Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES is the nearest you’ll get to being Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and poor old Raphael (I’ll come to that later). Developed by Konami (under the guise of Ultra Games), TMNT is a platformer with varied parts that on the whole work pretty well. Our best friend Shredder has stolen a gun that can return Splinter back to his human self (we think the rat version is pretty cool but anyway…) and has his goons Bebop and Rocksteady kidnap the lovely April O’Neil (swoon). Who are we gonna call? No, not them, we’ll call the turtles instead.
The game flicks between map-style roam around levels, your standard left/right platform sections and also special swimming stages (they are turtles after all). You start off in the sewers (of course) then head to a dam and a few other locations until you get to the final lair. The presentation is slick – this includes the menus and humorous cut scenes – you really feel as though you’re in the cartoon.
The main sprites are well coloured and detailed. This includes the turtles as well as all the bosses (watch out for the metal bird thing) and half of the bad guys. The other half are two-tone and poorly designed but we’ll brush past that. The backdrops are nice enough although the different stages repeat their respective colour palettes and as you visit a lot of these within each area it becomes a tad obvious. A bit of variety wouldn’t have gone amiss. Another thing that’s repetitive is the music with the same tunes being used throughout. The sound effects are screechy and the NES has definitely done better.
I can’t be too harsh though, and I’m tempted to put down the above flaws to memory shortage because there is an awful lot of game here. And it’s hard. It’s tear-your-hair, crunch-your-wotsits difficult but, this can be balanced if you know how to use your turtles. In a Mega Man-esque switching capabilities style, you’re able to tag-team between the four turtles. I’ll leave you to work out which one suits which environment but Raphael with his weedy reach is the one you’ll use the least. The enemies that spawn also depend on the turtle chosen which is an interesting feature. The switching is also great as far as their respective health meters are concerned, bringing the injured ones back when you see a (potentially re-spawning) pizza is a good way of keeping the gang healthy.
The top-down roam around levels (for want of a better phrase) are a tad annoying, the collision detection is poor and the levels with the Party Wagon bring only a touch of the variety we crave. The platform levels are good although they feel like one big Castlevania rip-off. Some levels appear to tantalise you with some pizza only for tough re-spawning bad guys to take it all away! Those re-spawning bad guys. There must be thousands of them – how the turtles don’t pass out through exhaustion I don’t know. They must do a lot of cardio. Attack patterns are random and you can’t run away from enemies as it causes horrific blurring and slow down. Hack n slash is the name of the game. It’s also a tad buggy with certain platforms looking as though they need to be jumped with the result being the player continually falling down.
For all its flaws, TMNT is a highly polished, enjoyable platformer that’s true to the cartoon and should be a part of any NES collection. Just have that stress ball on standby.