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SummaryUnderrated gem of the TMNT franchise
The GoodAs a kid in the late 80s and early 90s the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were everywhere, and while their popularity has continued to persist to this day, nothing will truly match the turtlemania of that era. Or maybe the current popularity is greater as there is a sizable bunch of both children who love the newer stuff and adults who want to leave no stone unturned when it comes to the franchise.
That being said, the game surprisingly received almost no coverage among nostalgic gamers, and I’m not sure why. While this is an MS-DOS exclusive, there is still a sizable MS-DOS community that talks about the most obscure of games of the era. But this game gets surprisingly little coverage. As of 2022 there is only one video on YouTube that reviews it to any extent, and barely any written reviews, so I decided to give my own take on this underrated gem.
Be warned, there are extensive spoilers ahead.
The game begins with a very cinematic and captivating story showing the Turtle’s origins, with April O’Neil being attacked the Shredder’s minions, but the Turtles arrive in the nick of time and beat them up, and are aided by the timely appearance of Casey Jones (this is Casey’s first appearance in a TMNT video game) before they vanish without a trace. The game then explains their origins with the ooze that mutated both them and Splinter into the form that they are now. While also explaining how Splinter acquired his ninja skills by imitating his master’s movements when he was just a normal rat.
The absolute highlight of the introduction is the small sound byte that the Turtles give. When they speak their first word as ‘pizza’ the word is very audible and clear, which for 1991 was still a novelty and I remember being excited by it.
After the intro, you are thrust into the game with the four turtles dressed very casually (Mikey and Ralph don’t have their masks on, but Mikey has sunglasses with orange earpieces, while Ralph has the fedora that he wore in the first movie) and watching the news, where April gives you updates on your mission.
From that point on, you can either go directly to the missions, or you can train your ninjas. This is actually very good for newbies to the game because the enemies can be annoying to deal with if you don’t know what you’re up against. It also offers opportunities to grind your stats before actually starting the game. If you have an hour or two to burn, you can actually max out your Turtles’ stats before even starting the game, making everything much easier.
The game itself offers over 16 stages with a variety of enemies and scenery. The graphics are nice for the time, and the comic book style of the cut scenes offers some nice illustrations on the events unfolding before you. Some enemies you face make their debut here outside of the comics, such as the Triceratons. While the Triceratons would later feature more prominently in the 2003 series and later video games, they are actually absent from all TMNT media except for one single episode of the 1987 series… and this game. It is actually an interesting fact here since at the time I thought they were exclusive to this game.
The 16 missions are broken down into 5 sections: Triceratons, Extortion, Ivory Smugglers, Environment, and Arms Dealers.
The Triceratons start with you thwarting a bank robbery (come on, where are the police?) and then proceeding to beat up large Triceratop guys (who are, save for the final bosses, completely unarmed) and follow them through the city to figure out that they work for the Shredder and are responsible for his security. Which you use to shut off at the end.
Extortion is a set that features Baxter Stockman’s mousers trying to undermine the World Trade Center (this is both pre-9/11 and pre-1993 bombing) before you defeat them and Baxter’s mutant crocodile… thing. The following mission has you face off against the foot ninjas with Tatsu as the boss, followed by Rocksteady in the third and final mission, who blurts out that there is a secret entrance to the Shredder’s not-so-hidden base in the sewer (gee, how convenient!)
Ivory smugglers is… the least interesting, save for the fact that Beebop is the first boss and the final mission includes some unique enemies that look like they took their fashion advice out of Miami Vice (guys! It’s 1991, not 1985. Get on with the times!)
Actually, scratch that, Arms dealers is the least interesting, with the exception of the first two missions that feature mutant felines (which may or may not have originated in the comics of the time) there is not much to it. At least this set has the only regular enemies to be armed with firearms, but their bullets are so weak they might as well be airsoft pistols.
Environment has you prevent arson at first, which leads up to stopping toxic waste dumping and preventing an oil tanker from being blown up.
All of these culminate with you finding out that the Shredder is hiding in a skyscraper and all the bits and pieces you get from the mission sets allow you to enter.
The battle leading up to the Shredder confrontation is the most interesting part of the game. Before you face off, you have to fight four enemies, each one with the same weapon as the Turtles (I.E. Bo staff, nunchakus, sais, katanas) and I always like to pair them in order to prove the superiority of the turtles over their adversaries.
The final battle with the Shredder is… lackluster. I’m not going to lie. I should save this for the ‘what I didn’t like’ about the game, but I’ll say it here. The Shredder is actually one of the easier bosses in the game. Not the easiest… but easier.
With the plot out of the way, I’ll bring up the gameplay.
The gameplay in the game is very basic. But I mean that in a good way. Like the turtles have no less than 5 attacks, with the cool thing being that their attacks go double once you raise their stats enough (and you must also have enough health). This allows you to attack two enemies at once as they approach you and have a better chance at fending them off. The attack animation is very nice and it’s actually really fun to see them do their doubles once you’ve reached that level.
