Comic Publishers

March 3, 2011

The Comics Console: TMNT for the NES

We’ve been very Ninja Turtle happy here on lately with some really fun TMNT articles looking back at their movies, and the franchise’s impact on our culture. The 80s’ child nostalgia freaks like me, absolutely love the trip down memory lane and beyond, but even memory lane is one filled with some bumps and potholes. In TMNT’s case, one of the nastiest bumps is, surprisingly, the very first TMNT home console game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. So let the happy fuzziness come to an abrupt halt, and let the horror and nightmares begin! Because there’s nothing I love more than putting a damper on a party!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Publisher: Konami/Ultra Games
May 12, 1989

When you think of TMNT games, you’re likely to immediately think of the legendary Arcade beat-em-up by Konami, or the classic TMNT: Turtles in Time on the SNES. But before the TMNT’s amazing arcade style caught up to home consoles, there was the disaster that was titled simply Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Though a fitting title, I can’t imagine the number of children who awoke Christmas morning of 1989 and unwrapped a copy of TMNT to play on the Nintendo, only to pop in the cartridge, and find an entirely different game than the one at Chuck E. Cheese’s.

The game is a side-scrolling beat-em-up, but not nearly as polished, pretty, or fun as the arcade version. The graphics take a huge hit, and the cartoonish look of the turtles is replaced by a very simple, somewhat more Eastman and Laird style, which is kind of cool, but the gameplay is just such a bore, and extremely frustrating.

The game’s story is extremely basic. April gets kidnapped by Shredder, blah blah blah, whatever, it’s an acceptable set up for such a simple game, but things get really weird later. You start out on a large city map with manholes that take you to each level. All the turtles play essentially the same, the only exception being their different signature weapons. Donatello is easily the best character in the game, but only because of his bō’s long reach.

Wait for it…

Compelling, right?

The worst part of the game is how damn difficult it is. It’s an incredibly hard game, but not in a challenging Mega Man kind of way; in a lazy developer kind of way. This is not a fun game you want to kill an afternoon with, so I did it for you. Let’s walk through this game and experience it together, so you don’t have to on your own.

Stage 1 — Saving April

You can press Start to change turtles before you begin your first mission, and in the Start Screen, you’ll see a mini-map with the manhole locations marked, and Splinter, who will offer advice. Once you’ve picked your turtle and dropped into the first sewer system, you’ll see small Mousers looking for enemies to kill, and some strange flying bug creatures. Halfway through, you run into what I’m guessing is a foot soldier mini-boss (it’s not very clear, I’m just assuming), and eventually you’ll come across your first slice of pizza, which obviously provides health.

You’ll resurface back to the top-world, and drop down the next manhole, and this level is essentially the same, except for the boss fight with Bebop at the end. If you’re not good at old school games, this is probably as far as you’ll ever go in the game, but if you’re patient, you can defeat Bebop pretty easily.

The next area is actually some kind of warehouse, and this is where things get really weird. The enemies here are nothing you’ve ever seen in any TMNT comics. There are strange flying spider creatures and creepy as hell zombie things that can’t be hurt while they’re in their crouched position. The funniest part is the chainsaw wielding enemy awaiting you at the top of a ladder. If you’ve ever wanted to beat up Leather Face as a Ninja Turtle, this may be as close as you’ll ever get.

Near here is also an extra sewer level with the same enemies as the warehouse, but it’s not essential at all to play through. There is, however, a ninja star subweapon you can pick up if you so desire. There are a few Human Torch-esque villains, and an invisible power up that makes your turtle a spinning shell of death, killing everything with one hit, and topped off with a giant frog as the boss. But it’s not really worth playing, because in order to get back to the surface you have to go all the way back, and all the same villains respawn.

As a kid, this is about as far as I would end up before getting mad, and putting in Super Mario 3. But not just because the game is so frustrating, but because once your health meter gets too low, the most annoying beeping sound repeats and repeats until you find some pizza to replenish it. I can still hear it when there’s a sudden silence wherever I am.

Back on the surface area, you’ll run into your first tank-like steamroller vehicle that will kill you if you’re not careful, but standing in the right position gives you an opportunity to destroy it.

