It’s no slight exaggeration to say that every kid across the country wanted a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video game back in the 80s. If you didn’t then sue your parents because your childhood was robbed. Turtlemania swept the country and it hit its peak with the 1989 movie that is still perfectly watchable today. At the height of this hysteria Konami dropped their first game and…….it wasn’t what we expected. While certainly ambitious Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles suffers from numerous flaws that make it an incredibly frustrating game.
Honestly I don’t know what I wanted out of a TMNT game back in 89. Maybe a side scrolling action game like Ninja Gaiden or a beat em up like Double Dragon? Keep in mind I still had yet to learn of the arcade game’s existence. But certainly not this. I applaud Konami for trying something different and when it all works the game is pretty fun and manages to bring in elements from both the cartoon and comics. But those moments are fleeting and far too few. You are better off skipping this and going for the port of the arcade game.
This is why Donatello is the best.
All four brothers are present and accounted for and can be switched out at any time. This is extremely cool for a number of reasons, not the least being you aren’t forced to pick. Each Turtle has their own life bar and secondary weapons lending an element of strategy as to how you proceed. Any power-ups collected belong to that character and it is imperative you keep all four alive since they function as your lives.
The Turtles are differentiated by their weapons which all differ in terms of reach, speed, and power. While it is cool and makes sense I’ll tell you right now that Raphael and Michelangelo are completely useless. Their reach is far too short and you’ll end up taking hits trying to kill most enemies. The only time you’ll use either is to soak up hits to blitz a path for the others. Sucks for their fans. Leonardo is well rounded and who you’ll probably spend the most time with. That is because the true star is Donatello. His Bo staff has insane reach and power, able to kill most regular enemies in one hit where everyone else needs two or three. In addition you can completely cheese boss battles by standing in one spot and spamming his attack. Keep Donatello alive as he is the MVP.
Rather than individual levels the game is split up into five distinct areas. Each overworld map is completely nonlinear and full of buildings and sewers you can enter. Most of these usually contain pizza or sub weapons like boomerangs or throwing stars but there are just as many that are a waste of time. These play out like a traditional action game. You can use these to stock up as all items respawn when you reenter or head directly to your objective.
If the game has one great strength it is in its variety. Each area has a specific goal and it changes as you progress. Initially you are out to save April but then are tasked with defusing eight bombs under the Hudson River. This is followed up by toiling around the city in the Turtle van to locate Splinter. By this third chapter the overworld maps become huge mazes of tunnels and interconnected buildings. It’s like a prototype for GTA if you can believe it. This is followed up with locating the turtle blimp at the airport and finally an assault on the Technodrome at night. It certainly sounds like an action packed adventure and it is but ultimately the game falls apart in its execution.
There are idiotic design decisions all over the place. The level design, if you can even call it that is littered with bad item placement and terrible platforming sections. The controls aren’t the greatest and executing a short hop to enter a small space is far more difficult than it should be. I like the open maps but the lack of any direction was not a good design choice. It took weeks for me to finally figure out the correct path to Splinter in area 3 and even more time at the airport. It’s kind of embarrassing when I look back on it now but considering the game’s ridiculous difficulty it isn’t so far-fetched.
I feel pretty confident in saying this is one of the most difficult games for the system. Enemy placement is completely random and even worse they respawn if you move an inch off screen. Unfortunately like Castlevania you bounce back when hit which can lead to extremely cheap deaths. You have one invincibility frame when hit and some of the more aggressive enemies can sap your life in seconds. By the midpoint regular enemies are so strong that unless you are using Donatello you will almost always take damage. But at the same time you need to keep him alive because he is so useful. It doesn’t help that half of your posse is useless either. Stocking up on scrolls or other items help but who wants to grind in an action game?
I haven’t even gotten to the worst parts yet! If you manage to make it to the Foot base you must locate the Technodrome. Its location is randomly selected amongst the various buildings and sewers in the area and you won’t know if you chose wrong until you reach the end and are met with an empty room. These areas host some of the strongest enemies in the game and if you chose the wrong cave you have to fight your way back.
And if you can believe it inside the Technodrome is even worse! Now you have to find the Shredder in a confusing mess of a layout with almost no pizza to regain health. The corridor before the Shredder is one of the biggest fuck yous from a developer I have ever encountered and if you somehow survive and beat Shredder you are greeted with a lame ending as a reward. Have I mentioned there are also limited continues?
I’m sure I forced myself to like this back in the day but on some level I knew it was bad. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is certainly unique but that will only get you so far. If the lack of any direction doesn’t make you quit the maddening difficulty will. There are better games using this brand that deserve your time and attention, avoid this one.