Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on Nintendo systems – half a story

TMNT The Cowabunga Collection
Image: Konami

With a wealth of TMNT goodness coming to Switch this year in the form of Konami’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection and Dotemu’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, we thought it was the perfect time to take a look at the story of Turtles toss games on Nintendo systems…

You could say that the Turtles, Konami, and Nintendo were something of a holy trinity if you wanted to get kicked out of your church. The (very) late 80’s and early to mid 90’s were quite a lot adorned with quality Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games on Nintendo systems (and elsewhere), so let’s start in that early, evergreen era…

The golden-green era

We’ll start with the rather unfairly maligned 1989 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for NES, a game often singled out for the second phase where you swim underwater and defuse bombs. Funnily enough, this level isn’t particularly difficult compared to later tiers, and overall the experience is better than the reputation suggests. It doesn’t have the accessibility of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (1990, NES), but it could be convincingly argued that it’s the more interesting experience.

1992 was the golden year for Nintendo and TMNT as the brilliant Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project came to the NES and the enhanced arcade port Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time blessed the Super Nintendo with one of its best games certainly the centerpiece of the upcoming Cowunga collection. To this day there are few side-scrolling beat ’em ups quite like Turtles in Time, which blends simplicity, variety and challenge as one could only hope for in the genre.

Game Boy didn’t miss out, either, with 1990 and 1991’s Fall of the Foot Clan and Back From the Sewers bringing more low-key (but very funny) brawls to the green screen, while Radical Rescue trapping the Turtles in 1993’s Metroidvania becomes the first Added to the upcoming collection (but not for the last) in a game for which we are particularly grateful, given its high price on the used market.

However, Konami wasn’t done with the turts when the cult fighting game TMNT Tournament Fighters landed on SNES in September ’93 and, surprisingly, on NES the following year. It may not be Street Fighter 2, but it still has a competitive scene, and the SNES game is conveniently the most comprehensive of them all, with 10 playable characters versus the Mega Drive’s 8 – although the NES version may be one of the most notable as vanishing few fighters released on the platform and it’s not bad at all considering the age of the hardware at the time.

The new animated era

A decline in the Turtles’ popularity led to them skipping N64 entirely and re-emerging with a dazzling one with the (excellent) new animated series in 2003 seven new games based on it.

TMNT Battle Nexus GBA
Image: Konami

Gamecube saw the largely identical Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Battle Nexus, and Mutant Nightmare released in 2003, 2004, and 2005, respectively; Neither of them were great weapons, but it’s fleeting fun beating the snot out of Foot, Triceraton, and the like.

Mutant Nightmare DS
Image: Konami

Mutant Nightmare has adopted a sort of quasi-top-down view of the action, but neither game is complex enough to get lost in, nor fun enough to be a mindless bash-fest. A power stone-like fighter, Mutated Meleewas also released in 2005, but it’s so deadpan it’s confusing.

However, as you move away from the Gamecube, the Game Boy Advance takes over those games that are more worth your time. The GBA version of TMNT (2003) is pretty upbeat, if a bit short as a platformer/smack ’em down, but its sequel (Battle Nexus) is great fun – unlike all previous games, it focuses on each one Exploration Turtle begins each of the many stages without their weapons, forcing them to make their way in stealth until they are found. Of course, once you’ve found it, you can face the enemies and search through each level for hidden crystals. You’ll need more of these the higher your skill level, with a total of 100 in each world. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s a lot of fun and surprisingly difficult. Both games feature great pixel art and superior SNES-style soundtracks.

The third game, Mutant Nightmare, was released on the Nintendo DS, but we can’t recommend this one quite as highly. It’s fine, but as an early DS title, it requires too much unnecessary, forced touchscreen interaction for challenges as immersive as turning a handle. Great, thanks for that.

The Ubisoft Era

The next big TMNT medium was the helpfully titled 2007 film TMNTfor which Ubisoft took over the Gamecube and Wii reins for a rather mediocre action-adventure that took some cues from Ubi’s own Prince of Persia Series. Like the film itself, the game was… finea step up from the last few, but nowhere near Konami heyday.

The DS got its own disappointing version, but more media interest focused on the GBA version, which took the form of a side-scrolling 2D beat-’em-up that drew hysterical comparisons to said heyday, while in reality it was pretty mediocre single-player Game that’s only really notable for sharing the staff with the later, better Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

Ubisoft also tried a Smash Bros.-esque called TMNT: Smash-Up, which should have been a home run, but instead of, ooh, you know, Turtle Characters, they populated the list with several Rabbids. We don’t know what they were thinking either.

The new new animation era

All that’s left is the 3DS – thankfully it’s a pretty decent depiction of the heroes in a half-shell, though not necessarily from the source you might expect.

Nickelodeon’s 2012 CGI-animated Turtles series was the source of two games — a low-key brawler from 2013 (also for Wii) and the pretty darn good Danger of the Ooze, a WayForward-developed Metroidvania inspired by the earlier Radical Rescue and takes the Turtles all over the city, above and below ground, with a pretty fun combat system that allows for all sorts of fun combinations. The movement can feel a bit unusual, but once you get the hang of things, it’s a hidden gem.

Danger of Slime DS
Image: Activision

However, even more hidden is the bonding game based on the Platinum Dunes Ninja Turtles movie, a Diablo Clone starring those ‘runaway Michael Bay Turtles’, of all things. It’s far from amazing, but it’s a lot more fun than you’d expect, and the internet hardly seems to accept that it even exists.

The new old era…

Looking to the present and future, all you can currently play on Switch is Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl as (oddly) two of the Turtles and challenge them in a couple of karting titles. But it’s The Cowabunga Collection and, of course, Shredder’s Revenge that catches our eye – the latter looking as great as any TMNT game has ever been.

Looks aren’t everything though, and it remains to be seen whether Shredder’s Revenge will be Rocksteady or Rat King.

Continue reading: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on Nintendo systems – half a story

Fry Electronics Team

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