Game Corner [Turtle Tuesday]: TMNT III: The Manhattan Project (Xbox Series X)

The first issue of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) was published in May of 1984. Since then, the TMNT have gone on to achieve worldwide mainstream success thanks not only to their original comics run but also a number of influential cartoons, videogames, and wave-upon-wave of action figures. This year, I’m emphasising third entries and time travel shenanigans in the popular franchise every Tuesday in May!


Released: 30 August 2022
Originally Released: 12 December 1991
Developer: Digital Eclipse
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S

The Background:
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles here in the UK) were the in thing for kids like me back in the eighties or nineties thanks, largely, to the popularity of its influential cartoon and extensive toy line. After helping to define the term “NES Hard” with their original, incredibly successful TMNT title for the NES, developers Konami turned to the equally popular arcade game for the sequel, which proved to be a hit thanks to its ambitious recreation of its far superior arcade counterpart. By the end of 1991, Konami had mastered the art of bringing the TMNT to the arcades with the smash title Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time (Konami, 1991), which also took 16-bit gamers by storm with its home console port. NES players weren’t forgotten in this time, however, with this 8-bit expansion of the previous NES title being critically lauded despite it never actually being released in the United Kingdom. Although TMNT III: The Manhattan Project was never ported or re-released to other consoles or digital services, the 2022 Cowabunga Collection remedied that for modern gamers by including it alongside many other TMNT games and quality of life features

The Plot:
While vacationing at the beach, the TMNT leap into action when their archnemesis, Oroku Saki/The Shredder, kidnaps April O’Neil and hijacks the entire borough of Manhattan, turning it into a floating island and daring them to challenge him.

If you’ve played any of the TMNT’s arcade efforts, especially Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (ibid, 1990), you’ll be immediately familiar with the controls, features, and gameplay of The Manhattan Project. As in those titles, the game allows up to two plays to pick from one of the four titular turtles and battle their way through waves of enemies in a variety of locations, many of them drawing from tried and tested environments such as the sewers and the Technodrome. The Manhattan Project offers two options for two players, one that allows friendly fire to be activated for an extra level of difficulty and one that disables it so you can play like a normal person. The controls couldn’t be simpler; you press X to attack and A to jump, with your chosen turtle pulling off a mid-air kick when you press X when jumping. Each turtle control exactly the same and is defined primarily by their colour scheme and the range of their weapon, with Raphael at an obvious disadvantage and Donatello having a longer reach. You can toss enemies overhead by pressing down and X, which seems to do greater damage, or pull off a power attack at the cost of some health by pressing X and A together. Each turtle has their own power move, with Michelangelo performing a handspring kick, Donatello barrelling across the screen in a cannonball, Leonardo flying into a sword cyclone, and Raphael performing an M. Bison-like torpedo attack, but I found actually getting them to execute these power modes to be surprisingly unreliable since all you have to do is press two buttons together.

The TMNT have more attack options and the game is decidedly more akin to its arcade brethren.

Overall, gameplay and combat is basically exactly the same as in the previous NES title and naturally lacks some of the additional animations and options seen in the superior 16-bit titles, with no dashing, elaborate combos, or throwing options available to you, but as a simple pick up and play arcade brawler it does the job pretty well for those who were stuck with the NES. Additionally, gameplay is once again mixed up slightly with a sidescrolling chase sequence in Scene 2 that sees you slashing across the ocean on a surfboard; there are also times when you’re asked to travel diagonally and where you can jump up to a higher level to avoid certain hazards. As ever, the TMNT need to watch out for holes and barrels, which will squash them flat, and new hazards like explosive pipes in the sewer and conveyor belts on the floor of the Technodrome, though you can switch to a different character when you run out of health. The Manhattan Project also includes an elevator section, as is the staple [] of any good beat-‘em-up, with this one taking you up the outside of a skyscraper like it’s Street of Rage (SEGA, 1991), but also includes some unique fighting stages that in themselves act as hazards. You’ll be fighting on top of a submarine, on a bridge strewn with holes, and on the aforementioned lift; in these areas, you need to be careful not to jump or be hit into the water or down the gaps as it’ll cost you some health. However, you can awkwardly manipulate your enemies into falling to their deaths in your place and, if you simply walk near the edge, you’ll hang on rather than simply slipping off as in most 2D games from this era.

