Monday, June 20, 2022

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES, 1989)

In 1989, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was approximately the coolest IP in the WORLD. I, and just about everyone I knew, watched the cartoon. We collected the action figures. We even ate the breakfast cereal, which had Turtle-shaped marshmallows. Everything Turtle-related was amazing. Everything, that is, except for this NES game.

It's the Turtles. All four of them are represented here, and you can switch between them on the fly. I like this game design, as it invites some strategy (switching one out when they're low health and switching them back in when a Heal Pizza presents itself, for example).

That's right. This game has pizzas for heals. Cowabunga!

The game begins! I'm in some sort of overhead-view overworld map. Is this Manhattan? Seems kind of... low-elevation.

I round the FIRST CORNER and immediately get chased by a currently-unbeatable bulldozer. What kind of game is this??

It bumps into Raphael and INSTA-KILLS HIM.

Luckily, we were able to get a doctor to the scene. Unfortunately, the doctor in question was WWE doctor Chris Amann. Raphael was 14.

When one turtle dies "gets caught", another can pop right up and take his place.

I go into the nearby manhole and finally reach a playable side-scrolling level. Leonardo here comes equipped with a short-range sword that does a fair amount of damage. The level itself is bland. Lots of those metal rat things from the cartoon show up. Ehh.

Is that a Foot Clan footsoldier? Hard to tell. As far as the gameplay, this feels like a broke man's Ninja Gaiden. Right now I'm using Michaelangelo, probably the worst character of the four in this game. Raphael is pretty bad too, with his miniscule range of attack.

One particularly big annoyance is that the screen has scrolling issues, so you often find yourself running right up against the edge with no way to see what's coming.

Backtracking and going forward again somewhat fixes the problem, at least.

ProTip for youngsters: That's also how to have sex.

There's April O'Neil. She's a sassy redheaded reporter who should never be played by raven-haired Megan Fox in anything. Regardless, a boss fight follows with Bebop the warthog, seen here charging our hero. I always thought Rocksteady was the stronger of the two goons, and this game does nothing to dispel that notion by putting the relatively easy Bebop first. Meanwhile, Rocksteady makes sure that April doesn't try any false moves. Wouldn't it make more sense to jump down and help Bebop?

 Finally, I reach a non-sewer area after several sewer traverses. Is this a mirage?? Is there truly a non-sewer level in this game?

Oh no! All the turtles are down except Donatello. What good can "the smart one" possibly be in a combat situation if the others couldn't get it done?

 ...a lot of good, actually. Donatello's bo staff is the best weapon in the game. The only weapon that really has reach, it also does enough damage to stop most foes in their tracks. By my count it does twice as much damage as Leonardo's weapon.

 If you run out of turtles in the warehouse, you have to go through the sewer and fight Bebop again. Yargh. Surprised to see that the game apparently has unlimited continues.

 Next boss: A frog-man. I don't remember this guy from the show! Did they not have enough bosses to go around with the 62 villains that already exist in the TMNT universe?

 I take yet another loss, this one at the hands of some sort of fire monster. I couldn't fight off all of these little flames because they essentially had me stun-locked.

Next boss: Rocksteady. In a situation no doubt very familiar to the feisty redhead*, April is still tied up.

* - Because redheads are wild.

They should make April playable. I'd play a game with playable April.

Rocksteady jump kicks April right in the face! That son of a bitch! He'll pay for that...eventually.

After barely besting the rambunctious rhinoceros (there's a line that'd be at home in Nintendo Power), I free April. So... the game is finished, right?

Nope, it's just getting started. Next stop is the Hoover Dam, where our heroes have to disarm bombs.

With that, this site just got flagged by Homeland. Thanks a lot, TMNT.

Before the bomb section is the dam interior. Or as I call it, "the damn interior".

Sometimes you get shuriken powerups that let you fire a limited number of long-range shurikens. The difficulty usually drops considerably while that powerup lasts, leading me to conclude that most of the challenge comes from the comically short weapons of most of the characters. You nearly have to bump up against foes to defeat them. This is why Donatello excels.

