Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Virtual Console Review

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Originally released for NES, June 1989
Wii Points: 600 ($6)
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When I was eight or nine years old, I wanted an NES. Unfortunately, my mother did not share in my love for video games, so she would not buy one for me. Instead, she offered a deal--I do household chores and earn money to buy the console myself, and she would pay the tax an get me my first game (not including the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt combo cartridge, of course). I scrimped and saved, doing all sorts of menial tasks for cents and the occasional dollar. At long last, after nine months of excruciating labor, I went with my mother into a local K-Mart to get my Nintendo Entertainment System along with the game of my choice--Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I was a big fan, and so made the decision to buy the game sight unseen. It had the Turtles, after all; how could it possibly be bad?

After not even five minutes of play, that game almost made my nine months of hard work seem like a waste of time.

The first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video game allows you to play as any one of the fearsome foursome on the fly in your quest to save April and, later on, Master Splinter. Each of the turtles' weapons has different properties that lend a bit of strategy to the game. Donatello's bo staff is slow but powerful; Leonardo's katana blades have moderate reach; Michaelangeo's nunchucks are fast but weak; and Raphael is just terrible, as his sais are slow and offer almost no range whatsoever. If one Turtle loses too much life, you can simply press Start and bring in another of the four brothers until you can find pizza to heal your comrade. It is a fun mechanic, and the only fun this game has to offer.

What makes this game bad is primarily the insane difficulty. It is a Ninja Turtles game, and thus designed for kids, yet it is all but impossible to complete. Even now, at twenty-five years old, I still could not finish the game, though I made it farther than I did in my youth. Its enemies have the annoying 2D game sidescroller habit of respawning after being killed. This made some stages especially difficult if the player had to backtrack for some reason, such as deciding to retrieve an item or missing a crucial jump--and miss them you will. Many areas of the game feature tricky jumps that players need to make in order to grab weapons, eat pizza to restore health, or progress through the stage.

It is simple enough in theory, yet the jump mechanic has a plethora of collision problems. In some cases, the player will have to jump in between two horizontal beams to snatch an item balanced on one of them, and even though the sprite is clearly aligned properly, it is as though the player has jumped into an invisible wall and cannot squeeze in between the two ledges. Holding jump causes the turtle to roll into a ball and flip through the air, yet not even this basketball-sized amphibian can fit in between the beams despite the obvious ample space offered. Another example is a small pit on the top floor of a warehouse. The player cannot jump properly, as his head will hit the ceiling and fall through the hole, which results in backtracking to try again. How do you successfully navigate this treacherous terrain? You just walk across the hole. That's right, you don't jump, you just walk right across.

Perhaps the most difficult scenario in the game occurs when the turtles have to disarm bombs that the Foot Clan has rigged throughout the city dam. The player is given two minutes and twenty seconds to swim through a trap-infested underwater area and deactivate seven bombs, which would be easy were it not for the traps. They exist absolutely everywhere. If you touch seaweed, you lose a life. Electric fences guard every bomb. Spinning fire wheels--yes, underwater--slap you around as you swim by while innocently going about your business of saving an unsuspecting city. The seaweed is the worst, as it is positioned in most areas so that the player cannot help but be caught. The only way to finish this area is to switch turtles on the fly, saving Leonardo and Donatello for last, as they are the most powerful. By the time I was finished, three out of my four turtles barely had any hit points left, which made the next few areas a struggle to stay sane.

It is too bad that Konami released this rather than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game, also published on NES, as that was a nearly perfect arcade port of arguably the most successful Ninja Turtles game ever released. I would have even settled for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project--instead we get this, the original and worst Turtles game ever made. I wish I could quote the Angry Video Game Nerd's opinion of this game, but I value my job, so I'll just say instead that this game is terrible. It is absolutely not worth your money, and it is certainly not a dollar more valuable than any other NES game available for download on the Virtual Console.

Go back for our review of Dragon's Curse.

Long Reads Editor

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