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Konami’s Influence on the History of TMNT Games

by Justin W

When it comes to games about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, most fans will tell you that the best of the bunch were the arcade games crafted by Konami. The first arcade game was released in 1989 and it quickly became the standard for TMNT games from that point on. During the same year, another Ninja Turtles game was released on the NES, serving as the very first console game featuring our beloved heroes in a half shell. The game was simply entitled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and it was produced by a small company known as Ultra Games – or was it?

Thank goodness this particular aspect of level design didn't catch on!

Thank goodness this particular aspect of level design didn’t catch on!

What if I told you that Ultra Games was actually a subsidiary company for Konami of America designed to help them get around the strict licensing requirements of Nintendo? That’s right, both the arcade games and the first console game were actually produced by Konami. No matter how you look at it, they literally shaped the face of TMNT games, and that face was pretty awesome. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to keep the license for the franchise and we haven’t really seen anything on the same level since then.

The NES game was noted for it’s difficulty level and musical soundtrack. When you take the publisher into consideration, the difficulty level makes a little more sense. After all, Konami was well known for publishing punishing games and their Ultra label was actually used to introduce one of their most popular franchises, Metal Gear. The biggest issue with the game was probably the lack of recognizable characters. Although we did get to see notable faces like Bebop and Rocksteady, there were a lot of smaller enemies that simply didn’t make sense within the context of the TMNT franchise.

That being said, it’s worth noting that Konami’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles console game was actually somewhat enjoyable. The game sold so well that it eventually made its way to a variety of other platforms that some of you may remember. Unfortunately, the game was never quite as impressive on any other platform, but you don’t have to take my word for that – just check out this video. Gaming History Source has released an interesting comparison video which takes a look at almost every different iteration of the game. While some are pretty good, others fail at re-creating the iconic music or even basic gameplay elements.

It’s crazy to look back at the history of this important TMNT game and see so many incredibly different variants on display. I’m sure a lot of fans prefer the arcade game over this one, but with over 4 million units sold, it’s safe to say that this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game left an indelible mark on the franchise during that era of video games. Shortly after releasing both titles, Konami decided to bring a representation of their arcade game to the NES under the title “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game.” Despite the popularity of their first NES title, it was clear that the fans preferred an arcade experience over a console beat-em up.

Oh look, giant balls of death!

Oh look, giant balls of death!

Konami went on to release a few more console games in the TMNT franchise, but most of them followed the success of the arcade game. It’s easy to imagine that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the rockbed foundation for every TMNT game that followed, because it contains so many of the essential elements that made the arcade games so popular. If I’m not mistaken, I believe that the NES game actually got released a few months before the arcade game, so there might be something to that theory.

Whatever the case may be, it’s easy to see that Konami’s work with the franchise was incredibly influential. Many of the TMNT games that were released after that era were also beat-em ups which contained several elements from the early Konami games (pizza power-ups, anyone?). It’s sad to think that we may never see another TMNT Konami game, but at least they gave us the standard. Without them, who knows what kind of video games we might have seen? Considering how other similarly popular cartoon/comic franchises fared in the video game market, I almost shudder to think of the possibilities.

Let’s just take a moment to thank Konami for their work on these early Ninja Turtles games. What’s your favorite Konami TMNT game? Let us know in the comments below!

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