Victory in this game comes down to being good at playing Donatello. That and maps...lots of maps.

Some of the jumps are really tedious to make, mostly because the ceiling is RIGHT THERE. How are you supposed to do this without getting knocked back down and probably concussed in the process?

 Oh come on! This one is even worse! This isn't TMNT, it's Massive Headwound Harry's origin story.

At least, I conquer the dam. I might as well call it a day here and move on to the next game. Wait, what's Raph doing? He's...he's going to the edge! Don't do it, Raph! You have too much to live for, man!


...oh, that leads to the next stage. This is the infamous "disarm the bombs" water level. Those electric traps look like they're straight out of Elec Man's stage in the original Mega Man.

This stage is infamous because it has a timer and lots of environmental hazards to slow you down, but honestly I didn't find it all that first. I got five, maybe six of the eight bombs on my very first try.

And then... 

 ...I met my match with this narrow tunnel full of murder seaweed. That's right, the pink weeds here are electric and KILL YOU.

Note: Murder seaweed has no relation to "Murder Grandpa" Minoru Suzuki


Well, I'm pretty much done playing this, but lemme see if I can just get past this stage...

 YES! Got the last one. The electric seaweed room (and this one after it) was HORRIBLE to deal with. The fact that you're on a timer makes it even worse, because you can't take your time with these ridiculous tunnels.

After that ordeal, the Turtles return home to find the place in shambles and Splinter missing. Damn you, Foot Clan!

 Shredder has Splinter captive! Time to hurry to the Technodrome?

 ...nope, just the streets again. Now I'm in the Turtle Van (I think) and can actually destroy the bulldozers. So...where to?

 ...because that map sure as hell doesn't help. I DON'T EVEN KNOW.

This is a terrible game, all things considered. The difficulty is way too high, even for an NES game. The fighting mechanics are brutal to contend with. It plays like a bad version of Ninja Gaiden, as I mentioned. I like the idea of being able to switch between turtles on the fly, but that one great idea is surrounded by a barely-playable game.


At this point I waited a year and restarted the game, this time being careful to avoid losing Donatello. We rejoin my next run in progress at the same point:

Stage 3 equips you with the Turtle Van, which means you can now blast those weird bulldozers. They respawn, but at least you can fight back in some way.

This next part is a nasty bit of game design. There's a pit that you need to jump over, but it's so close to the ceiling that... can't, and every time you fall through, the enemies down there respawn.

The solution is to WALK over the space. Yes, you can walk over single-tile pits in this game. Who knew? This gets me a missile. No Metroid item-get jingle, sadly.

The good news about level 3 is that you only need that one missile to get to the end. Missiles let you destroy these roadblocks, and each missile obtained gives you ten. Typically you need two missiles to take out a roadblock, but if you fire at the center you can take out both blocks at once. You need between 6 and 8 missile shots to get to the boss if you go straight there, don't waste shots, and follow a map.

Oh boy, I can't wait to try and make THAT jump. There are two possible jump heights in this game: Tap the button to do what is more or less a normal game leap where you soar through the air, and hold the button to do a super-leap where you crash into the ceiling. These areas help you get very good at gingerly, carefully tapping.

Here's the most difficult boss fight in the game: A two-fer where you have to fight Mechaturtle in two forms. First, he looks like one of your Turtles. This form is easy to defeat if you know the trick: Go to the right and jump up on that platform. From there, it'll repeatedly jump and attack, but you can jump and stab downward each time it does to do damage without being hit back.

Take out that form and Mechaturtle comes back with a jetpack. This form is significantly more difficult since there's no safe way to defeat it. The only way is to be careful and keep a distance. Definitely the most difficult fight in the game, which is funny because it's after what might be the easiest level.

Win, and Mechaturtle's third form is SPLINTER! My God, he has taken the form of our mas- ...oh, wait, that's actually Splinter.

Level four is some kind of military base. It's more of the same, an overworld with doors leading to side-scrolling areas.

The first objective here is to find a Grappling Hook, which creates bridges over some huge pits to let you proceed. Knowing where the Hook is in advance helps a lot. Again, maps are the key to this game.

