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HomeFeatures Heroes (and Zeroes) in a Half Shell: The Best and Worst of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Games
Heroes (and Zeroes) in a Half Shell: The Best and Worst of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Games
Posted on Saturday, August 9 @ 13:01:00 Eastern by ryanbates
Provided Michael Bay hasn't blown it up yet, the newest cinematic iteration of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles premiered in movie theaters this past Friday. Leo, Raph, Donnie and Mikey are no strangers to the silver screen, with three movies borne of their original smash cartoon in the late '80s, and a CGI flick in 2007. In addition to those, the later 2003 series, the current run on Nickelodeon, and yes, not one but tworap songs, and more toys than Donatello can shake a bo staff at, the Turtles have also been featured in several video games – nineteen, to be exact. Some of them were classics, while some of them were about as endearing to fans as Venus de Milo. (Yes, I brought her up.)
So, in honor of the return of the Heroes in a Half Shell and/or to rid your mind of the foul stain (if it's terrible – I mean, Michael Bay is involved), GameRevolution looks back at the best and the worst games starring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The original Turtles game for the NES holds a unique dichotomy requiring it to be set at neutral ground. To paraphrase a nursery rhyme, when it was good, it was very, very good, but when it was bad it was horrid. Yes, we all know the underwater levels were completely heinous. Tortuous swimming controls, electrified seaweed, time limit, kill it with fire for God's sake. But really, the rest of it was hard but still fun. The side-scrolling areas were a blast, and yes, I even enjoyed the overworld, especially when the Turtles brought out the Party Wagon. Missiles in New York City? That'll clear up some traffic, especially when that traffic was a bunch of Foot Soldiers.
Since parts of the game were great, and other parts awful, the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles earns the 0 spot on the list as neutral ground.
Kinda Bad (-1) - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Melee
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Melee wasn't really all that bad, but it was definitely not good, nor all that enjoyable. Mutant Melee was an early attempt to knock off Super Smash Bros. Melee, but just lacked the charm and the polish of the Nintendo brawler. Combine that with a mediocre roster and carry over the wonky controls from the other two games stemming from the 2003 cartoon, and a game is bred that resembles pizza from three days ago – it's still pizza, and you could consume it, but it probably won't be as good as you expect and you'll feel bad later.
Kinda Good (+1) - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash-Up
Coincidentally, the first entry on the side of good also smacks of Super Smash Bros.Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash-Up was a serviceable entry from Ubisoft, partly for the Turtles 25th anniversary and partly to atone for previous mistakes in the Turtlesphere. And really, it wasn't all that bad. The roster was still disappointingly small, but at least the controls were tight enough to be a respectable fighting game. Smash-Up took its name seriously, including background interactivity and destructibility, allowing for collateral damage, environmental hazards, climbing structures, and my personal favorite, delivering flying elbows to unsuspecting opponents.
If you SMEEEEEELLLLLLLELELELELELELELELELELELELL...
What the Raph... is cookin'.
Bad (-2) - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters
Continuing with the fighters, many people may have played Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters on the SNES and Genesis, and may be preparing their hate mail as we speak, as well they should: those two games were quite fun, especially the SNES version, which like many fighters at the time had a very Street Fighter II-esque feel to it.
However, there was a third version released in the waning days of the NES for those who may not have made the jump to the 16-bit era, and it was so bad it probably convinced a few late-comers to jump ship.
Tournament Fighters on the NES was short and clunky with a meager roster and plagued by “character blink.” Most importantly, fighters just didn't work on the NES. By this time in arcades, players had a joystick and usually about four to six buttons for attacks which could be strung together for combos. The NES had a D-pad and two buttons. It's nigh-impossible to recreate the action of an intense arcade fighter with an NES controller. Unfortunately, Tournament Fighters' 8-bit rendition sullies the image of the much-better 16-bit offerings.
Good (+2) - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Manhattan Missions
Even the most die-hard Turtles fans may never have heard of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Manhattan Missions – the game was only released for PC/DOS. Remember DOS? Yeah! Apparently there were games other than Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?