Your final level in this stage is another warehouse with more creepy big villains, and some mini AT-ST things. But this is where your entire goal for the game would seemingly come to an end. Rocksteady is guarding April at the end of this level, and if you’re not careful, he’ll kick your ass pretty quick.

Hooray! You’ve saved April! Assuming you beat Rocksteady, and you’re still playing. But the Foot Clan is still causing havoc, and you have to stop them! Unfortunately, this is where the game stops being remotely fun, and becomes just plain annoying and stupid.

Stage 2 — The Big Dive

You make your way to a dam, where after completing a level very similar to the first couple of levels in the game, you begin the one and only swimming level. Here, you’ll have to defuse eight bombs spread across the weird maze filled with impossible death traps, like appearing and disappearing electrical charges that don’t give you enough time to swim past them before you get zapped, and viscous seaweed…damn that seaweed. To top it all off, you’re timed! And if you don’t find and defuse all eight bombs in two minutes, it’s game over and you get to start all over again! Thankfully, whatever bombs you defused before you died remain defused…unless you run out of continues and have to start the entire game back over.

I can’t stress enough how damn annoying that seaweed is! But once you finally take care of all the bombs, things take an interesting turn.

Stage 3 — The Road to Shell!

You head home to the sewer after saving the day to discover *GASP* Splinter has been kidnapped by the Shredder! Two kidnappings in one day? Somebody keep an eye on Casey Jones in case he’s next!

So you need to head out and find your mutant rat sensei/father figure. What do you do? Jump in the Turtlevan and start the search! On the map you’ll find several areas to drive to and conquer, but only a few of them are essential to complete. There’s also a new set of enemies to beat up, including midget astronauts, balloons carrying missiles, and something that reminds me of a tiny Galactus.

There’s one hilarious gap to jump in the game that had me baffled and confused for hours. The gap is small, but the ceiling is too low to actually make it across. It wasn’t until I just accidentally walked across it that I realized you’re not supposed to jump it at all, just stroll right on by.

The object of this level is to get super missiles for the Turtlevan, which you’ll need to blow up barricades to move through the city, and if you’re brave enough, you can re-enter the level and play it again to snag more missiles.

There are a few super lame parts to this entire stage to be aware of. One: The Turtlevan doesn’t have its own health bar, so whatever damage the Van takes, your turtle takes. Two: There are so many unnecessary levels to play on your search for Splinter, and finding the correct one is difficult and tedious. Though you may come across a captured sibling turtle who has died earlier, and rescuing him restores him back to life with a full health bar.

Hopefully, eventually, you’ll find the level you’re suppose to enter (somewhere on the south eastern side of the map), and it’s made up of mostly platforms with deadly water that you cannot swim in, even though you’re a turtle, and the entire second stage was a swimming level.

Once you complete that area, you’ll head back to the surface and to the rooftops where you take on Mecha-Turtle, who is holding Splinter! He’s an extremely difficult boss, who, once you think you’ve beat him, changes form, and his health regenerates a small amount.

Stage 4 — Flight of the Amphibians

Now that Splinter is safe, we’re outside of either JKF or La Guardia — whichever NYC airport the Foot have chosen as their secret base (I’m actually not sure if that’s genius or insanity, yet) — and this is without a doubt the biggest pain-in-the-groin stage of the whole game. This entire stage is basically a maze of 18 levels, and navigating it is an absolute bitch. The levels are numbered, which helps things, but as you progress, so does the difficulty of each level, so expect to be backtracking through levels just to get pizza for your dying turtles.

Another great example of design is this particular room near the end of the stage. As you’re dropping down platforms before the spiked walls close in on you, there is an impossible-to-get pizza thrown in, and I just wonder how many players have actually naively attempted to capture it.

But once you successfully navigate the stage, you encounter your stage boss: A giant Mouser! This boss is incredibly easy, but only because of a funny glitch. The Mouser’s weakness is inside his mouth, and the object is to wait for him to open his trap so you can strike it. But, if you still have Don, you can use his awesome reach to hit the weakness even when the Mouser’s mouth is closed.

