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: 25 November 1993
Developer: Digital Eclipse
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Game Boy, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were almost unrivalled in popularity back in the late-eighties and early-nineties; known as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles here in the UK, the “Heroes in a Half-Shell” dominated an entire generation with their comics, cartoon, extensive toy line, and videogames. Konami’s efforts not only proved a hit at arcades but also took 16-bit gamers by storm and helped to make Nintendo a household name in the UK. Additionally, Konami produced three handheld TMNT titles for Nintendo’s ground-breaking portable console, the Game Boy; though restricted by the Game Boy hardware, the first two games impressed in their ambition and even tried to incorporate elements from the arcade releases. However, for this third game, Konami chose to completely overhaul not just the graphics and gameplay, but the genre too; unlike the previous two handheld efforts, Radical Rescue was a “Metroidvania” title with a heavy emphasis on exploration rather than mindless brawling. This resulted in mixed reviews, with some criticising the decision due to the Game Boy’s hardware being insufficient for such a genre and others praising the genre shift as a means to improve upon its predecessors. Either way, Radical Rescue remained a Game Boy exclusive title for nearly thirty years before it was finally re-released in the 2022 Cowabunga Collection alongside a host of other TMNT games and quality of life features.
When their arch-nemesis, Oroku Saki/The Shredder, strikes again by kidnapping their master and father-figure, Splinter, the TMNT leap into action one turtle short. Now Michelangelo must venture into the Shredder’s hazardous mine to rescue his brothers, and their master, and put a stop to their enemy’s latest scheme.
As mentioned, Radical Rescue is a 2D adventure game with a heavy emphasis on exploration as much as combat; it thus falls under the “Metroidvania” banner and will have you constantly consulting a barely useful grid-like map to discover new paths and areas to explore in your quest to locate the other TMNT. This means that, unlike every other TMNT game I’ve ever played up to this point, you can’t select a character from the start; instead, you’re stuck with Michelangelo and must defeat bosses to acquire keys to free his brothers and then hunt down key cards to access new areas, using each turtle’s unique skills to get past enemies and obstacles. Each turtle controls the same; you use X to attack and A to jump and press X while jumping to do a flying kick. Unlike in the TMNT’s last two Game Boy outings, you can neither throw shurikens or perform a slide kick with down and X, though you can toss shuriken when climbing ladders and you’re able to switch to one of the other turtles at any time from the pause menu and each one not only has their signature weapons but comes with different abilities to get past hazards and access new areas of Shredder’s diabolical mine. Mikey actually ends up being one of the most useful characters; I found myself defaulting back to him a lot as he can perform a helicopter-like glide with his nunchakus when you press and hold A while jumping, which is great for drifting past spike pits or reaching out of the way platforms.
While I can’t be certain, I’m fairly sure that the game forces you to rescue each of Mikey’s brothers in a specific order; I definitely found myself following a particularly path but then my logic was based simply on going for whichever boss and key card was closest to where I was. Thus, the first turtle I rescued was Leonardo, who’s given the bizarre ability to burrow through certain blocks by pressing down and A, effectively turning him into a living drill. Next, I rescued Raphael who can pop into his shell with down and A to pass harmlessly over spikes (until you inevitably have to jump up to a platform) and through small gaps and tunnels; this also makes him immune to certain attacks, which is helpful. Finally, I rescued Donatello, who can cling to and scale walls by jumping at them, which is basically required to access the final areas of the mines. Naturally, each turtle has their own strengths and weaknesses in combat, with Raph and Mike limited in their reach compared to their brothers, but I found myself favouring Mike since there’s more emphasis on jumping than any of the turtle’s other abilities. Every time you defeat a boss, your health will be fully restored, which is useful; rescuing a turtle (and, later, Splinter) grants you a password that you can jot down from the pause screen to continue if you fail in your quest, but your main enemy here will be trying to find your way around the mine and surviving its mechanical trap rooms.