Every so often the screen will lock and you'll have to fight a "miniboss" with a life meter, but these are always just regular enemies. You'd think maybe they're stronger versions with more health, but NOPE. What's the point of these fights?

Man, they don't make these overworld maps easy to read. Level 4 is particularly maze-like, with lots of entrances/exits leading to different areas. It's a lot like Death Mountain from Zelda II.

There are a couple of really awful game mechanics in this level, like magnets that pull you when you jump, with no real rhyme or reason (they pull you when you're not lined up with them and don't when you are)...

...rampant spikes and lava pits combined with conveyor belts...

...and worst of all, these spiked walls that are right up there with the death-lasers in Mega Man 2. Once they start converging, you have basically ZERO leeway time to start moving and get to the bottom of the screen in time. It doesn't help that the controls are terrible; dropping through the spaces in the floor is a matter of standing still on them rather than jumping down or anything that you might expect. It's a crapshoot as to whether or not you make it to the end in time, even if you do everything perfectly on a particular attempt. Doesn't help at all that this room is at the end of the level, where you have the most to lose.

Survive all of that and it's time for a boss fight with the Giant Mouser. This thing is kinda impressive-looking, and at first it seems like a real challenge. It summons mousers to attack and fires eye-lasers that track your movement.

The good news is that it's actually extremely easy once you realize that the eye lasers can't really fire downwards. Stand right below it and they're nullified. From there, just jab upward to take out the mouser adds that it dispenses, and time some jumping attacks to hit it in the head. Easy.

Now, we take the Turtle Blimp to level 5. This game is mercifully almost over.

Level 5...looks like another military base, but it's night-time now. The base is patrolled by drones, but I don't know what happens if they spot you. They're easy enough to avoid. Presumably if a drone catches you, you get subjected to a hologram of Shredder ranting at you like Broken Matt Hardy.

The side-scrolling parts of level 5 are cavernous, and feature some weird new enemies. Range attacks are great here if you've saved up some Ninja Scrolls (throw a wave of energy) or Throwing Stars.

At this point the level design gets pretty wonky, with rooms like this ladder-fest. You can't defend yourself while on a ladder, and it's a huge recipe for frustration when the game has clouds of enemies descend on you the moment you climb onto a new screen.

Weapons and pizza are in the building? Well what are we waiting for?

Level 5 is interesting because there are a few different dungeons that the boss could be in, and it's randomly determined in each game. If you have... a way to save, this is significantly easier. You can save on the overworld and reload it each time you finish a dungeon until you find the one that the boss is actually in.

The boss in question is none other than the iconic TECHNODROME. Somehow I feel like it should be bigger than this, but I'll take it. This is pretty awesome.

I imagine this can be a difficult fight if you get here without any ranged weapons, but I arrived with a few Ninja Scrolls left. The last couple of levels give you tons of them. This let me take out the Technodrome's gun pods and frontal electric-fork-thing from a safe distance.

Once the various weapons are disabled, it's a simple matter to jump on the treads and whack the Technodrome's visibly-stoned eye-head with jumping attacks. Just be careful not to roll off the treads and get run over.

Finally, level 6 begins by having you immediately attacked from both sides by these incredibly annoying jetpack enemies. Oh, and NO HEAL between levels. On the bright side, this is the final level. No overworld here.

Splinter believes in our heroes! The non-Donatello trio have taken some punishment, since I use them to get through difficult areas where I might not be able to avoid taking significant damage.

The final section of the level is a hallway full of jetpack goons. It goes on...

...and on. Took like a half hour to get through this one hallway, since the jetpack goons immediately respawn if you so much as glance in the other direction. Have to edge forward very cautiously to avoid getting ganked by them when they fly onto the screen. If you jump right before one appears, they'll fly onto the screen, fire one shot, and immediately leave.

At the end of that long, tedious hallway... miniboss fight with a jetpack goon. Again, I don't know what the point of these "miniboss fights" is. This one is particularly annoying since you have to fight it in a room, so all of the usual tricks for getting rid of these guys are out the window.