Graphics and Sound:  
On the surface, The Manhattan Project really isn’t all that much different from the TMNT’s last NES title; however, the environments and overall presentation is far better. For starters, the game ambitiously recreates the cartoon’s iconic opening sequence and the game even includes a few sound bites here and there to evoke its technically superior arcade and 16-bit counterparts. While TMNT’s sprites don’t seem to be all that different, they have been tweaked a bit: Leonardo now holds two katana, for example, and there’s some animation on Donatello’s bo staff as he walks; even their idle animations have been expanded a little bit to include foot tapping and such. Although you can again remove the slowdown and sprite flickering, these elements are still somewhat present, with the same minor screen tearing and the screen still struggling to scroll properly; you’ll find yourself walking right at the edge of the screen and needing to hop back to get things moving less jerkily. The enemies are a little more diverse this time around; not only do they pop up from manholes, out of the water and sand, and from behind parts of the environment, but Foot Soldiers will scurry down poles, burst out of vehicles, and your turtle can get blinded by gas and sand this time around.

The Manhattan Project is undeniably graphically superior to its predecessor.

Environments are much improved over the TMNT’s last NES game; though still a far cry from the arcade and 16-bit titles, there’s much more detail, colour, and even a bit of animation here and there (such as the tide coming in on Scene 1). This is best seen in the Technodrome stage, which is far more visually interesting than before, and in the sewer, where you now cross through waist-high water rather than just being in a simple brick environment. There are some new stage types on offer here, such as the beach that opens the game and includes a pier, the aforementioned submarine, and even generic stages like the bridge are spruced up with large holes to avoid. Perhaps the most impressive environments are the subway, where enemies will jump out of subway trains, and those set on the rooftops of the floating city as you can see skyscrapers and other buildings in the background. Cutscenes and music are much improved this time around as well, with the TMNT transitioning between stages on their blimp more sprite art, voice samples, and speech bubbles being included, and even the heads-up display has been changed up to give it a more distinct visual identity.

Enemies and Bosses:
As ever, your most persistent enemies will be the robotic Foot Clan and their many variants; these guys will toss large shuriken at you (though you can deflect these with you weapons), burst up from the ground, blast at you from hovercrafts, hover about on floating discs, wield whips, and ride around on large rolling balls. The Foot also toss balls and weights at you to squash you, attack with swords, toss daggers in a spread, throw lances and boomerangs at you, and you’ll find two working in tandem to fry you to your shell with an electrical beam. The Rock Warriors are also back, though thankfully without their annoying charge attack; now, they still fire machine guns and heavy ordinance but can also temporarily stun you with gas grenades and send you flying across the screen with a swing of a girder! Robots also dog your progress, with flying bugs diving at you in a kamikaze run, humanoid robots firing projectiles at you, spider ‘bots dropping from the ceiling as rocks, and Mousers clamp down on your hands.

Familiar villains and accompanied by some newcomers as bosses and mini bosses.

As The Manhattan Project is a much bigger and longer game than the TMNT’s last outing on the NES, you’ll have to contend not only with a few more bosses but also a mini boss or two, all of whom come complete with a helpful life bar and will be immediately familiar both to fans of the franchise and anyone who’s played any of the TMNT’s arcade outings. As is often the case in these types of TMNT games, the first boss you’ll fight is Rocksteady and he’s not really changed his attack pattern up all that much; in addition to kicking and punching you when you’re up close and charge at you from a distance, he comes armed with a harpoon gun to launch projectiles your way. The second boss, Groundchuck, represents not just a rare venture into different villains but also an increase in difficulty as he charges around the screen erratically and swings a pipe at you after you deliver enough damage to him. Halfway across the bridge, you’ll get attacked by my favourite TMNT villain, Slash; this dark turtle jumps about the place, spins around on his spiky shell, and (appropriately) slashes at you with his jagged sword. He’s merely an appetiser for Bebop, who now comes equipped with a spiked mace that he twirls over his head and whips at you in a horizontal line. Down in the subway, you’ll fittingly do battle with Dirtbag, who comes rolling in on a mine cart and fires rings from his miner’s helmet; although he also wields his trademark pickaxe, he leaves himself wide open for an attack when it gets stuck in the ground.

