Also Available For: Amiga, Amstrad, Atari, Commodore 64, GameCube, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox 360, and ZX Spectrum
If you were a kid in the eighties or nineties, you were probably really into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; if, like me, you lived in the United Kingdom, you were probably just as enthusiastic as the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles but, either way, before Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers (1993 to 1996) and Pokémon (1997 to present) dominated playgrounds, Christmases, and birthdays alike, kids were transfixed by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987 to 1996) animated series.
A toned down version of the original Mirage Comics characters, Ninja Turtles was incredibly popular, spawning not just three live-action movies (of varying quality), comic books, and a fantastic line of action figures but also a whole host of videogames, without perhaps none being more popular than the Ninja Turtles arcade game. Developed by Konami at a time when arcades were full of amazing side-scrolling beat-‘em-ups, Ninja Turtles may not have been the first videogame based on the franchise but it definitely defined the genre that would prove most popular for subsequent videogame releases, particularly in the arcade.
The Turtles’ arch-nemesis, the Shredder, has kidnapped their friend April O’Neil and their mentor and father figure, Splinter, and swamped the streets with his Foot Soldiers and other minions. Understandably unimpressed, Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo waste no time in grabbing their weapons and giving chase in a rescue mission.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a sidescrolling beat-‘em-up that supports up to four players; some arcade cabinets were apparently set up to accommodate just two, and to allow any player to select any character but, generally, cabinets were set up specifically for four players to play simultaneously. Each of the four Ninja Turtles is selectable and has specific strengths and weaknesses: Leonardo is the most well-rounded, Donatello is slower but has a longer reach, and both Raphael and Michelangelo have fast attacks but are limited in their range.
Each of the turtles can perform a flying kick and a super attack by pressing the jump and attack buttons at the same time which, unlike other sidescrolling beat-‘em-ups of the time, doesn’t appear to drain your health. In addition, they can hurl their enemies around for extra damage but there’s no forward dash and very little in the way of intricate combos on offer here; it’s a simple, pure “go right and mash the attack button” beat-‘em-up, with the exception of one level, where the TMNT race around the streets on rocket-powered skateboards.
While levels and environments are noticeably sparse, there are a few intractable elements that both benefit and hinder your gameplay; traffic cones and street signs can be hit to damage enemies, you can smash fire hydrants to push enemies away, or blow up groups of them with explosive barrels. At the same time, though, enemies can drop on you from behind signs or pop up from sewer holes and throw manhole covers at you; there’s also some spiked walls and electrical hazards that can be difficult to dodge without a dash or roll manoeuvre.
The search for their friends and family takes the TMNT from the streets and sewers of New York City to the Technodrome itself; along the way, they battle various versions of Shredder’s Foot Clan and some other familiar faces, such as Bebop and Rocksteady. If you’re really, really lucky, you can pick up a pizza box to restore your turtle’s health but these are few and far between, so you’ll either need a lot of money to replay after losing a life or, better yet, make use of the infinite credits available in the game’s various ports or ROMs.
Graphics and Sound:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is presented in the finest 2D graphics of the time; the four turtles and their enemies are large, bright, and well-animated; each wields their signature weapons and looks ripped right out of the animated series.
Environments aren’t incredibly inspiring, however; the streets of New York are surprisingly bland and there’s not much going on in most of the levels. Rats will run by in the sewers, enemies will jump out from behind buildings or burst out from walls, and there are some layers to some levels that allow you to fight on higher ground but, mostly, the environments are quite bland and lacking much of the character and interaction of later TMNT games (with the exception of April’s apartment, which features some impressive fire effects, and the final Technodrome level).
There are some fun elements to be found here, though; the TMNT can fall down open manholes and hide from enemy attacks while peeping at the player, when electrocuted you can see their skeleton, and when caught in Granitor’s flame burst, they’ll appear charred and damaged. When grabbed by enemies or battling certain bosses, little speech bubbles will also pop up, which is quite a fun inclusion.