Once you’ve taken out that chump, you make your way to your next (and most ridiculous) turtle vehicle: The Turtle Blimp! But, sadly, you don’t actually fly with it, you only see it in a cutscene.

Stage 5 — Infiltration

So now you have infiltrated the Foot’s secret lair, which basically looks like the airport, but at night, and this stage is about as annoying as Stage 4, but in a different way.

On your map, you’ll see only five levels, which seems simple enough, except the boss for this stage is constantly moving around, so just finding the boss becomes the stage’s biggest challenge. What I do appreciate about this level is how the villains have gotten even weirder and uglier than before.

The boss for this stage is actually the infamous Technodrome itself, and it’s a total BITCH to defeat. Its weakness is its massive eye at the top, but there are also guns, and Foot Soldiers to deal with. If you were skilled enough to even make it this far in the game, than maybe you’ll have a chance, but if not, be lucky you never have to feel the burn of the Technodrome’s anal raping.

Stage 6 — Belly of the Beast

Once you destroy the Technodrome, you actually go inside of it. And it was this stage where I was really starting to just get sick of this game. I found myself numbingly exploring the maze, and dodging enemies that would all start to blur together. Gameplay wise, this stage is nothing new, aside from some different enemies, but I really couldn’t give less of a crap at this point.

Though suddenly, I found myself at the final boss — you guessed it — the Shredder! I immediately perked up, and prepared myself for a losing battle, then soon discovered Shredder is probably the easiest boss in the entire game.

I stood on a platform in the middle of the room, and each time he lunged toward me, I would simply smack him away like some persistent insect. Eventually, Oroku Saki fell, and exploded and disintegrated in a blazing fire…because apparently Shredder is some kind of robot or something in this game.

So that was anticlimactic. We’ve still saved the day, though, right, Splinter?


Wait, what?


…. Oh, that’s exactly what I want, April…a pizza…I don’t want my money back for this game at all.


Well, I’m not really sure this game was worth the amount of time and effort and anger I put into it. My first instinct after this game was that I needed to play some Turtles in Time to get the bad turtle taste out of my mouth, but this game has done something I thought no evil could do…make me temporarily sick of the TMNT. After this, I think I need a break from the heroes-in-a-half-shell…until I hear Vanilla Ice’s “Ninja Rap” again, to refuel my love for the Green Machine.

Aw, who am I kidding? Just thinking about that song makes me want to watch TMNT II right now!


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Andrew Hurst



  1. Andrew Hudson

    I remember playing this game as a kid. I tried it again, thinking that maybe since I was a kid I sucked at it. But nope, still hard, couldn’t get past the seaweed. I’m surprised you beat the entire game. Though if you’re looking for a great pre-Manhattan Project game, check out Fall of the Foot Clan. Extremely short (Game Boy game) but fun.

    BTW, you can easily beat Rocksteady with Donatello. Just stand above the boxes and whack below with his staff of death. Donatello FTW in this game.

  2. That’s exactly how I beat Rocksteady with the cheap and easy win. And I do remember this game being extremely hard and just being a pain in the butt to get through after a while. I did finish it as well and was pretty pissed off at the ending and didn’t understand how Splinter could just “change” back into his human form because you defeated Shredder lol What a silly ass ending!

  3. Dude, great review! I only made it to the end of Stage 3. And while I too hate that beeping sound, I will forever LOVE this game! From the music, to the look of it, to the Turtle Van levels- I dunno, it will forever hold a little place in my geeky heart.

    That ending is highlarious and makes absolutely no sense. It’s cool to save the world though…by staying in NYC. But the ending of the Turtles Arcade game for the NES is actually worse. At least this one has SOME story, even if it’s senseless. In the Arcade game the Turtle Blimp just floats by and tells you you won while a few characters appear on this jumbotron thing. Lame!

    Oh, and playing as Raph in this game blows. His reach sucks.

  4. I used to kick ass playing this game back in the day!

  5. Aron

    I wasn’t very good at this game, either. But it was a great review! That way I got to see levels I never made it to!

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