Manhattan Missions held another unique trait amongst TMNT games: it picks up a large part of its influence from the original Mirage comics, giving the action-platformer a more mature, gritty feel compared to its 1987 animated counterpart. Casey Jones also plays a significant role, rescuing the Turtles in times of need. Manhattan Missions also lifts from the original film, including Mafia references, Splinter's redesign, and the inclusion of Tatsu.
The games sends the Turtles off to find and stop Shredder, but a la the original Prince of Persia, they only have a set amount of time to find him. Turtles can rest in between missions to regain energy, but at the cost of time. Manhattan Missions holds a unique spot in the Turtles' game gallery, and deserves a bit more recognition.
Really Bad (-3) - TMNT
Sixth- and seventh-gen, 2007
Movie tie-ins! A sure-fire way for an instant hit video game, right? Not so much. But with a franchise like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, movie tie-ins come with the territory, and the tie-in to the 2007 CGI-animated film holds up to the tie-in curse, tanking it in almost every way possible.
TMNT (as the cool kids were calling it these days), like Manhattan Missions, vaguely resembled an early 3D version of Prince of Persia minus the time limit. However, unlike the original Turtles in 1989 gaining notoriety for being exceptionally difficult, TMNT became infamous for being exceptionally easy. How easy? The game refused to let you die. Even flinging yourself into a pit would cause you to reset yourself just a few steps away. TMNT offers very little incentive for good gameplay, clearly aiming for much younger players despite its E10+ rating.
TMNT actually suffered the reverse problem that Tournament Fighters suffered from. Unlike Tournament Fighters, which had one pile of crap sitting amongst two other better games, TMNT spewed its waste on GameCube, Wii, DS, PlayStation 2, PSP, Xbox 360, and PC. However, the jewel among the turds was the TMNT port released, of all systems, on the Game Boy Advance, reaching its twilight hours. Unlike the other games which were all essentially Prince of Persia Jrs., TMNT on the Game Boy Advance was a 2.5D hack-n-slash, harkening back to earlier NES and SNES titles. Also unlike the other ports, the Game Boy Advance port was actually good.
Really Good (+3) - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game
When players picked up a copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in 1989 for their Nintendo Entertainment System, they probably were expecting something like this, not overworld Party Wagons and electrified seaweed from hell. The coin-op game had been in arcades in 1989, after all, in a 2-player or 4-player cabinet. So when the arcade game was finally ported, Nintendo asked Konami to slap a II and a subtitle on it; the choice to port would set the tone for home Turtles games throughout the 8- and 16-bit eras and wipe out the aftertaste of the original NES game.
The NES port of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game came with a little bonus, and I don't mean the Pizza Hut coupons found in the box – a new section of Scene 3, a new boss battle with Baxter Stockman, and a whole new Scene 6. Dubbed “the Snowfield,” it put the Heroes in a Half Shell in a snowy setting, ultimately facing off against Shogun the robotic samurai, and Tora, the dog-like snow beast. The beat-'em-up classic still holds a favorable reputation, and would serve as the base for the heyday of Turtles video games in the '90s.
Awful (-4) - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Confession time: I grew up on the 1987 animated series versions of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so my headcanon will constantly align the Turtles with surfer brahs and “Cowabunga!” When I heard there was a new Turtles cartoon, of course I was down to check it out. After about a few episodes, snarky little post-college me had labeled the new series “Teenage Steroid Serious Turtles.” And while I understand that it was trying to return to its more mature, comic-based image, it just failed (in my opinion) to be enjoyable to watch. Also, how in the Sam Hill does a Turtle, teenaged, mutant, or otherwise, get so damn yoked? I'm fairly sure no species of Turtle can manage that.
The 2003 version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was everything I hated about Teenage Steroid Serious Turtles in a video game with the added torture of crappy controls, no block technique, and only a capability for two players. While I can understand that technical restriction for the PS2 as it only had two controller ports, both the Xbox and Gamecube had four built in. Built in, as in “no need for any extra accessories.” Four ports, four Turtles, two players. Derp.
Not that you could probably find three friends to play this brainless button-mash attempt at a new-skool beat-'em-up. Seriously, go toss off, 2003 Turtles.
