1990 was a fabulous year for Peter Laird, and Kevin Eastman, creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles characters. They saw the 4 intrepid heroes at the height of their popularity. The comic book was selling, the cartoon series was all the rage among adolescent males, and the live-action movie starring the turtles came out and became the most successful independent film of all time. In addition, TMNT the action figures were selling well, and as such, “Turtle Mania” was in full swing. Pizza Hut even did a TMNT-themed promotional tie-in where they did a concert tour of guys in rubber Turtle suits singing and dancing 80’s rock called the “Coming Out Of Their Shells” tour, complete with pay-per view performance and VHS, and audio cassette. One might even go so far as to say that the 4 turtles had over-saturated the market by that point.
Myself, being a boy at the ripe age of 13, was totally captivated by the green team. I was awestruck at the movie, jammed the movie soundtrack endlessly, and was fully entrenched in the separate lore of the TV series. I had a TMNT movie t-shirt I proudly wore everywhere, and I was a bona fide turtle fan. Naturally, since I had recently acquired my Game Boy not long after the movie’s release, I was clamoring for my TMNT fix on the new handheld. Thankfully, Konami was there to provide that fix, via their Ultra Games imprint, in August of that year. What I got wasn’t quite the turtleriffic experience I was looking for, but it was a fun game, nonetheless.
Splinter and Arpil O’Neil have been captured by Shredder and the Foot Clan, and it’s up to the 4 pubescent, mutated, martial arts amphibians to rescue them. To do so, our heroes will have to slog through 5 stages, separated into smaller sub-sections, and do battle with the Foot and other minions of Shredder and Krang along the way. The game closely follows the look and feel of the cartoon series, in terms of character and enemy designs, and uses the theme song as the basis for the stage music during the first city streets area. Choose your turtle to hack and slash your way through the baddies, and occasionally collect pizza to replenish life along the way. If a turtle loses all life from the health bar, he gets captured, and cannot be used again through the rest of the game. The game is a basic side-scrolling action-platformer, much like the 1st NES TMNT title, but stripped down to just the basics of melee combat and simple platforming. This was a wise choice, given the still early stage in the Game Boy hardware’s life, and the fact that the development tools probably hadn’t matured enough to push the hardware to do much more than that.
Graphically, the game is quite nice for an early Game Boy title. The turtle sprites are large and have that personality you want from the characters, despite all 4 looking identical, and always having a sort of goofy smile. From Foot Clan members to Mousers, and boss characters like Beebob, Rocksteady, and Baxter Stockman, enemy sprites are recognizable as compared to their cartoon counterparts, and are rendered nicely on the small screen. Animation is a touch sparse, but what’s there gets the job done. There is a noticeable change in the way the turtles look when they take a hit, so that’s a nice touch. Backgrounds range from nicely rendered and interesting (the first stage’s cityscape and subsequent sewer), to overly basic and relatively uninspired (i.e., inside the Technodrome). The between level cut scene graphics are more impressive, with images clearly depicting the turtles, April, and the like.
Something I found curious is the disparity between some of the detail and animation. For example, the turtles smile all the time (except when they take a hit) and look incredibly stiff, and yet, Raphael and Michaelangelo have weapon animations that take place while they walk. It’s a nice addition that gives their sprites a bit of extra personality, and yet it contrasts a bit starkly with how stiff they look otherwise. The Foot Clan members are very sparsely animated and look equally stiff, but the Mousers and Roadkill Rodney’s are nicely animated to look a lot like their cartoon and other TMNT game counterparts. The cityscape background in the first stage is quite detailed, but many of the other areas are bland, so one has to wonder what the deciding factor was for that.
The sound design is a mixed bag. As with most Konami-developed titles, the music is well done, and makes good use of the hardware. Nintendo had already shown us by that point that the Game Boy could produce good sound, so naturally, a seasoned company like Konami could marshal skilled developers to make the most of the limited resources the hardware had to offer. As for the music, they’ve done that, with a batch of reasonably catchy tunes that sound good on the hardware. Sound effects, on the other hand, are a tad sketchy. Some of them are just too high pitched and sound “tinny”, while others have a bit too much of that “white noise” feel to them. Hats off to the sound design team for trying to do more than simple “boops and beeps” with the game, but I think their scope was just slightly out of the Game Boy’s reach, at least in terms of whatever sound development software they were using at the time.
One of the major complaints leveled against this game is its difficulty, or rather, the lack thereof. I can corroborate this from my own childhood experience, because I remember purchasing the game as a new release at K-Mart (R.I.P.), and beating it in the car on the 30 minute drive home. Being the huge TMNT fan I was, however, that didn’t stop me from playing it again and again. So while the game might be overly easy, due to its lack of challenge and only having 5 stages, that’s not entirely a bad thing. Given the resurgence in the popularity of the TMNT franchise, this is a good game to introduce to younger kids who want to play a TMNT game but haven’t developed the major motor skills necessary to take on a more difficult title. It’s fun while it lasts, so repeated plays are definitely a way to extend the life of the game. Another thing that I noticed, even as a kid, is the slowdown. There are spots where the game slows down, especially when you perform a jump or jump-kick move. The scrolling is also a bit jerky, though that could be due, in part, to the way the graphics are being rendered. This is especially true when jumping, as the screen is often having to scroll both vertically and horizontally, and most NES titles didn’t even do that until Super Mario Bros. 3 came along, so it’s an understandable flaw, even if it detracts from the gameplay a bit.
What we end up with is a fun, if all-too short pizza powered romp through several TMNT-themed locations. The mechanics are overly simple, the sound effects can be dodgy at times, and the game is far too easy, but looking back, those things didn’t really affect me as a kid. I notice them more today, mostly because I can cast a more critical eye at this point in my life. Still, maybe I’m looking through the ever-present “nostalgia goggles”, but I think this is still a quite solid game that, despite its obvious flaws, is still loads of fun to play through, even today. If you’re a die-hard TMNT fan, you could do a lot worse than this game, especially considering the low price this game usually sells for. I’ve seen several copies recently, as of this writing, hovering around the $4-$6 range, and that’s very reasonable. If you’re just looking for another action platformer for your Game Boy and want more of a challenge, look elsewhere. However, if you’re in it for the fun factor, by all means, check this game out. It has enough personality to make it worth a play through. Casually recommended.
Originally posted on the official Game Boy Guru blog site: