties.  I believe I first saw them during the cartoon show on Saturdays.  It would be the first TMNT real action movie that cemented my love for the IP to the point where my most difficult decision was what turtle to have on my underwear that day.  Needless to say, this week was a huge nostalgia kick for me, even if it was one of absolute unbridled fury.

History and Mechanics

TMNT was developed in 1989 for the Nintendo Entertainment System and released under the US Konami label, Ultra Games.  It follows some of the same story in the 1987 TV series although the visual style is much more akin to the Comics.  It was received exceptionally well, selling nearly 4 million copies.  Of interesting note, the game went on to win Nintendo Power’s Game of the Year award despite earning a 3/10 rating in Nintendo Life.  This may or may not reflect some biases being that it is one of the highest grossing NES games not developed by Nintendo.

The mechanics are a mixed bag including elements common to the rpgs of the time period and side scrolling action oriented combat.  Part of the game you will be exploring the world from an above view similar to that of Final Fantasy or Link.  While exploring you can enter buildings or sewer holes that will switch the game to the side scrolling action style part of the game.  The difference between exploration mode in TMNT is that enemies can attack you and you can attack back without switching screens.  The addition is limited and really isn’t enough to call a perk, but it is noteworthy.

Side scrolling action parts of the game pit you up against different types of enemies ranging from flies to men made of fire.  Most of the enemies are fairly simple to defeat on their own.  The challenge comes when mixing lots of them together in the same area whilst forcing the player to navigate terrain.  Defeating enemies can produce special secondary ranged weapons that aid the player in thinning the foot clan ranks.

Another great aspect to the game is the ability to swap to any turtle at any moment.  Pressing select brings up a map and turtle select screen, allowing you to choose the right turtle for the right situation.  Each turtle has strength’s and weaknesses that can help aid in your missions, but played right you will never need any turtle but Donatello.   A combination of the best range and power easily makes up for the slightly slower attack speed.  Raphael has the next best damage and second best attack speed, but the worst range; Leonardo has a great arcing attack, but is the weakest by far (not cool Konami!); Michaelangelo has medium damage medium range and the fastest attacks.  Most veteran TMNT players will recommend that you keep Donatello alive at all costs while using the others as cannon fodder.  When a turtle ‘dies’ he is actually captured.  A few locations in the game allow you to rescue the last turtle caught, however losing more than one means permanent loss of a turtle.

My Experience and Nostalgia

It has been nearly a decade since I last played TMNT, yet I still remember a large portion of the first 3 levels.  Things start off easily enough running around the streets and jumping into sewers to traverse canals or road blocks.  The combat is simple and even fun when using Don.  Other turtles pissed me off because they generally end up getting hit after failing to kill an enemy fast enough.  To be honest, Leo just makes me made cause he is the weakest and my favorite.

One of my favorite little touches to the game is that slices of pizza are used to restore health.  Staying true to the IP, TMNT makes sure that pizza is something that your turtles crave.  A slice here and a slice there are coveted items that must be shared between all four of your turtles to keep them alive.  If only life were so grand that a slice of pepperoni cured the wounds of combat.

The first level of TMNT is nothing that exciting.  I saved April no problem and moved onto the more advanced Level 2.  Level 2 is a bit more difficult.  You have to save a dam from blowing up.  The level introduces you to the first jumping challenges in the game.  Mess up the jump and you are forced to fight back through all of the respawned enemies.  If you manage to make the jump, you move onto the second most irritating part of the game (that I have played): Swimming.   Swimming isn’t too horrible in itself, but you must navigate several obstacles in order to shut down each unit of explosive.  At one point you have to swim through an arching path of electric seaweed.  Not only is the idea ludicrous (more so than turtle ninjas) but I am convinced it is nearly impossible to navigate without coming close to losing a turtle.  Oh, did I mention this is a timed segment?  Yep, you have to navigate the swimming zone in under 2 min and hit every explosive.  Miss one, you have to go back.  Don’t bother though as you will not make it.  Hitting all the explosives moved me onto level three, where all my dreams die.

I am not sure what it is about this zone that irritates me, but it is the biggest obstacle in my way.  The difficulty raises by requiring your turtle to fight his way through hordes of enemies in order to procure needed items.  Things like rope to navigate roofs and missiles to take out road blocks.  If you don’t know the path you will undoubtedly be forced to damage yourself more fighting to get the needed items you wasted while exploring the zone.  To top it off, jumping becomes an even bigger part of level navigation than previously.  The limited controls and actions you can perform will often leave you cursing with frustration when missing a jump means redoing the entire side scrolling zone and a loss of health.

One cool thing about level 3, aside from actually finishing it, is the ability to drive the Party Wagon van around.  The mechanics are not that spectacular but it is a nice change of pace from previous elements and does a great job of mixing up the game as a whole.

At level four you start at an airport looking for the Turtle Blimp.  In this zone random planes will try and bomb you while you explore between buildings and sewer holes.  This is also where I always die and for traditions sake, failed to pass for this article.  My failure in level 4 often is caused not by the bombing planes and zone difficulty, but more so by the irritating jumping mechanics and hp lowering masses of baddies combined in level 3.  Usually low on continues from jump failures resulting in low HP deaths, I am left weak and without much flexibility in terms of failure for level 4.

Analysis and Conclusion

I think the thing TMNT does better than any other game of the time is mixing game mechanics from multiple genres.  You have action, exploration, simple rpg elements, and a few different areas that have you swimming or driving.  As an early hybrid, it gave a little of something for everyone.  Games today have really started to adopt this idea well.  Mass Effect 2 is a prime example of how RPG and Action work together to form a unique yet awesome experience.  While TMNT can’t be attributed to the motivation for such games, it was a start for genre mixing decades ago.  It is interesting to see how the same types of innovations years later, are earning games the same titles.

Mix this in with a great IP and a true to form story, it is no surprise that TMNT has won a GotY award.  Even as someone who detests certain parts of this game, it still stands out as a fun title to play and revisit despite past frustrations.  You don’t have to beat this game in order to enjoy what it has to offer, and that in itself makes it a winner.


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Author: VTV Staff View all posts by
  • michael Frangione

    UGHH I HATED THIS GAME!!! Maybe its just because it was so hard and I sucked at it. I don’t think I ever made it past level 3.

  • Level 3 is the devil! I’m a glutton for punishment though.