Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles NES cover

Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Release Date: May 1989
Genre: Side-Scrolling, Action
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami, Ultra Games, Palcom, U.S. Gold


The original ‘Ninja Turtles’ release has gotten a lot of stick over the years. A lot of it is warranted, but there are far more cynical franchise spin-offs out there. The game may have gotten a lot of things wrong, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort. Konami tried something new with a lot of variations in an attempt to set the game apart from other side-scrolling actioners, and if nothing else it was interesting upon first impression. Whatever criticisms you have of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the video game, you can’t say that the developers didn’t try to achieve something novel.

Ultimately, is was a critical failure for a franchise that carried a lot of expectation. Part of the problem was the unbridled success of its arcade counterpart, a four-player Beat ‘Em Up which was superlative on just about every level, but the game had problems besides the comparisons that came when those expecting an identical NES port experienced something of a sour Christmas morning back in 1989. For one thing the game came with numerous flaws and oversights, but even worse was the game’s infuriating difficulty. As a kid, I barely made it past the third of six stages.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the NES UK pack-in that every kid under the age of 10 wanted that year, and I was no exception. The first thing that struck me about the game is that is was hard, and decades later it still is, especially considering its demographic. Though it was a one-player game, you had the option of choosing from all four turtle characters at any given time, which basically gave you four life bars. On the surface, this should have been all the help you needed on your quest, but that just wasn’t the case. This game was a bitch to play.

A major flaw came in the form of Raphael. If he was your favourite of the four reptilians then you were in for a shock because his weapon was so near-reaching that it was practically useless, which meant you always used him last, and that’s if you didn’t immediately turn the game off in frustration as he wouldn’t last two seconds against even the least formidable of opponents. Your best option was to sacrifice him for those parts of the game that were nigh on impossible without taking damage, which brings me to my next point.


Some sections of this game were recklessly do or die, which meant you had to have a certain amount of energy if you were to get any further, particularly the infamous underwater level, which although a welcome break from the ceaseless walk-and-slash dynamic of the first level, was extremely infuriating and could leave you with absolutely no energy going into level 2, even if you made it to this section with full energy for all four characters. Many times I would arrive crammed with life-replenishing pizza, only to watch the turtles die one after the next.

Another thing that was unforgivable, especially for young fans of the show, was the array of tacked-on bad guys you had to contend with. Foot Soldiers are cool, nobody has ever doubted that, so where the hell are they? There are some, but most of the time you are greeted by a plethora of unrecognisable villains, some of whom aren’t even recognisable as living creatures. Men with chainsaws – fine, they’re not in the show, but fine – but giant insects, floating eyeballs, bouncing boomerang men, laser-shooting robots, fly/man hybrids. Are you sure this is the right game?


Worse still, if you manage to hack your way through the overabundance of creatures ceaselessly swarming and get knocked off a platform you have to start from the beginning and all the baddies magically reappear. Get knocked backwards a little too far and the same thing happens. Contrarily, Bebop and Rocksteady, the shows toughest henchmen, are so easily defeatable you once again feel cheated, the latter proving so dumb he proceeds to run headfirst into a wall while you use Donatello’s bow to strike him from above.

Other annoying inconsistencies and downright confusing instances of design negligence include jumps that are reachable from lower tiers but not the higher ones, which, unless you jump from the former by accident, means you’ll be spending days trying uselessly to achieve the improbable while ignoring the correct, scientifically impossible route, while incongruously placed pizzas are out of reach no matter what you try, invariably resulting in death until you realise that some tw@t at Konami is having a good old laugh at the expense of frustrated children across the globe.


Despite all the frustration, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is still one of my favourite games for the system. Sure, it’s tricky and deeply flawed, but the action, though often repetitive, is largely satisfying. There’s also a lot of variation for an 8-bit outing, with a nice array of weapons and tools, some nice cut scenes, colourful level designs and a banging soundtrack that manages to get the absolute best out of the hardware. The game was released when arcade games were still something you could only dream of playing at home, and the inevitable comparisons to its arcade counterpart are understandable, but the NES version has just as much replay value, and is easily one of the best tie-in games of the era.

Best Character

Donatello. Donatello, Donatello, Donatello. Not only does he have the weapon with the longest reach, he can kill most opponents with one strike instead of two. You’ll probably find yourself using him the most and sparing him whenever his energy is low because without him completing the game would be impossible. In fact, you probably wouldn’t even make it halfway.

Most Frustrating Opponent

The Fly/Man hybrid. Not only does he breath fire and edge surreptitiously towards you, it takes a few hits to dispose of its body, only for the fly head to become an entity of its own, darting back and forth across the screen at such a speed that it’s almost impossible to vanquish it without suffering major damage, especially when you consider that they’re everywhere and have a tendency to knock you straight off a cliff edge. You just better hope you’re Donatello.

Most Frustrating Level

Easy. The underwater level. It’s by no means the hardest level―far from it―but it’s your first taste of how unfair the game can be. Your aim is to defuse a bunch of bombs in an allotted time. Problem is, you don’t get nearly enough of it, and since pretty much the entire level is strewn with electricity (we are underwater after all) you have no choice but to plough through these various deathtraps and hope that you get at least one of your turtles through to the next level.

Good luck! You’ll be needing it.

Most Frustrating Oversight

Okay, so you’ve spent the past three days trying to jump across a gap that’s a single brick wide. The problem is, the ceiling is too close and you keep falling down a level, where, you’ve guessed it, the overabundance of bad guys you’ve just ploughed through have all reappeared, and soon you’re entire gang of turtles are toast. Then one day you get so pissed off you simply decide to walk off the edge and commit suicide. But wait a minute! Suddenly you’ve made it. That’s right, all you had to do was walk off all along. Can you f@cking believe it?!

There you have it. Video games officially promote bad language.


There are so many things about this game that are frustrating, and Raphael is suddenly my least favourite Turtle, but there’s something about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that just keeps me coming back. Nostalgia, it seems, has a very thick skin.


    1. I had to use the fullest reaches of my imagination to keep this one interesting. The fact is, I never got past the third level as a kid and I had to wait months for my next game which was excruciating. Luckily for me, that game was The Legend of Zelda in all of its gold cartridge glory.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: