Evil. Nostalgic Evil.
As far as "Turtle" games go (outside of the arcade, anyway), this was one of my most-played adventures with the green foursome. The graphics were accurate to the characters, the story felt more in line with the comic than the cartoon, and it's one of the few games that allows players to use the Turtle Wagon (running over Foot Clan members was morbidly amusing) as well as alternate weapons outside of the character's signature combat choices.
The graphics gave accurate depictions of the characters, and a nice diversity in levels. The game treated character "deaths" more seriously, as a downed member was removed from the team. Fortunately, players can hunt down and free a captured teammate, giving another chance to continue the game.
The game had a decent storyline as well. Typical for the Turtle mythos, but unfolded well within the premise of the game via nicely detailed cinematics (still new and novel for the time).
Where does the "evil" in my review header come from? Anyone who has ever played this game should know: The Dam Level. Trying to diffuse the bombs in the time allowed, with loose control and questionable collision on the seaweed was an exercise in madness, and clearly too difficult for the target audience. It was possible to get through, but it was not a "fun" level.
The game itself was very hard, and in most cases unforgiving. Keeping all four Turtles healthy was a difficult task in later levels, and it was not out of the question to lose one Turtle after another due to not finding health, powerful enemies, or just being surrounded with no escape. The final battle with Shredder was a joke as one hit could kill a Turtle, and continues were limited as is.
The characters themselves were unbalanced. Donatello was a powerhouse. While slow, he had a reach that was almost vital to the completion of many areas. If he was knocked out, the game's difficulty definitely became more challenging as he could no longer reach higher level enemies. Raphael, on the other hand, was fairly useless with his limited range. Control over the characters seemed spotty at times, especially when jumping.
Being a more straightforward adventure, the game is one-player only, but in regard to the game's adventure-based design, having four Turtles on one screen would be a mess.
The Bottom Line
When this title was released, "Turtle-Mania" was in full effect, and early issues of Nintendo Power promising a "Turtles" game was too good to be true.
Getting the game on the other hand, was a mixed experience. As a player, you wanted to love it, but for a kid, there were sections that were fairly ruthless. Too powerful enemies, questionable control issues especially with jumping puzzles, unbalanced characters, and that Dam Level.... It's still referenced within my circle as one of the most hated NES levels ever.
And yet, there were parts that I did like about this game. Once you got past some of the problem areas, there were some genuine moments of fun and enjoyment in searching through the levels.
It's hard to say if childhood nostalgia blinds me enough to the flaws the game had. I may give this game a try after all this time, as it is rumored to come to the Wii's Virtual Console soon. This title is not based on either of the arcade games, which were the strongest titles in Konami's "TMNT" franchise. And on the same note, the NES game can't seem to decide whether it wants to follow the comic or cartoon series more. But it does offer some interesting gameplay additions that would have been nice to have seen explored in future installments.
Worth a try for a platformer/Turtle fan, but just keep your patience in check. You're going to need it.