Radical Rescue all takes part in one large interconnected map; you start on the outside of the main area and venture out here a couple of times to reach other otherwise inaccessible parts of the mine, and will go through doors (either using a key card or passing through from a certain direction) to enter mechanical areas where a boss lurks. These areas, and the mine itself, and crawling with respawning enemies and numerous hazards; we’ve got falling boulders, spike pits, wall lasers, bursts of flame, ceiling spikes, Foot Soldiers trying to run you down in giant mine carts, and extremely annoying bubble-like projectiles that clog up the screen and follow you incessantly. The Cowbunga Collection allows you to activate “helpful map icons” and I’d definitely recommend doing this; it doesn’t help the basic nature of the map but it’s useful to know that you’re heading to a boss, key card, or captive in need of rescue. This will serve you well when it comes to exploration; naturally, you’re somewhat limited in how far you can go in the mines when you only have one or two turtles on hand but, when you have them all, it’s very easy to get turned around because the map is so simplistic and many of the game’s environments all look the same. Because of this, it’s not uncommon to locate a captive turtle but not have a key or to run into a door that requires a key card you haven’t gotten yet, or to have to backtrack halfway across the map to get an item you require. Once you get used to the map and have all four turtles rescued, exploration gets a little easier; you can take shortcuts by climbing or digging down certain areas, for example, but a quick travel system to the four compass points of the map would’ve been much appreciated.
Graphics and Sound:
To be fair, Radical Rescue is a step up from the TMNT’s last two Game Boy titles. Sprites are smaller now, but actually benefit from it; you get more screen space to work with and the game runs much smoother by default. As a trade-off, though, the game’s taken a step back in some areas; Leo and Raph only hold one of their weapons again, there are no idle animations, and the common Foot Soldiers simply wander about the place. However, the TMNT are far more versatile this time around; their new abilities help them to be more unique and offer up some new ways to play and some new animations and the boss sprites are far bigger and more visually interesting. Additionally, the story cutscenes are the best yet for a TMNT Game Boy title; text and large sprite art are used to convey the general plot and whenever you rescue an ally and, while these barely contain any frames of animation, they’re much more detailed than in the previous games.
The game’s music isn’t bad, either; while sound bites are at a minimum this time around, Radical Rescue still features a pretty good version of the classic TMNT theme and each area of the game has different music associated with it. However, where the game falters, for me, is in the variety of its presentation; while it’s nice to not be ploughing through the sewers, streets, and Technodrome again, I question the logic of setting the entire game in a drab, repetitive mine. Sure, there are ladders, lanterns, and some different rocky formations here and there but the Game Boy simply isn’t powerful enough to make this large and boring environment visually interesting. When you’re outside, it’s a different story; the background is still quite plain and generally just shows clouds or mountains, but it’s a nice change of pace from rocks and shit. The mechanical areas do help to break things up as well, but these all look and feel the same as well; it’s way too easy to get lost because most of these areas are largely indistinguishable from each other. I think it would’ve helped to theme them after the elements; have one take place under water or covered in snow, one have more lava pits and fire hazards, maybe implement a wind theme…anything but the same screens over and over. In this way, while Radical Rescue is easily the biggest and most involved of the TMNT’s Game Boy adventures, it also paradoxically feels the least innovative because it’s just not very engaging to plod from one dark cave to one mechanical hellscape and back again.
Enemies and Bosses:
As is to be expected, the Shredder’s Foot Soldiers are all over the place. Unlike in the TMNT’s last two Game Boy games, they’re a little bit more competent here; they mostly just wander around but the greater emphasis on horizontal and vertical exploration means they’re often in awkward places and the fact that they constantly respawn can make traversal a bit difficult at times. The Foot Soldiers will toss grenades at you (which you can destroy), wield pickaxes, and fly overhead with jetpacks to drop bombs on you, as well as try to run you down in large mine carts. You’ll also encounter little laser firing spider-like robots, these weird rock-like humanoids, and mechanical frog-like enemies that hop about and fire at you. Traditional TMNT enemies like Mousers and Roadkill Rodneys are absent here, replaced by swooping bats and an abundance of environmental hazards, such as homing missiles and spikes. Another area where Radical Rescue is a step back from its predecessors is its bosses; the game boasts only five boss battles, with all but one being some of the TMNT’s more obscure enemies (at least for me). Each one sports a health meter and each boss fight takes place in an enclosed arena that’s ripped right out of the Mega Man series (Capcom, 1987 to present).
