“They’re the world’s most fearsome fighting team.
(We’re really hip!)
They’re heroes in a half-shell and they’re green.
(Hey, get a grip!)
When the evil Shredder attacks,
These Turtle boys don’t cut him no slack!”
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles burst onto our TV screens in 1987. I had very mixed feelings towards them. On the one hand, ninjas were cool to most boys when I was a kid. On the otherhand, it coincided with the end of my favourite cartoon series Transformers. Over the next few years their star rose culminating in a trio of mediocre live action films in 1990, 1991, and 1993. With such a high evel of popularity, it was only a matter of time before video games featuring Turtle Power would appear.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a side-scrolling platform game developed and published by Konami in 1989 for the NES (Ultra Games published it for the North American and European markets in 1989 and 1990 respectively). It was later released on the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS, MSX, ZX Spectrum, and Playchoice 10. For this review, I played the NES version.
The story follows the main objective of the animated series. Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michaelangelo must retrieve the Life Transformer Gun from Shredder in order to return Splinter to his human form.
There is a basic intro which shows the Turtles mutating from their smaller selves, before showing the range of moves they can perform. It music over the intro is quite good as it seems to signify the tough attitude of the Turtles. Sadly, the intro is pretty dull when compared to the likes of Batman and Castlevania III.
There are three aspects to the game: A side-scrolling platform part, a swimming part, and top down adventure style part.
You begin in the overworld adventure mode, on the streets of the city. There is some catchy music playing whilst you investigate your surroundings. For some reason the energy meter at the bottom flickers, and I’m unsure if that was intentional, to draw your attention to it, or simply an error on the creator’s part. If at anytime you are unsure what to do, you can select the information area where either Splinter or April will explain your task. You can also see a map of the area, and the energy levels of each Turtle. If you need to, you can select which Turtle to use at any time.
When you enter buildings and sewers, you begin the platform part of the game. Which involves battling through enemies from left to right, and interestingly, right to left. Each Turtle is equipped with their respective weapon of either a katana, sai, bow and nunchuks. Along the way they can also pick up weapons such as shurikens with which to throw at the baddies. To gain health, keep an eye out for slices of pizza.
During all levels you can change between Turtles at any time. Each Turtle is distinguishable by their coloured bands and weapons just like the animated series. I tended to favour Donatello because of his long reach and power with the bo.
The gameplay itself is simple. Walk, jump, swing your weapons in various directions, and throw projectiles. Annoyingly, the movement can get a bit choppy and jerky when there are too many enemies on screen.
Occasionally you get a cut scene using a mix of in-game sprites and nicer drawn character close-ups. I feel they could have done better with these cut scenes, they feel lazy and uninspiring.
In overworld areas, the graphics are clean and colourful. However, some of sprites during the platform section are poorly illustrated and it’s difficult to identify what they are. Some enemies are clearly defined, but others look a bit hazy, and stick out like a sore thumb. The NES is clearly capable of so much more. You only have to look at Duck Tales (1989) and Batman (1989) to see how naff the platform level sprites are, including the Turtles themselves.
The swimming level is notoriously tough. You need to find and disarm bombs that have been planted to destroy the dam. Although they can breathe underwater (not accurate for turtles but we won’t hold that against the creators), for Turtles, they don’t seem to be able to swim very well, and are hard to control. Often you must swim through tight gaps where “electric seaweed” damages you if you touch it. You also need to evade electric beams and disarm all the bombs before the time runs out.
The music, though fitting for the game, lacks the recognisable traits of the animated series. The only time you hear anything resembling the original theme at certain times like when you rescue April or finish the swimming level. This is stark contrast to games like Duck Tales (1989) where the recognisable theme is present throughout.
The game is notoriously challenging. There are lots of baddies to kill but completing missions with all Turtles and health intact is nigh impossible. If you re-enter buildings and sewers, the levels are reset meaning you have to fight all the baddies again, but this is handy when needing to find pizza to gain health.
Did I complete the game?
No, I just about got past the swimming level.
What the critics said:
Computer & Video Games: “The graphics are great, a bit on the blocky side at times but with lots of colour and some nice additions such as the opening sequence which shows the turtles being transformed into their mutant alter-egos. The game itself is very tough…the high level of difficulty isn’t at all frustrating, in fact it only adds to the overall brilliance of the product. Overall 89%”
Electronic Gaming Monthly: Donn – “TMNT wasn’t overly impressive – I thought it would have been much better considering all the hype that t achieved. The game play is there and the graphics are nice, but the whole cart didn’t meet my expectations. It is good, but I was expecting more. Overall 5.75/10”.
Nintendo Power: “The sound effects and the music in the tunnels and buildings are excellent…Great graphics and excellent character control in Action Scenes make this an exceptional game…cool storyboard graphics. Overall 4.125/5”.
The Games Machine: “The game kicks off to a great start with an oriental tune and some impressive portraits of the turtles. Though, sadly, some of the in-game graphics are a bit iffy and there is the odd screen glitch. Initial playability is high, all the turtle sprites are well drawn and animated and the bad guys present quite a challenge. Overall 86%”.
Gamepro: “The absence of a multi-player option detracts from the whole concept of Turtle togetherness, the overall action is average, and it’s nearly impossible to finish with only two continues. Also, although the Turtles look cool, the Foot Clanners’ graphics are a little weak. Turtles Overall 3.8/5”.
Raze: “The difficulty factory is set just right; frustrating but nothing to put your Nintendo in physical danger. The graphics are impressive for the NES, with superb use of vivid colours and impressive animation. Overall 87%”.
Mean Machines: “Bodacious stuff! Definitely worth shelling out for! Overall 90%”.
Best Theme, Fun 1989 – Nintendo Power Awards 1989
Best Overall 1989 – Nintendo Power Awards 1989
Most Eagerly Anticipated Game (That Was Released) – Electronic Gaming Monthly Best and Worst of 1989
“TMNT is as tough as I remember. Graphically, the platform levels should have been much better. The gameplay would be great if it wasn’t so choppy, and it was disappointing that the original theme tune didn’t feature more. However, It was still a fond trip down memory lane, and I will certainly pick it up the controller up again at some point to try and beat the game in the future.”
What are your memories of TMNT? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.
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 Caswell, M., ‘Reviews – Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles.’ The Games Machine. (July 1990). Issue 32:28-9.
 Slasher Quan, ‘Pro Classics – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’. Gamepro. (March 1991). Volume 3 Issue 3:28-9.
 Ellis, L., ‘Reviews – Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles.’ Raze. (December 1990). Issue 2:46-7.
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 ‘Nintendo Power Awards ‘89’. Nintendo Power. (May/June 1990). Issue 12:27.
 ‘Nintendo Power Awards ‘89’. Nintendo Power. (May/June 1990). Issue 12:28.
 ‘Best and Worst of 1989’. Electronic Gaming Monthly – 1990 Video Game Buyer’s guide. Issue 5:19.