Written by  :  ETJB (450)
Written on  :  May 28, 2014
Platform  :  NES
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars
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Go Ninja, go Ninja go!

The Good

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) is the first in a series of NES games based on the popular TMNT franchise. As the first entry in the game series it will inevitable be compared, unfavorably, to the later TMNT video games. I think that some of this criticism is indeed unfair.

Where as most subsequent TMNT games opted for a straight-forward, hack n' slash, beat-em up along the lines of Double Dragon or Golden Axe, this first TMNT video game gets a bit more creative in terms of gameplay.

TMNT combines a healthy dosage of blistered thumbs action, rudimentary sand box concepts and cerebral adventure game puzzles. To be successsful in this TMNT game you have to be the sort of well-balanced, ninja who can do more then just kill.

An early underwater level forces you to carefully swim around deadly seeweed, while disarming a series of bombs. If you simply treat this as a standard hack n' slash, beat-em up game, you will not be able to survive this level or most other levels.

Later levels in TMNT encourage you to explore – on foot or by vehicle – fairly urban locations. The early sand box concept is quite nice for a NES game and forces the player to do more then just kill everything in sight.

Yes, this game has no shortage of arcade action. The side-scrolling, arcade action format is utilized whenever you enter a building, in the sand box world, the sewers or, in the game's climax, when you go inside the dreaded Technodrome.

TMNT allows you to switch between the Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello and Raphael during the game's action. In the NES each of the turtles has some different advantages and disadvantages, which adds a layer of adventure game strategy to the arcade action.

For example, Donatello's weapon has the longest reach, but other turtles may start out with more hit points or have weapons that are better at close range fighting.

When one of the heroes dies, he really only gets “captured”. Maybe this was a necessary concession to get the game approved by Nintendo's censorship board.

The “Big N” (as gamers use to refer to Nintendo) wanted to make sure that any game designed for a Nintendo system, even if it was designed by a third party developer, had a “family friendly” level of video game violence. If such a thing actually exists.

However, it does add more strategy to the game because you can locate and rescue a turtle. The sand box overhead levels have the main missions that you need to complete to beat the level, but they also have some side or optional quests – like saving a fallen turtle.

TMNT features some nice graphics and animation for a NES game that was probably designed in the late 1980s. Likewise, the game features some nice music and sound effects for an early NES game.

The basic storyline involves you trying to rescue April O'Neil and, after she is rescued, Master Splinter from Shredder.

It is not terrible too complicated, but it serves its purpose for an early video game.

While the TMNT game's artwork reflects its original comic book days, the original graphic TMNT graphic novels were probably too gritty and mature for the Nintendo censors.

The sanitized, "family friendly" TMNT T.V. cartoon series that was airing at the time (probably in its first or second season when the game was being developed) didn't give the game's developers too many more workable story ideas.

The Bad

TMNT for the NES is not without its faults and these are the sort of faults that are probably tolerated much less by younger generations of gamers.

For starters, TMNT is too difficult for most younger gamers who were introduced to the franchise through the cartoon series (and its toy line). The level of difficulty is not just high, but sometimes annoyingly so.

For example, the controls for the underwater level seem to have been borrowed from the first Super Mario Brothers NES game. This is simply absurd way to design the level.

I do not want to insult anyone because of their age, size or ability. I also realize that it is just a video game and not reality.

However, one would think that a highly trained, young ninja turtle would swim better then a middle-aged, well-fed, plumber. At any rate, TMNT makes it very, very, very difficult to make careful and precise movements underwater.

Now in Super Mario Brothers this difficult is not as much of a problem because your character has an offensive weapon while underwater and is not trapped in fairly claustrophobic conditions.

In contrast, the TMNT underwater level requires you to carefully swim around in a very small and tight environment.

The TMNT underwater level is loaded with sea weed and bombs. The sea weed rapidly takes away hit points if you touch it, which, given the poor underwater control design, tends to happen more often then not.

The bombs will explode, unless you can quickly disarm them all. Yet, finding the bombs requires you to carefully swim through tight, underwater paths admist an orgy of deadly sea weed and without the use of any weapons.

Logically, the TMNT – even the sanitized cartoon Turtles – would have enough training to not only swim better, but cut up sea weed into little piceas. Heck, the Turtles live in a large, urban sewer!

Beyond just this particular level, the main faults with the game tend to involve seemingly minor game play problems, which rapidly increase the game's frustration level.

Most of the side-scrolling levels take place indoors, and oftentimes your hero will come into contact with a roof, which creates more tight, platforming levels.

Hence, while each playable character can easily jump and the animation used is quite good, oftentimes you do not have room to jump. This can be frustrating when you have to make very, very precise jumps or else your character will fall down a few of the building's levels and have to retrace his steps.

The icons scattered throughout the game are helpful – i.e. pizza can restore some hit points, rope can help you cross certain rooftops.

I have to say that I do wish that later TMNT video games featured the cool boomerangs, shuriken and magical fireballs. These projectile weapons are necessary to complete the game and allow the player to do more then just hack and slash.

However, very little pizza can be found in the game itself, and you oftentimes have to risk losing more hit points just to grab the pizza icon. Similiarly, the rope is necessary to complete one puzzle in the game, and again, there is not a lot of extra rope icons in the game.

While the projectile weapons are nice, only the bare minimum of these icons are scattered throughout the levels.

This tends to undermine the exploratory and experimental elements necessary for a successful adventure game or sand box .

Simply put, if you “waste” any of the weapons or pizza found in the game, will not be able get anywhere in the later levels. This is especially noticeable in the final level inside the Technodrome.

All of the TMNT enemies constantly reswpan and often require several direct hits to kill. This means that having to retrace your steps, because you missed a platform, is all the more frustrating.

It also means that your precious hit points tend to go pretty fast fighting what should be rather minor evil minions.

This makes it even harder to have the strength needed to take on the bosses. much less the final battle inside the Technodrome.

Unless you have a certain number of very healthy Turtles, and unless you have certain number of projectiles, especially the magical fireballs, you will likely be unable to make it very far in the final level, much less defeat Shredder.

Once all of your turtles die (or get “captured”), it is Game Over. Period. The first TMNT NES, unlike its sequels, does not have hidden Easter Eggs that give the player extra lives or a level select option.

Even if they did, it is pretty much impossible to beat the final level unless you collected lots of the powerful projective weapons in previous levels and (while doing that) have managed to keep all of your heroes healthy and strong.

The Bottom Line

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the Nintendo Entertainment System features some nice, 8-bit graphics, animation, music and sound effects, especially when you consider that this was designed in the early days of the NES system. It adds in some basic sand box and strategy adventure gaming elements to keep the arcade action from growing stale. This is probably one of the most difficult games designed for the NES and sometimes the level of difficulty is more frustrating then fun. Highly skilled players, willing to tolerate the game's rough spots, will enjoy the game.