With the next bounty of TMNT goodness coming to Switch this year in the form of Konami’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection and Dotemu’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, we thought it was the perfect time to take a look. to the story of the turtles games on Nintendo consoles…
You could say the Turtles, Konami, and Nintendo were sort of a holy trinity, if you wanted to be kicked out of your church. The (very) late 80s and early to mid 90s were about scalloped with high-quality Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games on Nintendo consoles (and elsewhere), so we begin in this early, evergreen era…
The golden-green era
We start with the rather unfairly maligned 1989’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a game often hyped for the second stage, which has you swimming underwater and defusing bombs. Oddly enough, this level isn’t particularly difficult compared to the later stages, and overall the experience is rather better than its reputation suggests. It lacks the accessibility of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (1990, NES) but one could argue convincingly that it’s the more interesting experience.
1992 was the golden year for Nintendo and TMNT, with the brilliant Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project being released for the NES and the enhanced arcade port Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time blessing the Super Nintendo with one of its best games and surely the centerpiece of the next Cowabunga Collection. To date, there are few side-scrolling beat-’em-ups as good as Turtles in Time, which blends simplicity, variety, and challenge as deftly as you could ever ask of the genre.
Game Boy wasn’t harmed either, with 1990 and 1991 seeing Fall of the Foot Clan and Back From the Sewers bring some rather low-key (but a lot of fun) brawling to the green screen, while 1993’s Radical Rescue brought turtles in a Metroidvania for the first (but not last) time, in a game that we are especially grateful for, is included in the upcoming collection due to its high price tag on the used market.
Konami wasn’t done with the Turts just yet, however, with the cult fighting game TMNT Tournament Fighters landing on SNES in September 1993 and, surprisingly, NES the following year. Although it’s not Street Fighter 2, it still has a competitive scene and the SNES game is comfortably the most comprehensive of the lot with 10 playable characters to Mega Drive’s 8 – although the NES version may be the most notable as one of very few fighters to see the light of day on the platform, and that’s not bad at all considering the age of the hardware at the time either.
The New Anime Era
A decline in the Turtles’ popularity caused them to completely skip N64, resurfacing with the (excellent) new animated series in 2003 with a staggering Seven new games based on it.
Gamecube saw the largely identical Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Battle Nexus, and Mutant Nightmare released in 2003, 2004, and 2005 respectively; none of them were big guns, but there is fleeting pleasure in beating the snot of Foot, Triceraton and the like.
Mutant Nightmare has taken a kind of quasi-top-down view of the action, but neither game is complex enough to sink your teeth into, nor fun enough to be a mindless festival. A power stone-fighter, Mutant Meleealso saw the light of day in 2005, but it’s so mundane it’s baffling.
Moving away from the Gamecube, however, it’s the Game Boy Advance that tackles those games that are more worth your time. The GBA version of TMNT (2003) is quite cheerful, if a little short platforming/smack-’em-down, but its sequel (Battle Nexus) is a lot of fun – unlike any of the previous games, it puts the spotlight on it. emphasis on exploration, with each Turtle starting each of the many stages without their weapons, forcing them to fight their way until they are located. Once found, of course, you can go to town on enemies and come back each level to find hidden crystals; the higher your skill level, the more you will need, with 100 in total in each world. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s great fun and surprisingly challenging. Both games feature stunning pixel art and superior SNES-style soundtracks.
The third game, Mutant Nightmare, was released for the Nintendo DS, but we can’t recommend this one so highly. That’s fine, but as a first DS title, it requires too many unnecessary, forced touchscreen interactions for such compelling challenges as turn a crank. Great, thanks for that.
The Ubisoft era
TMNT’s next major medium was the 2007 film, helpfully titled TMNTfor which Ubisoft took the reins of the Gamecube and Wii for a rather mediocre action-adventure that draws inspiration from Ubi’s Prince of Persia series. Like the film itself, the game was… gooda step above the latter, but still far from Konami’s heyday.
The DS got its own disappointing release, but more media attention was devoted to the GBA version, which took the form of a side-scrolling 2D beat-’em-up that drew hysterical comparison to said climax. , while actually being quite mediocre. single-player game that’s only truly notable for sharing staff with the best Scott Pilgrim vs The World.
Ubisoft also attempted a Smash Bros.-like called TMNT: Smash-Up which should have been a home run, but instead of including, ooh, you know, Turtle characters, they completed the list with several Rabbids. We don’t know what they were thinking either.
The new new era of animation
All that’s left, then, is the 3DS – thankfully it’s a pretty decent representation of heroes in a half-shell, though not necessarily from the source you might expect.
Nickelodeon’s 2012 CGI-animated series Turtles was the source of two games – a mundane 2013 brawler (also on Wii) and the rather red good Danger of the Ooze, a WayForward-developed Metroidvania inspired by the previous Radical Rescue. which takes the Turtles all over town, above and below ground, with a rather nice combat system allowing for all sorts of nice combos. The movement might seem a bit unusual, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a bit of a hidden gem.
Even more hidden, however, is the tie-in game based on the Platinum Dunes Ninja Turtles movie, a Diablo clone of all things starring those turtles from Michael Bay. It’s far from amazing, but it’s a lot more fun than expected, and the internet barely seems to accept that it even exists.
The new-old era…
As for the present and the future, of course, all you can do on Switch right now is play Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl as (oddly) two of the Turtles, as well as racing in a few karting titles. But it’s The Cowabunga Collection and, of course, Shredder’s Revenge that grab our attention – the latter looks as good as any TMNT game.
Looks aren’t everything, though, and whether Shredder’s Revenge will be Rocksteady or Rat King remains to be seen.