Ah, the TMNT trilogy on NES. Not really a trilogy, but whatever. These are the kind of games a mother may buy for her child, and so that child might feel loved. Or something.
Turtle fever is in full swing; what started as a simple black-and-white parody comics somehow morphed into something with even less integrity but still beloved by, well, me, and probably you. There's a reason, after all, we like to say Michael Bay ruined our childhood; I wonder if some fan of the original comic felt that way when it was made into a Saturday morning cartoon. But I guess when you're busy starting indie comic grant foundations and marrying would-be porn stars
, you're bound to lose sight of your baby. Or just cease to give a shit.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that you might fondly remember the first TMNT game on NES, and you would be a fool to do so. It is a true abomination, barely a step above Marvel's X-men
. That game was such a heinous crime against games and comics that we can joke about it; even our young selves were aware of what garbage it was, and so our opinion is not tainted by nostalgia.
Not so TMNT! Even I have fond memories of this game, and I sort of loathe it. The kid who could make it past the water level? A schoolyard legend. The one who could make it past the rooftop levels? A giant among boys. Did you actually know
anyone who could even make it to the military base, let alone navigate that series of sewers? Playing this game years later, when I discovered the magic of emulators (and the porn-ridden ROM sites; ah, to be young), I was sort of astounded by how much more game
there was that I didn't know about. Not that it offers anything I hadn't experienced, but it's a pretty lengthy adventure.
I'll give Konami credit for two things: their ambition, and the decent graphics. Except "ambition" also means throwing a ton of on-screen enemies at once, and the game constantly gets bogged down with flicker, image blocking, and slowdown. So their ambition has undone their graphics. Addendum: I'll give Konami credit for their ambition and that's it.
The game starts off with an overhead map style. I guess I'll go to that sewer - Christ, I just got run over by a monster truck. I vaguely remember disliking Zelda II, you say to yourself, and this is like that. Strike 1.
You can switch between the four turtles at any time, which is nice. There are a few minor differences - reach, speed, power - but they're so negligible that it essentially amounts to having four life bars. You'll then notice the wonky physics. Which isn't entirely bad - it's at least responsive - but the game demands some exacting
platforming later on, and not in the good Batman way either. I'm talking about walking to the edge of a building so that only the minimum number of heel pixels are touching the ground, and even then it might not be enough. Or having to lightly tap the jump button just so
, because if you go too high, you'll hit your head and fall through the gap. Which might kill you, or it might drop you down and force you to go through that segment again - with Ninja Gaiden-style respawning enemies and cheap, downright mean placement. You might enter a building, fight your way through generic enemies coming at you every which way, make your way to the dead end, only to find... a slice of health-restoring pizza. And then, yes, you have to fight your way out again. Did I mention there are no saves or password systems? And did I mention that I'm only describing the game's first few stages?
Very few people have seen beyond these stages, because of this damn level:
I remember beating it on occasion, but my turtles would be so depleted that I wouldn't last long after. Mostly, though, I remember getting to the dam stage, then remembering that the water stage is next, and turning off the system right then and there before I would allow those bastards to demoralize me like that.
The controls are unresponsive in this segment, the obstacles are highly dangerous, and damn near impossible to get through using a single turtle. Oh, and to disarm these 6 bombs, you have less than 2 1/2 minutes.
People call this game "very difficult," which is nostalgia's way of saying "utterly fucking impossible." It' sort of amusing that we look back at "difficult" games and view them through the rose-tinted spectacles of our glorious youth, and we call it "old-school challenge," as if we've forgotten what obsessive little brats we were, with the time and dedication memorize layouts and develop these absurd reflexes, and most of us didn't have many options with our game libraries, or maybe we just didn't give a shit because HEY IT'S A TURTLES GAME. You've lost your Metroid saves, you've worn out your traffic cone-orange pack-in light gun, your brother has a girlfriend now (gross!) and doesn't want to play Contra with you anymore, and you just can't seem to blow the dust out of that old copy of Blaster Master. Hell, what else am I gonna play? What, like I'm going to visit that kid down the street? You know, that weird kid with his Sega Master System, who's gonna make me watch him struggle through Zillion
And so these are the circumstances in which I imagine no less than four million
suckers bought this game. That puts it in the top 10 of NES games sold. And it doesn't get much better after the water level, either. The platforming gets tricky - it would be hard even with perfect controls and a decent physics system. The game throws even more enemies at you, and half the time it's bogged down with technical glitches and image cutouts. The enemies get stronger, and you don't. Levels get longer, your options open up , but what's the use? Half the time, beating a level means backtracking to the entrance. I'm playing this with Game Genie codes on, and I even had to map the quick save/quick load commands to my actual controller, and it was still one of the most frustrating games I've ever played. The final walk up to Shredder is a long, narrow corridor, with no jumping space, and waves upon waves of fast enemies that require 2 hits to take down, except there is not nearly enough time for that before they hit you. If someone could make it there, and survive it (possibly with the Ninja Gaiden-style projectile pickups), Shredder gives the final 'fuck you' - an instant kill that shrinks you down to a little turtle.
A bad game is a bad game, but I would only harp on it if it showed some promise. Like I said, the game has ambition. You progress between levels on an outdoor overhead map type thing, eventually unlocking the turtle van. Roadblocks bar your way, and you're forced to seek special missiles for your van; in another instance, on the rooftops, you're required to find some rope to climb across an impossibly large gap. Hey! There is some merit in this. It's not exactly a proper Metroidvania, but it's a nice change of pace from strictly linear progression. The final act prevents a massive maze of sewers and underground passages that must be navigated in the proper order. All of this would be great if the game was actually fun and not controller-throwing cheap. Instead it's something closer to misery. Don't let your memory tell you any differently; you can't trust it.
All screenshots are my own; cover artwork courtesy of GameFAQs. I actually meant to write about the other two TMNT games on NES as well, but this went on a little longer than I expected. Uh, sorry about that. Look for them over the weekend! If you're into that sort of thing.
LOOK WHO CAME: