Console: NES Published By: Ultra Games Developed By: Konami Release Date: May 1989 Genre: Action/Adventure Number of Players: One Save Feature? No
Unlike a pretty sizable portion of gamers out there, I actually thought that the first game in the popular Turtles series was fantastic! With its fun, intuitive gameplay, superb atmosphere, and challenge that keeps you coming back for more, how can you go wrong?
Overview: Ahh...the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the glorious 1980s. Those two go hand in hand and anyone in their late 20s-early 30s undoubtedly remembers the good old days of phrases like "Cowabunga!" and "Turtle Power!" being commonplace. I mean, if you didn't know who the turtle with the red headband was, it was a most bogus experience being made fun of by all of your friends. ;)
Seriously though, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were red hot during my childhood in every way you could imagine. The cartoons were fantastic and were definitely one of my Saturday morning highlights (back when they actually had Saturday morning cartoons). Most of my friends had countless figures of Michelangelo, Casey Jones, Bebop, and Shredder strewn about their rooms, plush dolls of Leonardo somehow found their way to my elemental school (courtesy of my good friend Brandon Leonard), the movies were smash hits, and I even remember collecting those cartoon/movie trading cards of the heroes in a half shell. Simply put, the Turtles were on top of the world and us kids of the 80s just couldn't get enough!
It should come as no surprise then that in early 1989, at the peak of the Turtles' fame, Ultra Games/Konami decided to bring the band of merry green men...uh...Turtles to the video game realm! It was a natural fit and all of us kids couldn't have been happier at the results.
What's funny though is that, even though the first Turtles game was a big hit at the time (it did win the Best Overall Game Award in Nintendo Power for 1989...in a year when Mega Man 2, Ninja Gaiden, and Zelda II came out no less), it kind of drifted off into obscurity over the years for some odd reason. Granted, the sequels probably fit the mold a little better with multi-player action (the first Turtles game is only one player) and a more party-like atmosphere but I always liked the original game a lot as well.
I would imagine that most of you reading this review have probably played the first Turtles game but just in case not, I will discuss some of the nuances of the game. Basically, while Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is primarily an action game with plenty of swordplay and ninja stars a-flyin', it definitely has some elements of adventure games as well. On the action front, you have your typical side-scrolling areas where you fight off enemies and random mini-bosses all while collecting valuable weapons such as scrolls and the aforementioned ninja stars. And like any truly great action game, there are plenty of well-positioned spikes and fire traps as well as annoying enemies like the spiders in Stage 5 or equally annoying jumps like several you have to execute perfectly in the sewers of Stage 3. What makes the first Turtles game unique, however, is the non-linear nature of the game. You basically move around in an overworld view, searching for doors/manholes/staircases leading to new side-scrolling areas. But there are plenty of dead ends as well and the first time you play this game, you will probably find out the hard way just how non-linear the game can be if you don't know where you're going. This element of TMNT is actually very similar to one of my favorite games ever, Blaster Master! Granted, TMNT is certainly not as large a game as Blaster Master but there are definite similarities. And like Blaster Master, there are plenty of rooms in TMNT that, while they are out of the way and don't necessarily lead to the boss, contain valuable weapons or even allow you to get back one of your Turtles who has been captured.
Speaking of which, another unique feature of TMNT is that you actually have all four turtles at your disposal to use at any time; unless they get captured (by their HP going to zero) of course. The difference between the turtles is the weapon(s) that they use and the speed of their attacks. Donatello has the best range with his bo staff but his speed is slightly slower than the other turtles. And while Raphael's Sais have pitiful (and I do mean pitiful!) range, the speed of his attacks is exceptional. Having all four turtles in your team in addition to the special weapons in the game definitely gives the game a real strategic element. You might want to use the more expendable Raphael in areas with instant kills since you definitely don't want to lose Leonardo or Donatello early in the game. Giving Raphael more scrolls than the other Turtles to compensate for his short-ranged attacks isn't a bad idea either!
Graphics: Although I have heard a lot of negative comments about the first Turtles game's aesthetic qualities from other reviewers, I couldn't possibly disagree more. While the graphics in the first Turtles game aren't exactly the best graphics ever created, I still remember thinking as a kid back when the game first came out that "these graphics are awesome!" You know how kids are. ;) But I still feel this way about the first Turtles game even today.