At last, the final battle with Shredder. You can sorta see him up top there. This room is WAY too noisy visually.

He can be beaten with five Ninja Scrolls, and winning is a simple matter of standing on the upper right platform to prompt him to jump onto the center platform. Hit him there to knock him back down, and more often than not he'll just repeat the same ineffectual movement pattern.

Even without using Ninja Scrolls, he's easy to beat with Donatello. Just do the same thing, knocking him off the center platform. Gotta say, the bosses in this game were waaaaay easier than the stages...

Wait, what? Pokevolving into his human form!

Behold! Human Splinter! By God!

Now April is going to go back to HER human form as well!

Wait, what?

::a zipping sound is heard::

::high-pitched screaming::


  1. Stuff Not From the Actual Franchise, The Game. Back to the Future was worse, but that was LJN. Konami has no excuse.

    "Oh come on! This one is even worse! This isn't TMNT, it's Massive Headwound Harry's origin story." LOL

    Don't worry, there's plenty of us who grew up with this game and hate it now more than ever. ...because I want the time I spent playing this back.

    If you haven't done it yet, let the title screen play the intro, it's actually great. The game should just stop after it, that's all.

  2. The site looks great on a mobile phone, mad props on that.
    I remember feeling jealousy when I went to a friend's house and saw he had this game. Now I know that I needn't have.
    Games where the hero's sword is too small always bring frustration. See also Lagoon.
    The game tries to make NYC an environment, which is a great idea, but weirdly, it's an NYC with no congestion or people or interesting things at all.
    Cowabunga is a great catch phrase that needs to make a comeback!

  3. I played these crappy games as a kid. Because I was a kid and didn't understand "quality", I really enjoyed them.
    Other games I enjoyed that were actually good(If I remember correctly) include that game where you play as a tank and destroy all the other tanks...or did you have to destroy points on the map? It might have also been 1 tank vs 1 tank...I don't know. All I know is it was on the NES with tanks that were of varying colors. God I miss that game, I wanna remember what it was. :C

    Oh, and Kirby's nightmare in Dreamland. Pretty much my very first game. Speaking of which, do you remember yours?

    1. I was just thinking about how I liked this as a kid because I didn't know any better.

      The tank game sounds familiar but I can't place it.

      My first game was, incidentally, Kirby's Dream Land. The very first Kirby, I believe. I'm going to do some more Kirby stuff on here some time.

    2. Actually, the tank game is probably Jackal.

  4. "You can just... walk over it. ........"


    First time I've ever seen the ending.

  5. I spent an aburdly long amount of time paying attention to how the heroes work. Even as a kid I knew Mikey's chucks were dangerous if he lost half his health. What I didn't konw is every turtle except Raph and every special weapon except the boomerang benefits from the half health situation. So Raph was given bottom tier as he does 3rd best damage full health and bottom tier damage at half health but has the worst range of all Turtles. Talk about totally screwed. Leo does 3rd best damage at half health but is bottom tier at full health. Only thing saving him is his massive attack range- it doesn't look like it but he can hit above and below him as far as Don can, plus he can hit things while standing up. I would have given Raph 2nd best damage and best damage while half health if I were balancing this game.

    1. Yeah, the devs screwed Raph, no doubt. It's interesting how much actually went into the programming of this game. You'd think the Turtles would have been more equal. If attack distance is the main difference between them, then their damage should be adjusted in compensation. Raph could have done the most damage by a good margin with Don and Leo doing the least for balance. One could argue that Leo's weapons should be the most damaging canon-wise, and in that case let Raph strike the fastest while being second-place on damage IMO. I'd have done it like this, and left out the half-health stuff entirely:

      Leo: 1st on damage, 4th on strike speed, 2nd on range
      Raph: 2nd on damage, 1st on strike speed, 4th on range
      Mike: 3rd on damage, 2nd on strike speed, 3rd on range (The average character)
      Don: 4th on damage, 3rd on strike speed, 1st on range

      This would be the closest you could get to achieving balance IMO.

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