Kickin’ It Old School – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I loved the Turtles back in the day. I watched the live action movie almost daily (the first one is still one of my favorites) and had as many toys as I could pester my parents to buy for me. My favorite was Heavy Metal Raphael, which was just awesome in every single way. Too bad that iteration of Raph wasn’t in this game; if that were the case it might be better remembered today. I even had the home video version of the “Coming Out of Their Shells Tour”, basically the Turtles putting on a rock concert, and watched that so much I wore the tape out and ruined it. That tour gave us the song “Pizza Power”, which was used in the attract mode of the Turtles in Time arcade game, but we’re here to talk about another TMNT game: the very first one.

No other game has proven to me how much it sucks to grow up. You go through life thinking one game is awesome and then find out you’re pretty much the only one who thinks that way. One of my favorite games as a kid is also one of the most hated on the entire system. Damn. The first Ninja Turtles game gets a lot of crap by gamers, mostly for being hard. Now, normally I’d brush this off as people being a bunch of sissy whiny pansy babies, but in this case…well, maybe I’m too much of a Turtles apologist to make this kind of decision.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES, 1989)

The four turtles in this game act as four “lives” for you. You get to pick between Leo, Raph, Mike and Don whenever you want, allowing you to choose the best turtle for any situation, as each had different stats. There are six levels in the game, with a boss at the end of five of them. There are different objectives to each level, such as rescuing April or Splinter, or simply defeating the Shredder.

What’s the first thing you noticed about this game after you popped it in? The music. Konami always brought the goods with their 8-bit music, and this game, however bad people may think it is, is no exception. From the intro music that is quite reminiscent of Queen’s “Stone Cold Crazy” to the levels themselves, the game is full of great tunes to jam to while you’re whacking people with nunchuks. It gets a little repetitive by the end, but at least it’s good music being repetitive. I especially like the little jingle that plays when you beat a level. It makes you feel like you accomplished something. I wish that jingle would play every time I did something good in real life. That would be amazing.

The enemies range from the familiar like Bebop and Rocksteady, Mousers, Foot Soldiers and Shredder to stock characters like some guy with a chainsaw, a giant robot and a guy made of fire. I guess Foot Soldiers weren’t badass enough or something. I mean, who are you gonna be more afraid of, a little mouse robot or a guy with a chainsaw and his friend made from the fires of Hell? I wouldn’t mess with them. The object of the game is simple: beat up the Foot Clan, save your friends, defeat Shredder, who is honestly a lot easier than you’d think after playing through the game.

This game is infamous for being pretty hard. The controls are a little tight, and some areas are a little too filled with enemies, but there’s another reason why people think the game is hard: the dam level. The god damn dam level. Oh dear. Even I’ll admit, even though I love this game, I hated everything this level stood for.

So basically, after fighting off hordes of enemies inside the dam (which 6 year old me thought was an airport for…some reason), you jump off the top of the dam into the water, where the Foot has planted 8 bombs. You have two minutes to clear them all up. Sounds pretty easy, but if you’ve never played it, you have no idea.

First off, the controls are weird. You’d think you could tap A or B to make you go faster, but usually it just makes you go up. Once you get the controls down, you still have lots of obstacles to deal with, including electricity, turtle-entangling seaweed, and fire/electrified seaweed. Combine those with tough controls and you’re in for a hell of a challenge. Now, if all your turtles are at full health, you’ll be able to get through with at least one of them still alive, but that brings me to another problem with this level: once you beat a level, the Turtles’ health doesn’t refill. So let’s say you had all the Turtles at full health before the dam, switched to a new one when one’s health got low until you beat it, you’re probably starting off the next level with two or three Turtles close to death, and one or two with half their health gone. Lame. Whoever came up with this level should die. The next level, where you’re in the Turtle Van was a nice reward though. Blowing up those Turtle mashing cars or whatever they were felt so good.

Is this the best Turtles game? Nope. Not even the best on the NES. But, it’s still pretty damn good, however challenging it may be. If you fancy a challenge, it’s available on the Virtual Console for $6, though I could see why you might pass it up. But, if you fancy a challenge, and aren’t a whiny sissy pansy baby, the game is a lot better than it gets credit for.

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