Accompanying these are sound bites, with the TMNT exchanging quips and taunts with certain bosses or rallying each other with a cry of “Cowabunga!” You’ll always know when you’ve picked up health thanks to their triumphant shout of “Pizza time!” and, alongside these, levels are generally filled with some up-beat, catchy tunes that work well with the constant combat and the game also includes an impressive rendition of the cartoon’s iconic theme song.
Enemies and Bosses:
For the most part, the TMNT will be butting heads with various members of the Foot Clan; these come in all different colours and variants, with the regular, easily-dispatched foes wearing the common purple and the tougher, weapon-wielding goons coming in red, silver, or yellow colourings.
These foes will toss shurikens at the turtles, stab at them with spears, or try to flatten them with comically large mallets, among other weapons. They can also throw manhole covers, dynamite, or massive tyres at the turtles and, later in the game, zap them with laser blasters. You’ll also battle robotic enemies, such as the Mousers (who will clamp onto your arm and drain your health) and Roadkill Rodneys, which race around the screen, whipping at you, and trapping you in an electrically-charged grip.
As for bosses, the TMNT will content with classic enemies such as Bebop, Rocksteady, and Baxter Stockman. You’ll first battle Bebop and Rocksteady individually, but they later come together to try and crush the turtles; each wields a projectile weapon (Bebop a machine gun, Rocksteady a laser pistol) and can attack with powerful physical attacks, like charging or punching. Baxter, however, will attack from the air, dropping Mousers on you, while Granitor and General Traag are much tougher thanks to their rock-like hides.
After fighting through the Technodrome, you’ll be attacked by Krang inside his robot body; Krang’s a bit of a classic arcade spam-artist, as he’ll kick you, and zap you with lasers while you’re down to drain your health in no time. Krang is also quite the showboat, however, and he’ll pause to gloat about being invincible long enough for you to land a few decent hits.
After defeating Krang, you’ll immediately battle the Shredder. Oddly, Shredder attacks alongside shadow duplicates, effectively increasing his attack power and his threat; Shredder swipes at you with his katana but also unleashes a powerful energy blast that regresses your hero back to a regular turtle and is, essentially, a one-hit kill move.
As you battle Shredder, he’ll lose his helmet, which is a nice touch, but there’s not a lot of real strategy to any of the boss battles beyond simply avoiding attacks and striking as fast and as often as possible. One downside to this game is that the bosses don’t have an energy meter, so the only way you know you’re doing any damage or getting anywhere is by noticing when the boss sprites start flashing.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Oddly, for a sidescrolling beat-‘em-up, there’s very few power-ups on offer here. The only item you can pick up is the health-restoring pizza and you can’t grab other weapons or gain any temporary buffs or bonuses, though it does seem as though this was originally planned for the game before the option was removed during development.
Unsurprisingly, there are none; the only options available to you are to enjoy this game with a friend, preferably three other friends in order to get the most out of the game’s cutscenes and content.
Compared to other games of its era and genre, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is surprisingly light on features and content; there’s the most basic levels of combat and content on offer here, which probably puts it below other games of this type, which offer additional power-ups or combat mechanics. Yet, it’s the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game! Other TMNT games may have perfected the formula but there’s a charming appeal to the original. The classic 2D graphics, the simple beat-‘em-up gameplay, and the catchy, iconic music all make it feel as though you’re playing an episode of the animated series and really evoke the spirit of the influential cartoon. It might be a case of nostalgia goggles forgiving some of the game’s shortcomings but, for a straightforward TMNT adventure, it’s hard to deny that this game is simple, evocative fun through and through.
Did you ever get to play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles out in the wild? Or did you, perhaps, play the port that came to the NES, or that was briefly on Xbox Live? Which of the four Turtles is your favourite (and why is it Raphael?) Whatever your thoughts on the Ninja Turtles, leave them in a comment below.