Great (+4) - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project
Astute readers may be noticing a pattern here: earlier Turtles games were good, later Turtles games were poop. This is not just due to my preference for the '87 cartoon; it stems from two facts. The first was that in the NES era, the rights to any Turtles-based video game was held exclusively by Konami, while the licensing in the present has gone from Konami to Ubisoft and now to Activision. The second, and more notable fact, was that in the early era, Turtles games had a clearer, more defined image of what they were – classic beat-'em-ups. The base formula was easy enough: wave of baddies, beat 'em up, next wave of baddies, lather, rinse, repeat. It was the twists and additions to the formula that would largely determine a beat-'em-up's success during that era.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project built on the foundation of The Arcade Game and kept the formula in tact, but added special moves for each Turtle, later coming to be a video game standard for the Green Team. Players can now impale and toss baddies into one another for extra damage, and the jump kick, while present in The Arcade Game, has improved its effectiveness in this third iteration. Konami proved that they knew what they were doing with a successful franchise, and like their other hits such as Castlevania and Contra, continued to try new ideas and expand appeal while still staying true to the core reason why people play Turtles games to begin with – beating Shredder's Foot Soldiers up with Turtle Power.
Worst (-5) - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
As much as I love Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael, this game made me wish they had stayed back in the shadows just a little while longer.
I will start by trying to say something nice about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows – the game had good intentions. The last consoles had seen of the Heroes in a Half Shell was 2009's Smash-Up, which was serviceable but not what the Turtles could be, a fun, multiplayer beat-'em-up extravaganza worthy of the consoles of the day. Out of the Shadows took a crack at it and failed worse than Bebop and Rocksteady on any given day.
GameRevolution's own Daniel Bischoff reviewed the game, giving it 2.5 out of 5 stars, and that, my friends, is being generous. The gameplay is repetitive and rather blasé, with no real reason to interact with any of the other Turtles, human-controlled or otherwise. If TMNT's main takeaway, other than being awesome and inducing hunger for pizza, is the value of teamwork, Out of the Shadows must have missed the memo.
Then there's the whole fact that the game, technologically, is about as sound as Baxter Stockman's sanity. Bugs, glitches, and geometric failings render the game's playability to frustrating levels at best, and nearly inoperable at worst. Suffering on Xbox Live and Steam, the PlayStation Network port was delayed to address geometric glitches, camera issues, and controls. Upon its eventual release, turns out that Red Eye Studios fixed just about nothing.
Out of the Shadows was largely based on the current Nickelodeon series, which, for what it's worth, isn't all that bad. It's certainly not as bad as to warrant a pile of crap like this.
Best (+5) - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time
It's hard to argue any reason why Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time is not the pinnacle of Turtles games. Really, its only flaw is, again, the fact that all four Turtles can't be played at the same time. This can be forgiven, though, since unless you were the spoiled kid who got that SNES Multitap, two was the maximum amount of controller ports anyway.
Turtles in Time was everything a Turtles game should be: waves of baddies taken care of in beat-'em-up styles, challenging but not impossible, with enough variety to not get dull. Each Turtle had pros and cons (usually concerning their speed and attack range, trading one for another), giving players reason to pick a character carefully as opposed to just picking their favorite. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but sometimes I'd rather have Raph's speed, and sometimes I want Donnie's range. I'm just a maverick like that.
The arcade game was great, but the SNES port was even better, as levels were extended and added as they were in The Arcade Game. The two vehicular levels were made to be bonus stages, and the stage “Technodrome – Let's Kick Shell!” was added. Most notably, the Turtles could now throw enemies at the screen in order to show off the fancy Mode 7 graphics; this ability was present in the arcade cabinet but could now be performed intentionally on the SNES, a necessary tool in the fight against Shredder at the end of the Technodrome stage.
While props should also be given to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist, a very similar game released around the same time on the Sega Genesis, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time Re-Shelled, which remade the arcade game in 3D for XBLA and PSN (allowing 4 Turtles at a time finally), the SNES version still stands as the best Turtles game, and arguably one of the best 2D beat-'em-ups of all time.