I can pretty much sum up the graphics using one word: variety. Every stage or even sub-sections within a level look vastly different which is a great thing! Just glance over the screenshots posted in this review to get an idea of the game's varied graphics. This is one of many reasons why I wanted to continue playing this game despite its immense difficulty. I wanted to make it a little further each time I played to see what the next stage looked like, and who the next boss was, and so on...
And while the variety really stood out to me, I really did like the style of the game's graphics as well. The character/enemy sprites looked great for the time and the bosses...whoa...a couple of the bosses looked amazing! That battle against the Technodrome was simply as epic as it got back in the day and the Mouser boss looked very cool as well. I don't know what else to say other than to simply state that the graphics captured the essence of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles perfectly in this gamer's mind.
Music: Let me just say right away that, in terms of nostalgic NES music, the first Turtles game is definitely near the top for me. A beautiful flood of memories of playing this game and battling the Technodrome with friends cheering me on come storming back every time I hear the game's boss music. For some reason, I just couldn't get enough of the boss theme as a kid. I just loved the simple, upbeat, adrenaline-pumping tune that played during some of the game's more epic battles.
Any discussion of this game's music is incomplete without mentioning the main title theme as well. As far as intros go, the first Turtles game definitely had one of the best ones that I could remember. The title theme simply rocked and I loved how the game showed bios of the four turtles in addition to showing Shredder and his minions within a minute of firing up the game. It set the mood perfectly and really got the juices flowing!
A few of my other favorite tunes include the main overworld theme (because of its nice and friendly feel), the water area in Stage 2 (words can't describe how perfectly this track fit the atmosphere), and both Stage 5 tracks (overworld and underworld). All of these tunes just created the perfect atmosphere...especially the Stage 5 tracks. I loved that stage mainly due to the dark, shadowy graphics and Metal Gear-ish feel. Although the first Turtles game probably wasn't the best overall game in the series, it might have had the best atmosphere/feel of any of them.
Now granted, this game's soundtrack is certainly not a 10 out of 10. A few of the tunes that played during the various side-scrolling areas were a bit overused and I didn't like how the final stage didn't have any unique music. These tunes were good and all but a little more variety would have really helped this game to score even higher! Konami did a great job of mixing things up with the new music in Stage 5 though.
Lastly, I thought that the sound effects were actually quite good. For some reason, I loved the sounds of damaging/destroying enemies. Call it nostalgia or whatever but I liked it. And pretty much everything else you hear is at least appropriate.
Play Control: For the most part, I had no qualms with the controls in the first Turtles game. Precise jumping could be tricky (I'll discuss that in a bit.) but overall, I was actually quite impressed with the game in this regard. Unlike most games of the day when one button allowed you to attack straight ahead and that was it, Ultra Games/Konami tried something a bit different, In addition to attacking horizontally, you could actually attack above or below your character by simply holding Up+B or Down+B. I loved this feature and it really added a whole new element to the gameplay. I would always try to clear out ledges above or below my character before moving forward and there are countless times when a quick up/down slash can safe your life.
I liked how you had to push the select button to enable your special weapons (ninja stars, spread ninja stars, and boomerangs to name a few) as well. This prevented you from actually using up your valuable special weapons since, well, no one usually pushes the select button by accident.
If there are any issues I have with the game's play control, it might be when it comes to jumping. Basic jumps are no problem but anyone who plays or has played this game probably notices that the jumping controls are, well, very loose for one thing. And you have the ability to jump very high which can be a blessing or a curse. It just depends on the situation. While I actually have no qualms with the jumping controls most of the time, whenever you have to make a perfect jump or dodge enemies in mid-air, it can be quite challenging and even annoying at times. This is especially the case when you have to make a perfect jump over sewer water (icky!) or worse, when you have fire pits, enemies, and spikes to contend with. It's not a huge, major gripe or anything but just don't expect the controls to be at precise or tight as...say, Mega Man 2.
Challenge: When I first fired up Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I assumed that the game would be pretty typical in regards to the game's challenge/skill level. And for a while, I was right. The first stage wasn't too bad although the last few side-scrolling areas could be tough with their conveyor belts and swarms of flying enemies. And Stage 2 started off okay with that first building being pretty typical, run-of-the mill stuff. However, once your Turtle(s) dove into the water and you had 90 seconds to disable a plethora of exploding devices, the challenge level rose dramatically! I had so much trouble with that area the first time because the margin for error is incredibly slim! Not only do you have to be quick in disarming the bombs, but dodging the electric tentacles is very, very tough at times. It definitely gets the adrenaline going though.
From that point on, the first Turtles game isn't necessarily insanely difficult but the challenge level is certainly way above average. Stages 3 and 4 are just tricky to get through because they feel like a maze with countless traps spread throughout and Stage 5 is just hard because of the difficult, lightning-quick enemies. Stage 6 admittedly gets close to that insane level with those crazy, laser-shooting enemies that are nearly impossible to dodge in groups.
Basically, the game's challenge level almost completely depends on whether or not you collect massive amounts of scrolls during the game's early levels. Scrolls are basically a wave-like chi weapon that is very powerful and covers a lot of ground. If you have scrolls and make it to Stages 5 & 6 with plenty in tow, you have a great shot at beating the game. If not, then good luck because it literally took me nearly ten years to finally conquer this game! Seriously!! The reason for this? I just couldn't manage to ever get deep into the game without dying and losing my scrolls in the process.
And the first Turtles game is like that. This is just one of those games that has enough variety and enough instant kills to really test even the best video game players out there. I do love the game's challenge level though. It's tough and can be frustrating at times (believe me, I've been there!) but overall, it was very, very satisfying to finally beat the game so many years after first playing it. What can I say? It's just one of those games that keeps you coming back time and time again until you manage to do the unthinkable and take Shredder down. Good games are like that for sure.
Storyline: Although I wouldn't call the background story to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles outstanding or revolutionary, it gets the job done. And it does just enough to give the game a really special, fresh atmosphere if you will. Being the first game in the series, going after Shredder and his Foot Clan wasn't old hat quite yet (after Turtles in Time, I was like, "Okay, we need something new!") and it had a cool mystique about it. And as you might expect, it does get personal with both April O'Neil and Master Splinter getting kidnapped/captured during the course of the game.
The various locales and villains really brought the story to life as well. Not to beat a dead horse but the underwater area was incredible in terms of atmosphere. I just loved that area as a kid despite its difficulty. The fight with the fake Turtle on top of a building with Splinter waiting to be rescued was pretty epic as well. And Stage 5 just had a really awesome atmosphere as you searched random tunnels at night for the Technodrome. I can't tell you how thrilling it was to finally find and to fight the Technodrome in that epic battle. I can't speak for everyone but the story/atmosphere of this game was well done in this gamer's mind.
Funfactor: Despite its high challenge level, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles still managed to come across as a fun, engaging video game experience. Like many games of its time, the first Turtles game was strong in the gameplay department and it was new enough and fresh enough to keep our attention for hours and hours on end! The variety of the gameplay still stands out and was probably one of the reasons why I played this game so much as a kid. And I have to admit that it was the challenge level of the game and the fact that I hadn't beat the game (not being able to beat any game drives me nuts to this day!) that kept me coming back time and time again for more abuse.
Overall, there are certainly plenty of better games out there but still, I do have a special place in my heart for the game that started the Turtles craze on the NES. While nostalgia and sentimentality are probably the driving forces that get me to fire this game back up from time to time, it really was a dang good game when you think about it. It has become quite the underrated game over the years as well. If you are itching for something nostalgic or simply want to play up a game that perhaps you somehow missed back in the glory days of the NES, snag the first Turtles game! You'll be yelling classic phrases such as "Cowabunga," "Mondo," and "Groovy" in no time! ;)
Negatives: Although I really do enjoy the way that Ultra Games/Konami put together the first Turtles game, the fact that there was no multi-player option of any kind really hurt this game in the long run. Once The Arcade Game and The Manhattan Project came out, the first Turtles game just kind of slipped into obscurity. Quite frankly, the Turtles series is just meant to be a 2-4 player endeavor. It's as simple as that.
The intense challenge level of this game isn't for everyone either. This game is a very difficult, cerebral game that will frustrate even the best gamers at times. If you don't have the patience for games like that, you might be better off just playing TMNT 2 and 3 instead.
Lastly, while the music throughout the game is very good, I still would have liked to see more variety...especially in the game's final stage. In my personal opinion, every game should always play fresh, new music in the last stage without exception. But that's just me. And while I've certainly seen worse, the ending was way too short in my opinion...especially when you consider how long it took me to finally see it!
Ratings: Graphics: 4.1 Music: 4.0 Play Control: 3.8 Challenge: 4.5 Storyline: 4.0 Funfactor: 4.2 Overall Score: 24.6 out of 30.0 Overall Rating: Bronze Bravo
Back to NES NostalgiaLast Updated: October 23, 2009