In 1989, Konami released Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the Nintendo Entertainment System, and the fandom went wild. Over four million copies were sold, and it became one the best-selling third-party NES games of all time. Based on the 1987 TV series (although it featured box art and an animation style more in line with the Mirage comics), the game allowed the player to complete six missions in New York City, playing as one turtle at a time until all the goals were complete.
The game begins with the turtles trying to rescue April O’Neil from Bebop and Rocksteady. After saving her, they then head to the Hudson River to disarm explosives underwater, before taking down Mechaturtle on Wall Street to free a captured Master Splinter. To get revenge on Shredder for kidnapping their master, the turtles must then find the Turtle Blimp, which is being guarded by a giant mouser. After successfully securing transportation, the boys in green must battle their way through Shredder’s secret base to find and disable the Technodrome. Finally, they can corner Shredder himself and put an end to his villainy.
Throughout the adventure, the turtles had access to their own individual weapons and special power ups, like boomerangs and throwing stars. As the game progressed, the player was able to free the “captured” turtles (those whose life hit zero during game play) and use vehicles like the Party Wagon and Turtle Blimp to help complete missions. Game play also featured a unique way of handling the maps, switching from an overhead view when outside the sewer to a side-scrolling view during actual entanglement with enemies.
While a fun game overall, and great for fans of the 1987 series, this game did have its drawbacks. One that many players agreed upon was that it was immensely difficult to complete. Many couldn’t even get through the first mission. While the sewers were filled with enemies that could be beaten with some degree of ease, the streets featured mobile enemies that could not be without serious skill. Mobile tanks that steamrolled the player were vulnerable to attack, but only if one could manage to hit them before being captured. (Donatello was uniquely strong in this game, like many others, because his bo staff could be used for longer-range attacks, providing him some degree of safety.) But take a wrong turn outside of the buildings, and one of those precious lives was lost. Also frustrating was the fact the game featured no save system. While it could be paused for the player to take breaks, the game itself essentially had to be completed in one sitting. If at any point the player lost all four turtles (or, in Mission Two, failed to disarm all eight bombs in two-and-a-half minutes), then it was game over, and everything had to be restarted.
Throughout the last 25 years, the game was ported to many different systems. PC versions were created after the console’s initial success (though none did quite as well as the original, mostly due to some problematic programming glitches that actually made the PC version impossible to complete). In the late 2000’s, the game was made available on the Nintendo Wii’s virtual console, though it has since been removed due to licensing issues. Currently it is unknown whether or not the game will be made available to any new systems, although those itching for a bit of nostalgia certainly wish it would be.
While it may not be the most memorable or widely loved of the TMNT games produced during the franchise’s 30 years, the original NES game was certainly a fan favorite. Kids everywhere had to learn the value of perseverance, as well as coming to grips with the fact that games were going to be challenging moving forward. Game collections were built around this one, and fans of the turtles could finally interact with their heroes to teach Shredder a lesson once and for all.