Since the game’s bigger, it only makes sense that there’s more bosses and that they’re a bit tougher.

When you reach the end of the sewers, you’ll have to fend off the Mouther Mouser mini boss (a Foot Soldier on a larger Mouser who spits out fireballs and smaller Mousers) before finding yourself on a narrow path surrounded by rising water and once again doing battle with Leatherhead, who not only whacks at you with his tail but also fires a shot gun spread your way. Rahzar and his ridiculously disproportionate head is the mini boss of the Technodrome and again charges at you, swipes with his claws, and can freeze you into a block of ice with his spit. Defeating him sees you facing off with the Shredder, with April held hostage nearby; a cheap spam artist who can kick you clear across the screen, the Shredder slashes with his sword and has a devastating throw, but is thankfully lacking in his de-evolution powers this time around. Tokka attacks you on the rooftop; carrying a shield to block your flying attacks and able to uppercut you into the electrifying neon sign in the background, Tokka also likes to take a bite out of your face and punch at you. The Mother Mouser reappears on Krang’s ship, which is also where you’ll naturally battle Krang; again, his sprite leaves a lot to be desired but he’s a bit tougher this time around thanks to the electrical hazard in the arena, his rocket punch, missile barrage, and tendency to electrify his body while taunting. Krang can also split his android body into two, with his torso floating about firing eye beams at you as his legs stomp about trying to kick you. You’ll immediately face Super Shredder after this fight; Super Shredder can teleport and dash about, send you flying with a swipe, summon a lightning strike and even turn you into an ordinary turtle with a fireball…although this is now a temporary ailment rather than an instant death move.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Unfortunately, The Manhattan Project doesn’t expand on the available pick-ups in any way; the only power-up you’ll find here are the all-too-rare instance of some health-restoring pizza, which is a bit of a shame considering Turtles in Time had added a new power-up item.

Additional Features:
There aren’t any in-game options available to you in The Manhattan Project beyond picking between the two different two-player options unless you enter the legendary “Konami Code”. This means that your only options for replay here are to pick a different turtle or play with friendly fire on and off rather than setting different difficulty levels. The Cowabunga Collection does offer some additional features, however; first, you’ll earn yourself a respectable 70G Achievement for completing the game and you can the game’s box art and manuals, switch between the Japanese and American version, apply various borders and display options, and listen to the game’s soundtrack. The enhancements also allow you to remove slowdown and sprite flicker, allow for “easy menu navigation” (which I found no use for), and offer a super useful infinite lives and an easy mode if you’re struggling. Finally, you’re still about to rewind the game with the Left Bumper, access save states using Right Bumper, and watch the game play itself if you fancy it.

The Summary:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project isn’t much compared to its arcade and 16-bit counterparts, for sure; it’s undeniably graphically inferior, the sound and music isn’t anywhere near as clear, and the gameplay and combat remains restrictive and clunky thanks to the limitations of the NES. However, it’s quite obviously a step up from the TMNT’s previous outing on the NES; not only are the sprites a little more alive, the environments are far more detailed and the game is almost double the length of its predecessor, meaning that it’s a pretty decent 8-bit alternative to the likes of Turtles in Time. It’s unfair to be too harsh on it considering the power of the NES simply can’t compete with its bigger brothers, but it’s a far more impressive effort that its predecessor and felt much more like a complete, concentrated effort rather than a downgraded port. The addition of mini bosses was a nice touch and I liked how the bosses had second phases or upped their attack strategies after you dealt enough damage. The cutscenes and story are far more impressive this time around, though the lack of additional options, power-ups, and gameplay mechanics keeps it from really being all it could be. Giving each turtle their own power move was a nice touch and I liked the additional animations and stage variety on offer here; in some ways, it’s like a remix and expansion of its predecessor, but it’s clearly the superior of the two so I had a pretty good time playing through this one.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Did Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project make it into your NES library back in the day? What did you think to the gameplay and presentation of the game, especially compared to its predecessor and arcade counterparts? Which character’s power move was your favourite and what did you think to the new bosses and mini bosses? What did you think to the new, longer stages and the additional tweaks made to the visuals? Did you play with the additional features added to the Cowabunga Collection? What’s your favourite NES game? Feel free to drop your opinions on the TMNT’s third outing on the NES in the comments section down below or share them on my social media.

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