Not being an ’80s kid, I wasn’t fully exposed to the TMNT phenomenon gripping the nation. Sure, I saw the movies and such after the fact, and I appreciated them. And maybe not growing up with the Turtles had an effect on my reaction to this game; namely, lukewarm. Or maybe it’s the extreme difficulty. This is the infamous Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for NES. And no, not the awesome arcade beat ‘em up. Developed by Konami and published by their North American arm, Ultra Games, in 1989, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles definitely deserves its reputation as a difficult game, but not necessarily a terrible one.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is based on the ’80s TV series, with some comic influences. The plot involves Shredder (who else), and gives a reason for platforming action. Difficult platforming action. The game has some similarities to Zelda II in the form of a top-view overworld transitioning to sidescrolling action. But in the case of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, with more annoying platforming and difficulty.
Part of the problem with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is in accidental difficulty, stemming from a lack of foresight in design. This is obviously the worst form of difficulty, and it comes in the form of certain platforming sections. The Turtles can actually jump quite high. Problem is, some levels require a jump near a ceiling. And the result is the Turtle hitting the ceiling, what appears and feels to be sticking, and falling back to the lower area of the level. And who knows, maybe that wasn’t accidental. Maybe the designers have a sick sense of humor.
But beyond that, the game is definitely difficult by design, with a lot of enemies taking multiple hits from a Turtle. Luckily, the player is able to switch between all four Turtles at any time. This feature fades from novelty to necessity once you realize that each Turtle’s weapon is actually different in combat, and that health management is key. Once a Turtle is low on health, it is probably a smart idea to switch him out until sighting a fitting pizza health pick-up. Especially because the game requires one sitting to beat, devoid of a password and save system. A game over puts you back at the beginning of the area, and you obviously don’t want that happening. But, hey, at least there are some special weapon pick-ups that help…a little.
But beyond gameplay, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’s presentation is fairly solid. Sprites look pretty good, although I do have to question some of the enemy designs. I mean, were there upside down pods with legs in the show? I really don’t know.
But I do know that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles certainly earns its reputation. As a terrible game? No, but its difficulty doesn’t really make me want to play it. It’s a fairly average, hard game, unlike Ninja Gaiden, a great, hard game. So if you want to cry out in frustration while playing an NES game, play that.