Release Date: 1989
Konami were pretty unstoppable in the ’80s and early ’90s and were up there with the likes of Capcom as leading game developers. In 1989 the Turtles craze was in full swing with the cartoon being a HUGE hit with kids all around the globe, and with the rather excellent live action film just around the corner, it was a wise move to make a video game cash in on the phenomena.
The graphics in the game are just brilliant! The makers have duplicated part of the intro to the cartoon almost identically and the in-game graphics really capture the animation style of the series. The sprites are detailed, extremely well animated, and the backgrounds offer familiar easter eggs for keen-eyed fans. The cut-scenes between levels are also awesome, customised to how many players are actually playing the game at any one time, which is a neat touch.
The sound earns plenty of biscuit points as well. The music is energetic and slightly goofy which is spot on for the theme they are going for. Loads of snippets of speech samples and some oddball sound effects inject adrenalin into the heart of the gameplay. The whole thing has a classic ’80s Nintendo feel to it, but with an arcade machine level of quality.
Gameplay wise it can be described with one word: Frantic! Scrolling beat ’em ups at that time all had this panic stricken button mashing thing going on, as hoardes of enemies swarm the screen, and TMNT is no different. Add to this the fact that it’s a FOUR player game and you are in for some real fun. It’s a cracking laugh to play, and not only is the enemy variation really good, there are other gems like loose demolition balls, mousers, and Dimension X robots to contend with on top of the legion of Foot Clan soldiers.
Unfortunately, all this madness doesn’t hide the fact that the game is first and foremost a coin guzzler, and it has some nippy traits to go with that. The hit detection is pretty ropey, and there seems to be very little skill involved in the attacks. In games like Final Fight you had a set sequence of moves in a combination which never changed, but in the TMNT the combinations appear to be random, so you are unsure as to what you are actually doing at any given time. Add to this the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any punch or slash sound effects when you hit an enemy nor any sort of hit-spark, so it feels like you are slashing at air half the time with no real way to know if you made contact or not.
Overall, it’s a tremendous tribute to the cartoon series. A lot of care was taken with the cosmetics to accurately mimic the TV show and the game hits the look, sound and most importantly the feel of the series absolutely spot on. It’s a shame then that the gameplay mechanics seem to have been flung together simply to be functional. Combined with the sloppy hit detection it means death will occur often, costing you precious coin.
It certainly earns its place in history as one of the arcade’s most famous and recognisable machines, and the tech was used as the basis to create The Simpsons machine in 1991, which for all intent and purposes was the same game in new clothes.
A great laugh for short blasts, but not one you will strategically play for any great length of time.
The writer of this piece was: Alan Stares
Alan is a sound engineer, retro gamer, and general all-round geek from Glasgow. You can read more of his thoughts on a range of topics at ‘The Scots Perspective‘ and on retro gaming at ‘The Old Oilhouse‘.