The controls are fairly decent, but the jump control is extremely fluid and one of the best controlled jumps I’ve seen in a video game. It is good that it is, for reasons I will mention later.
The game’s difficult is also not that high. I’ve heard of people complain that it is too difficult, but I really can’t say I know what they’re talking about. Once you understand the combat and a handful of simple tricks, the game becomes fairly simple. It isn’t so easy that you just get bored, but easy enough that you cannot get frustrated.
The BadThe part where I mentioned that the final confrontation with the Shredder is too easy? Yeah, that’s not a joke. Also if you have a maxed out Turtle and a few shurikens, you can absolutely pull an Indiana Jones on him and hit him three times to create an anti-climactic ending. Many bosses are actually this way, with some having minor bugs that prevent them from being beaten (albeit they also cannot beat you).
In all fairness, the game doesn’t have that much to complain about. It is a fairly solid game for 1991. Though there are some things I wish were addressed.
Firstly, in the training section, you cannot fight the enemies that will give you the most trouble. I mentioned that the final Ivory Smugglers stage actually has some of the hardest enemies in the game. The tonfa fighters and chair swinging brawlers are a pain and deal a lot of damage, yet they are not included to be trained on. They do include the mousers and the jumping robot even though the jumping robots are so easy to bypass it isn’t funny, and the mousers just aren’t something to concern yourself with (even a starting turtle will have no problem going through the first Extortion stage, which is their only appearance).
The most singularly difficult enemy you have to fight is the spear-armed foot ninja. Even when fighting him 1-on-1 if you are using a short-range turtle like Mikey or Ralph, you’ll take a lot of damage from one before you take them out, which is why I honestly just stock up on shuriken and take them out that way instead of bothering.
Although the controls are good in general, there is one very irritating part that you don’t seem to have any control over… the ladders. Once you start climbing a ladder there is no consistent way you can get off the ladder in the direction you want. In Arms Dealers 1 this is an annoying problem since the first ladder you climb on that level will often have your back turned to an enemy, and you will absolutely take a LOT of damage before you turn around and draw your weapons and fight… shurikens won’t help here much since they’ll go past that short lynx clubber.
There is another flaw that I find more confusing than bad, but I wish it was addressed… Casey Jones. When you start the game, after the intro, you have the option of choosing whether you want Casey Jones on or off. So what’s the problem? He doesn’t seem to do anything. If you turn him on, and your turtle is defeated, there is a cool little animation where he picks up the turtle to rescue them… but that’s it.
If it is turned off, nothing happens. I originally thought that if Casey Jones was off and all your turtles got injured it was game over, while if it was on you can still rest your turtles before going back to fight. This isn’t the case. If your turtles are defeated you go back to the home menu and you can choose to rest your turtles regardless of whether or not Casey Jones rescued them or not.
There is even some animation of Casey Jones fighting in the intro cinematic. Did the developers originally intend him to be a playable character at one point? Or even have him show up randomly to help you with the enemies? That would have been handy in some stages that were loaded with foot ninja, but that isn’t the case. He does not show up at all.
I mentioned that it is good that the jump controls are so good? Because that brings me to the only really annoying part of the game. There are two jumping sections in the game where if you make a single mistake, your turtle gets injured right off the bat. That is on Environment 2 where you need to grab a rope that involves jumping on some pillars, and another one in the final mission. While the one in the final mission is easier, these jumping sections just don’t feel necessary. They feel annoying and if you fall you get knocked out and need to take time to rest your turtle. I suppose the one in the ending mission might be justified to add some tension, but it is unneeded tension, especially since that mission provides you with enough shuriken to take out all the foot ninjas without having to battle them.
Those are the flaws that I complain about. There are some things that I wish were better, but I understand that they may have been glossed over due to the limitations of 1991 technology and memory limitations. When you defeat some well-known enemies in the game, like Beebop and Baxter Stockman’s alligator mutant, Beebop and Baxter aren’t shown in the cutscene. We see Baxter standing in the background, but he isn’t interrogated or brought up at all in the cutscene after. Beebop, despite being a boss, also isn’t shown, though he is mentioned.
At least Rocksteady gives a rather hilarious accidental confession of the Shredder’s secret entrance! That honestly made my day when I saw it.
The Bottom LineThere have been countless new TMNT games since this game’s release. For home computers, consoles, arcades, what have you. And no shortage of fan games either. But this game is strangely absent from any of those, and from almost all discussion in regards to TMNT games and media in general.
In all honesty, this game needs a remake. Or at least an expansion. There is so much more that could be done with this game. Add more panels to the cutscenes, give more time to the villains being defeated. Smooth out the combat. While satisfactory and I won’t judge it (I said it many times before, it is good for a 1991 game) it could stand to be modernized and have combos added. The possibilities are endless.
But all in all, it is a rather solid game for the time. A relic of a bygone era. A time capsule of early 90s gaming that should not be so forgotten.