Ever since Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) first debuted, the franchise has enjoyed worldwide mainstream success thanks to action figures, cartoons, and videogames. Since I found some free time this December, I’ve decided to spotlight four such videogames every Tuesday of this festival season.
Released: 30 August 2022
Originally Released: 3 August 1990
Developer: Digital Eclipse
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Game Boy, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S
Back in the late-eighties and early-nineties, it was tough to find a franchise more popular than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles as we knew them in the UK); the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987 to 1996) cartoon and extensive toy line saw the “Heroes in a Half-Shell” dominate an entire generation. The TMNT were also prominent videogame characters thanks to the efforts of Konami, which saw them help to make the NES a household name here in the UK and produce two of the most beloved arcade games that also impressed on home consoles back in the day. Not content with their arcade and 8- and 16-bit titles, Konami also produced three handheld titles for Nintendo’s ground-breaking portable console, the Game Boy. Limited by the Game Boy hardware, Fall of the Foot Clan was obviously lacking in many areas and struggled to live up to the standards of its technically superior predecessors, though it was still praised for its ambitious attempt to give fans a portable TMNT experience. With a complete version of the title being pretty expensive for what it is, it was very much appreciated to see it included in the 2022 Cowabunga Collection alongside a host of other TMNT games and quality of life features.
When their archnemesis, Oroku Saki/The Shredder, kidnaps April O’Neil, the TMNT emerge from the sewers to take on the Shredder’s Foot Clan once more.
Unlike most TMNT videogames at the time, Fall of the Foot Clan is a pretty simplistic sidescrolling action game; you pick from one of the four turtles and travel from left to right across five stages attack enemies with their signature weapons. The TMNT are even more indistinguishable from each other thanks to the Game Boy’s
non-existent limited colour palette but are, as ever, identified by their weapons and the reach offered to them. Raphael gets up close and personal with foes with his sai, for example, while Donatello is afforded a greater reach with his longer bo staff, however this is so far the only TMNT game I’ve played that allows you to throw shuriken by default (and an infinite number to boot), thereby affording even the most limited ninja turtle a projectile attack. The controls are as simple as you could want; you press X to jump (and holding the button sees you jumping higher into a somersault) and A to attack. You can attack in mid-air and press down and A to toss your shuriken, but a big mechanic in this game is the ability to swat away most incoming projectiles with your attack, which is almost mandatory given the much smaller screen size of the Game Boy.
Gameplay is very restrictive and doesn’t really ask all that much of you other than to continue to the right, slashing at enemies as they jump at you, and avoiding the odd level hazard, such as falling blocks, bouncing balls, electrifying obstacles, and spiked ceilings. Here and there you’ll get the option to hop up to a higher level or wade through sewer water; you can destroy barriers to reach bosses, hop on and rush underneath pistons, jump over fire pits, and leap from log to log over a raging river. If your turtle runs out of health, they’ll be “captured” and you’ll have to pick another to tackle the stage again, though you’ll helpfully be placed at the start of the boss battle if you reached that point when you died. One mechanic Fall of the Foot Clan incorporates that separates it from pretty much all of the classic TMNT games is the presence of hidden bonus areas in every stage; these aren’t immediately obvious (though the strategy guide clearly highlights them for your benefit) and allow you to restore your health by guessing the number Master Splinter has in mind, fighting with Krang by eradicating as many stars as possible, or partaking in a bit of target shooting. You’re generally given a few chances to succeed at these but they’re not particularly inspired or fun or easy, though I appreciate the attempt to mix the simplistic gameplay up a bit with these little distractions.
Graphics and Sound:
Naturally, you need to keep expectations low here; not only is Fall of the Foot Clan a Game Boy title, it’s an early game Boy title so it plays things very safe and doesn’t try to throw too much at the player or tax the game engine. The result is enemies leaping at you largely one at a time and barely launching an attack before you take them out in one hit and keeping the amount of onscreen action to a minimum, but there are a surprising number of little details that certainly make it somewhat ambitious. The TMNT don’t have idle animations and Leonardo and Raphael only have one weapon each rather than the usual two, but their weapons move as they walk, and Raphael and Michelangelo even twirl theirs as they plod along. When ensnared by a Roadkill Rodney, you’ll even see your turtle’s skeleton as they’re shocked and they get crushed by pistons and weights as well, all of which are nice little touches I wouldn’t really expect from such a limited title.
