Genre: Platform Action
Developed by: Konami
Published by: Ultra Games
Platforms: NES, Amiga, Commodore 64, DOS
Feeling Like: That Damn Level…
Coming in at number 477 is one of the most notorious video games in history. Well, early game history that is. Now its legacy is simply a meme; the level about midway through the game where you have to diffuse underwater bombs before they destroy the dam. It is absolutely where thousands, if not millions of young gamers gave up. What started out as a pretty fun action game delved into an unforgiving, underwater collection of electric seaweed, complete with vague map and a harsh time limit.
You must understand, I had an unhealthy obsession with the Ninja Turtles. Every generation has it; this weird, cultural phenomenon that critics turn their noses up to, but children (and those who can’t escape childhood pursuits) become fanatically obsessed with. Objectively, the Ninja Turtles franchise has popped out about five terrible products for every good one, but that didn’t stop me from renting this EVERY. SINGLE. WEEKEND. I remember it vividly – dad’s tiny 13 inch CRT sitting in our sunroom, the hot NES controller in my hand in the middle of a moderately sweltering Victoria BC summer and my complete inability to know anything beyond I should be renting and playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, because they were the Ninja Turtles. Quality didn’t enter into the equation.
The anthropomorphic reptiles were everywhere at time. Comic books, naturally. Action figures, because it was the late 80s and it was law that your product existed to print money (see: Transformers, GI Joe). Movies and TV. And in 1989, the Nintendo Entertainment System.
I never did get much further past the dam level, (I did beat it once) but it’s impossible to look past it. Or the wacky enemies that had no business being in a Ninja Turtles game. Yes, I realize how insane that sounds, but come on, when did dude-made-of-fire ever show up in the comic strip? Or killer balloons? When you get to low life, there’s a noise that sounds like your carbon monoxide detector is a) out of batteries and b) on meth. It doesn’t stop, until you switch turtles or eat some pizza. Where’s the TV theme song? Annoyances like that litter the game.
Never mind. The game wasn’t totally devoid of greatness; the overworld theme is still catchy, as is the intro song. Killing enemies, when they’re not unfairly blocking an entire hallway, is satisfying. They were kind enough to include my absolute favorite turtle, Raphael, but he was constantly relegated to bench status. His sai is as laughably useless as Donatello’s bow is laughably overpowered. If Donatello takes a dirt nap, your chances of beating this game are zero in a half shell.
No specific moments jump out as being grand, but remembering that others shared my admiration with Nintendo and the turtles through brings a smile to my face. Nintendo Power magazine features. Arguing with friends at school who had/hadn’t beaten the game (nobody had). Watching Christian Slater and Beau Bridges share a special father-son bonding moment while playing the game in a hotel room in the Wizard. Years later, when the internet came, I watched a review from the Angry Nintendo Nerd posted in 2006 and laughed at his rage. Others obviously share some kind of passing interest in the game – the video has nearly nine million views.
This won’t be the last Ninja Turtles game (five more to go on the 500!) but it was certainly the first I played. What remains isn’t a good game, but memories of belonging to a craze that swept over everybody you knew in your tiny, six year old’s world loved it too.