I usually try to write unbiased reviews, but I’ve gotta admit some bias on this one. Being a child of the 80s made being a Ninja Turtle fan mandatory, and I used to play this game constantly back in the day. So there’s a heavy sense of nostalgia for me here, and luckily it’s not a bad game either.
If the concept of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is foreign to you, here’s the short version. It was a Saturday Morning cartoon in the late 80s/early 90s, based off of an American comic book. In it, four turtles are covered in radioactive ooze and become mutant… turtles… who are skilled in eastern methods of combat, and are 13-19 years old. That part explains itself. They’re taught kung-fu by a wise martial arts master who is covered in the same ooze and becomes a giant rat named Splinter. They live in the sewers and fight the evil forces of Splinter’s power-mad nemesis Shredder, and a talking alien brain named Krang. They eat pizza like Popeye ate spinach. And they fight lots and lots of stock bad guys.
As the title states, this a direct port of the original arcade game. The “2” in the title only references Konami/Ultra’s previous NES release, so don’t worry about having missed some other arcade version you weren’t aware of. For the conversion, basically nothing has changed. You pick one of the four turtles and move through different levels fighting off Shredder’s robot foot soldiers; who are the only force in the universe equal in numbers to the Empire’s Stormtroopers. They come in various colors, flavors, and sport different weapons, but all act the same. They will try to keep a distance from you and sling available weapons or punches, and they will all fall to two strikes from any weapon. A few other enemies support these ninjas, mostly obviously the walking mouse robots. The first level has you rushing to save friend and reporter April O’Neil from an apartment fire. Unfortunately, Shredder snaps her up first and you spend the rest of your time chasing after her. Most, if not all of the villains from the cartoon make appearances as bosses – even Baxter Stockman in human and later fly form. The entire game references the show extremely well, so fans aren’t likely to be disappointed.
The NES version earns two new levels specific to the port, probably to increase the length of the game for the home user. It’s a nice gesture, and the two levels – a dojo and a snowy park – are as good as the originals. You probably won’t notice they’ve been added. You will notice a prominent little piece of marketing in the form of Pizza Hut textures added throughout the game. The billboards probably make sense, but the pizza drop box in the first level apartment does not. They’re also even more obvious by being the only product advertised. At least gaming companies stopped accepting these sorts of blatant, unwanted in-game ads in more recent years. Oh.. wait…
There’s a surprising lack of variation between the turtles when you’re playing, which is unfortunate. Each turtle has his proper bandanna coloring and unique weapon, but they all fight identically, and have no unique moves. In this version, the kitanas don’t have a longer reach over the sais, nor does any weapon do more damage than the others. The differences are simply in the appearances. However, there’s a lot of enjoyable fighting in store for you as you battle a number of well-designed soldiers and bad guys.
This is the only game I can think of right away where the enemies are actually more interesting than the main characters, mostly through their entrances. They make great use of the background, and always have some interesting way to appear on the scene, such as breaking through doors or popping up through manholes to toss the lid at you. It results in having you watch every background with some anticipation, waiting to see what part of it will “come alive” as a foot soldier explodes out of it. These are just the standard bad guys too; the bosses also work to add great variation and are challenging without being overly difficult. The levels themselves sometimes work in your favor, with animated objects you can use against the foot soldiers.
The graphics are fairly nice. It lacks the detail of the arcade, but of course this is no surprise. For the NES though, characters are quite detailed and backgrounds probably match their arcade counterparts as closely as possible. Not a powerhouse by any means, but from burning flames to ninja stars, to a topheavy April O’Neil, all the arcade pieces are here and look nice. Sound is dead on, with great themes running in the background and solid sound effects. Digital voices have been removed, with the exception of April’s scream, but the classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song remains with an impressive NES recreation. The other level themes retain their distinctive beats from the arcade as well.
Controls work well, with a simple jump and attack setup. However, the useful throw move from the arcade, which was automatically triggered if you attacked while close enough to a foe, has been removed here for some reason. Perhaps because the throwing displayed unique animations for the throwee, and they ran out of cart space. It means that this version comes off a little more mindless, as all you can really do is smack the attack button until the bad guy falls.
Also, if you’re playing this on an emulator, you’ll encounter a serious flaw. The power attack, which can kill soldiers in one hit and as such was your most useful attack in the arcade, doesn’t work here. In order to do it you pressed A and B at the same time, but when you do that on a keyboard the computer just kinda tilts its head to one side, squints, then says “fuck you” and picks one or the other. So through the entire game you’re stuck with only your basic attack and the jump kick, making every fight much longer than it needs to be, and groups of bad guys much more dangerous than they should be. But if you’re hardcore enough to own a gamepad, or to play this on an NES proper, then you’ll be all set.
In all, it’s a nice fighting game. The creative henchmen entries made the arcade game memorable for me, enough so to buy the NES version and play it frequently when it came out. It probably also helped that it was about the Ninja Turtles, and it is indeed an awesome Ninja Turtles game. If you’re finding this for nostalgia’s sake, then I certainly don’t need to make any recommendations. If this is the first you’ve ever heard of the game, it’s quite worth playing though until the very end.
Fun for Turtle fans, and possibly non-fans as well.
Some moves and presentation pizazz gets stripped, but you do get two exclusive levels in return.