Environments aren’t really anything to shout about; stages are pretty long, consisting of a few different screens and transitioning from different areas as you progress, but there isn’t a great deal of detail in the background in environments like the Technodrome. At the same time, the streets have a bit going on, with graffiti and posters on the walls behind you, and you’re even able to hit a parking meter to use it as a projectile at one point. I also liked seeing the mountains in the background of Stage 4 but easily the most visually interesting stage is Stage 3, which sees you jumping across the backs of trucks and vehicles down a speeding highway. Sprites are all nice and big and certainly capture the essence of the cartoon; the Foot even drive past in a jeep at one point and the classic TMNT theme plays, with the rest of the chip tune soundtrack being very fitting to the franchise and the action. The game’s story is as basic as you could want and is told using some basic text under pretty decent sprite art recreating scenes from the cartoon. Unfortunately, the ending falls a little flat, with the Technodrome just disappearing from frame and the epilogue consisting of a bunch of text, and you’ll be assaulted be an incessant beeping when your health is low, which is always a pain.
Enemies and Bosses:
You’ll never believe it but you’ll primarily be fighting off an endless supply of Foot Soldiers on your short journey; they’ll come jumping in and be reduced to a little explosion before even getting a chance to attack, but they’re capable of tossing darts and bricks at you but are largely disposable. Generic enemies like bats, fish, and anthropomorphic fireballs are also a problem, but the classic TMNT enemies like Mousers and Roadkill Rodneys are also present and capable of chomping on your hand and electrocuting you, respectively. Each stage naturally culminates in a boss battle against five of the TMNT’s most recognisable and popular villains, each of which is afforded a life bar.
The first boss you’ll battle is Rocksteady, who simply wanders across the screen blasting at you from his rifle; Bebop ups the ante by rushing at you in a charge, punching you up close, and firing rings from his pistol, but it’s not exactly a stretch to hop over them, swipe them with your weapon, or toss a shuriken their way. Baxter Stockman attacks in his fly form at the end of the all-too-brief Stage 4; he hovers overhead, firing projectiles at you, and swooping down in a dive, but again you can just jump over him and attack without too much difficulty. In a change of pace, the Shredder is encountered as a penultimate boss rather than the final battle; he can be a bit tricky if you go in with low health, advancing towards you and swiping with his katana before teleporting to safety after. This means that Krang is the game’s final challenge; he emerges in his android body from a transport wall and stomps about, completely immune to your shuriken and trying to kick you in the face. While he’s quite a large target and he likes to jump about, you can again jump over him and attack him and whittle his health down if you stay in a good rhythm.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As ever, the TMNT can restore their health by picking up the odd slice of pizza; these are sometimes dropped by enemies and sometimes found floating around the environment, occasionally before a boss battle, but are noticeably infrequent and are the only power-up you’ll find in the game.
Unlike most TMNT videogames, there’s no two-player option here; in fact, there aren’t any options to speak of in the base game, not even a difficulty mode or any sound options. Thankfully, the Cowabunga Collection remedies that, awarding you a 70G Achievement for completing the game and allowing you to view the game’s box art and manuals, switch between the Japanese and American version, and apply various borders and display options (including an LCD display to recreate the feeling of playing on the Game Boy’s eye-watering screen). The enhancements not only allow you to remove slowdown and sprite flicker, rewind the game with the Left Bumper and access save states using Right Bumper, but you can also choose to practice the bonus games if you want to bump up your health in your next playthrough.
I don’t like to throw too much shade at Game Boy titles, especially early ones, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan really isn’t all that impressive or fun to play through. There are some ambitious and admirable elements here and there, don’t get me wrong; the odd bit of animation, the ability to throw shuriken, the attempt at variety in the stages are all positives and I liked how it did the best it could with the hardware limitations to adapt the aesthetic of the cartoon. However, there’s no denying that this is a far too simple effort to really give it too high a score, especially compared not only to the obviously better arcade and home console TMNT games but also the later Game Boy titles. This feels like a proof of concept to show that a simple sidescrolling action game can be cobbled together with the license rather than an attempt to really try anything too innovative with the platform. Throwing in bonus games was a nice, if frustrating, touch and there was even some call-backs to the superior arcade titles here and there, but the TMNT would definitely be represented far better in subsequent Game Boy games and I can’t see myself going back to this one over the other TMNT games included in the Cowabunga Collection.
Did you have Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan in your Game Boy library back in the day? What did you think to gameplay and presentation of the game, especially regarding its simple sidescrolling format? Which of the characters was your favourite to play as and which boss was the most exciting for you? Were you able to beat the bonus games? What did you think to the additional features added to the Cowabunga Collection? What’s your favourite Game Boy title? I have a comments section down below where you can share your opinions on the TMNT’s Game Boy debut, or you can start the discussion on my social media.