The first boss I thought was Scratch, who jumps about, swipes at you up close, and hurls a ball and chain at you from a distance. Scratch very much sets the standard for Radical Rescue’s bosses in that they have quite large hit boxes, deal quick, heavy, and nigh-unavoidable damage up close, and you need to get into a bit of a rhythm to land an attack; rather then simply tank through their hits and whittle their health down, it’s better to keep your distance and play things smart, something that serves you well in the fight against Dirtbag. This mining mole dashes at you with a super annoying uppercut and swipes with his pickaxe, but will also leap into the air and stun you if you’re touching the ground when he is. It’s pretty hard to avoid him as he always aims to land on top of you, so you need to jump away and then quickly double back to hit him and then jump away again to avoid taking damage. I was probably getting the hang of the game by the time I fought the Triceraton as he actually seemed a bit easier; for this fight, stay out of his crosshairs and avoid the lighting bolt he fires out while being mindful of his charge attack, but otherwise he’s not too dissimilar from the Rocksteady and Bebop bosses of previous TMNT games.
Lastly, you’ll battle with Scale Tail, probably the most difficult of the four main bosses; Scale Tail lashes at you with his tail when you’re up close and spits a projectile at you that becomes a plume of fire. If you manage to avoid this, the snake will try to blow you into the hazard, though this is actually your best chance to attack him providing you can fight against the rush of air and avoid taking damage from his large hit box. After battling through the hazardous final section of the game, you’ll have to fight all four bosses again, one after the other, with no health items or reprieve between each bout! While this is easily one of the laziest gameplay mechanics of any game, I actually found the bosses a little easier the second time through, probably because I was more aware of their attack patterns and had a tried-and-tested strategy in mind for beating them. After defeating them all again, you’ll get to take on “Cyber Shredder” in a two-phase boss battle where he gets a whole new health bar after the first round while you get nothing, making for easily the toughest segment of the game. Shredder flies across the screen with a knee attack, levitates overhead and spams a diving kick, throws kicks at you up close, and launches an orb-like projectile that becomes a plume of fire. In the second phase of the fight, these flames are bigger, the Shredder gains an aerial projectile, and his attacks become faster and more aggressive.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Unfortunately, despite being a Metroidvania adventure, Radical Rescue doesn’t offer anything that new in terms of pick-ups and power-ups. Each turtle acts as a power-up in a way, offering new traversal options, but the best you’ll hope for in any tangible way is the odd slice of pizza dropped by defeated enemies to refill your health. Two new aspects though, are the ability to pick up and store a whole pizza, which will replenish your health bar when it’s drained (a literal lifesaver in boss rooms) and the ability to permanently extend your health bar by picking up hearts hidden throughout the game.
Another way Radical Rescue is a bit of a step back is the lack of any in-game options; there are no difficulty settings here, no bonus games, and the only real option available to players is to continue their progress with the password system. When playing the Cowabunga Collection, you’ll net a sweet 70G Achievement for completing the game; you can also check out the game’s box art and manuals, switch between the Japanese and American version, apply various borders and display options (including an LCD display to recreate the feeling of playing on the Game Boy’s eye-watering screen) and make use of a strategy guide for some helpful tips. While the only enhancement on offer is to activate helpful map icons, you can still rewind the game with the Left Bumper and access save states using Right Bumper, both of which are incredibly helpful during the game’s trickier platforming and boss sections.
I was completely caught off-guard by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue; I was not expecting it to be this sprawling Metroidvania-style game and it took me some time to come to terms with the dramatic genre shift compared to the more action-oriented TMNT games I’ve played. That’s not to say there’s a lack of combat here; you’ll still be busting plenty of heads, but the emphasis is much more on exploration, back-tracking, and thinking about how to get past obstacles and progress to new areas. In some ways, this is much appreciated; the game is surprisingly big, definitely offers something different from the TMNT’s usual games, and I liked that the TMNT each had their own abilities to help differentiate them. While I appreciate that it’s offering something different, it’s pretty tough to find your way around the repetitive environments and I’m unimpressed by the mine setting, as large as it is. There was also little incentive for me to switch between turtles, the bosses were unnecessarily troublesome at times, the inclusion of a boss rush was beyond lazy, and I don’t think the enemies, environments, or bosses really captured the depth of the TMNT license. Still, the gameplay wasn’t bad and it’s clear that Konami had finally come to grips with the Game Boy’s capabilities by this point so it’s probably worth another go-around as long as you play this version of the game, with all the handy features to get around its more frustrating aspects.
Could Be Better
Did you have Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue in your Game Boy library back in the day? What did you think to genre shift towards exploration and Metroidvania mechanics? Which character’s ability was your favourite and which one did you play as the most? What did you think the the game’s presentation and the boss battles? What’s your favourite Metroidvania title? Whatever you think about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue, feel free to share them in the comments below or leave your thoughts on my social media.
I never played this one. It’s still weird to say Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles