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#173 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game

Turtle Power! This time at home!

The cursor stares into your soul.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 4/20/21
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
My Video: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game Longplay

A lot can change in just a few years.  It was four years ago when I beat the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the site.  I wouldn’t have guessed that I would end up learning the speedrun for this game and getting a pretty decent time for my efforts, as well as making good friends in the speedrunning community at large.  I don’t speedrun too many games and not any more of the TMNT games, but I do like them quite a bit.  Last April, I played TMNT II: The Arcade Game, a familiar game that got a lot of play over the years.  Now this April, I am finally working the backlog and starting to write up this review.  (Yes, I realize it is now June, I’m not exactly sprinting through things to get fully caught up.)  Purely by coincidence, it is very fitting that April has become the de facto Turtle month for me!

For more information about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, check out my review of the first NES game.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a smash hit in the arcades after its 1989 release.  Tens of thousands of arcade cabinets were sold and shipped worldwide, and Konami had trouble keeping up with the demand.  Naturally that demand was high enough that home versions were created and released on various home computers, as well as a port to the Famicom and NES.  The Famicom version was released first as just Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, then a week later Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (TMNT II for short) arrived on the NES.  Both releases were in December 1990.  The game was developed and published by Konami worldwide, except for North America where it was published under the Ultra Games label.  The PAL release, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles II: The Arcade Game came out in November 1991.  The arcade version was released on Xbox Live Arcade in 2007, and both the NES version and arcade version of the game are a part of the newly announced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection coming later in 2022.

How did they get the wrecking balls upstairs?

The NES port of the TMNT arcade game is notable for adding two brand new stages to the mix.  While the story of the game is rather basic, there was some detail added in the NES manual to cover for the new stages.  This game plot-wise is a follow up from the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film.  At the end of the movie, Shredder is thrown off the roof of a building into a garbage truck and crushed.  But as it turns out, Shredder was saved from death by his titanium-laced helmet, so he is able to escape unseen and rebuilds in secret.  During this, he recruits two bounty hunters, Tora and Shogun, who star in their own brand new levels.  With everything lined up, Shredder captures April O’Neil again, putting our heroes on the rescue path once again.
Let’s get started with playing the game.  TMNT II has two-player simultaneous play, so you can choose from 1 Player or 2 Player mode to get started.  Next, each player will choose their turtle of choice.  Each turtle is shown in their own square in grayscale and selecting the turtle you want will brighten him up in full color.  After all players have chosen their turtle, another cutscene plays before launching into the game proper.

TMNT II is a side scrolling beat-em-up.  Use the D-pad to move your turtle around the screen.  Stages typically move from left to right, and you can use Up or Down to move in and out.  Press A to jump.  Some stages have elevated floors and you can jump up ledges to higher ground.  The B button attacks.  While standing or moving, this does a simple attack with your weapon.  While airborne in a jump, press B to do a jump kick.  This move is great for quick attacks or as a defensive maneuver if you need a short burst of speed.  Perhaps the most helpful move in the game is the jump attack.  To do this, press A and B at the same time.  If performed correctly, you’ll do a short hop immediately into an attack.  I usually perform this move by rolling my thumb across A then B, pressing B just a little bit after pressing A.  This prevents me from accidentally attacking before jumping which doesn’t do the proper move.  The jump attack does extra damage and defeats many basic enemies in a single strike, and there’s no penalty of any kind to use it, so I do this pretty much the entire game.

The top of your screen contains a few stats for each turtle.  You see the name of your turtle, your score, your remaining health, and the number of lives in reserve.  Scoring in this game is very basic; each enemy defeated is worth one point, including bosses.  Your health bar starts off all the way across your status box and ticks down as you suffer enemy attacks.  Some stages have pizza on the ground that you can collect to restore your health fully.  You begin the game with two extra lives, and you earn another life every 200 points, a fairly tall order given the slow rate of scoring.  There are no other powerups or anything else.  There is a limited continue system.  You get three continues to beat the game, and each one brings you back to the beginning of the current stage.

The orange glow means you’re about to win.

This is a very straightforward game.  There are 10 total scenes in the game across 7 stages.  In each scene, you defeat all the enemies that appear on the screen before continuing to move to the right.  Most stages end in a boss fight against one of Shredder’s big baddies.  Most of the enemies in the game are the standard foot soldiers, with standard attacks.  As the game progresses, they come in different colors with some different abilities.  For instance, yellow foot soldiers throw boomerangs.  Even the default purple color enemies can vary sometimes, like the enemies that throw sticks of dynamite.  There are other types of recurring enemies like the tiny mousers.  The turtles themselves are pretty much interchangeable as there aren’t any turtle-specific special moves and there doesn’t appear to be any benefit to one turtle over the next.  I do have fun with this game, but there’s no denying that it sticks to the same formula throughout.

TMNT II: The Arcade Game was one of the NES games I had growing up.  I was big into TMNT for a few years as I was just the right age for that.  I know I played the arcade release a few times but the NES version is what I remember the most.  This was a multiple time rental before I got my own copy of the game.  I’ve since beaten the game many times over the years.  My collection copy now is not the same one I had as a kid.  I loaned my cart out to a friend at school, he stuck it in his backpack, then later slipped and fell down hard.  The cart inside his bag got cracked and a corner of the plastic broke off entirely.  Thankfully I am not super nostalgic about having the exact same copies I grew up with, even though for the most part I took good care of my things.  This is a pretty common game, but it is desirable, so it goes for about $20 for a loose cart.

This was an easy clear for me.  The game came up once, maybe twice in the NintendoAge contests. (They are still going on now at videogamesage.com, though I haven’t participated in a year or two at this point.)  The ruleset was to get as far as you can on one credit, with lowest score as the tiebreaker.  Some stages have interactable elements that you can hit into enemies to kill them, without earning points.  Grinding out attempts for a week, even years ago, got me trained up to play through the game well.  For this playthrough, I did two attempts and won both times without continues.  I wanted to see if I could go deathless, but that will take some effort to accomplish.  In my video longplay, I actually died to Rocksteady, the Stage 1 boss, then got all the way to Krang at the end of the game before dying again.  I died quite a few times to Shredder too.  I would have to clean that fight up significantly.  This was a clean enough run and I’m happy with it.  Maybe someday I’ll go back and work on a deathless run.

Home sweet home

I bet a lot of retro gamers my age will remember the cross promotion between the NES game and Pizza Hut.  Most notably, there was a coupon on the back page of the NES manual for a free, personal pan pizza.  There was advertising for this plastered on the front of the game box, and Pizza Hut is referenced a few times within the game itself.  I lived in a small town growing up, and the only pizza place we had in town was Pizza Hut.  Those personal pan pizzas were one of the greatest things ever.  My local place also carried a few arcade cabinets, and while I don’t know for sure, it’s certainly possible that there I got to play the arcade version while waiting for the cheesy goodness.  While my original copy is long gone, and I’ll never know if I redeemed that coupon or not, I now own a CIB copy of TMNT II with the coupon still intact.  It’s only 30 years expired at this point!

TMNT II: The Arcade Game sits in an almost overlooked place these days.  I believe TMNT III is the better game of this style.  The original NES TMNT game is so weird and wonky, but also unique and challenging, and I really like what it offers.  The arcade version is a beautiful game and still looks amazing today, and it plays so well with different moves and 4-player simultaneous action.  I think the NES port is really well done considering the limitations of the console, and after looking into it, I say it fared better than its computer ports.  This game has a clean graphical style with recognizable characters and detailed sprite work.  The music is great, as you would expect from Konami, and faithful to the Turtles theme.  Controls are rock solid, and the gameplay is equally solid action.  There are plenty of tense boss fights and scenes to keep things engaging.  The only criticism I see is that the game is pretty long for just fighting enemies and moving to the right.  You literally need to defeat hundreds of enemies in one sitting to beat this game.  That can be tedious for some, certainly.  Some people are really disappointed in this game, and others would claim its average, maybe above average at best.  I say this is quite a good game, one of the better NES games out there.

#173 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game


#82 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Turtle power! Times four!

The music starts simple and builds up nicely.

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 4/26/18
Difficulty: 9/10
My Difficulty: 5/10
My Video: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Longplay

If you have been reading along for a while, you probably know that I am all about video games, and not much else. For instance, I don’t watch too many movies and often don’t watch the ones that have NES games tied to them. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were quite the phenomenon in the early 1990s, so much so that even I was all about them for a time. I had a bunch of the toys, I watched the cartoon, I saw the movies, and of course I played a lot of the NES games. The first of these games poses a stiff and often unfair challenge but is still a well-remembered game regardless, owing a debt to the source material for keeping it held in esteem among 90’s kids like myself.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. They first appeared in a 1984 comic book published by Mirage Studios. The two creators were approached by licensing agent Mark Freedman to try and expand the franchise. They teamed up with Playmates Toys to create a line of action figures, and the company insisted on creating a cartoon to help tie in with the toy line. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV series began in 1987, and though it took a little while to catch on, it blew up in popularity over the late 1980s and early 1990s. The comic book continued to run alongside the TV show, and several movies and video games followed throughout the 1990s. The series is still going on today, most notably in the Nickelodeon animated series ending in 2017, with a new series slated for the network later in 2018.

The NES game Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (abbreviated TMNT) was first released on the Famicom in May 1989. The NES release in North America followed soon after in June 1989, and the PAL release occurred in August 1990. Konami developed the game. It was published by Konami in Japan, under the Ultra Games label in the US, and Konami’s Palcom label in Europe and Australia. The Japanese version was called Geki Kame Ninja Den, meaning Legend of the Radical Ninja Turtles. The European version was renamed Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles to remove references to ninjas, just like with Ninja Gaiden. This version of the game was ported to various home computers, and even appeared in arcades as a Playchoice-10 title.

You can explore the map or get into the sewer.

TMNT is a side-scrolling action game. The plot begins with the standard “save the girl” trope, as Shredder has captured April O’Neil and you have to get her back. Ultimately, your task is to locate and defeat Shredder, the leader of the Foot Clan. The turtles want to retrieve his Life Transformer Gun, which they hope to use on Splinter to restore him back to his human form. This journey will take you through six stages, culminating in a final battle with Shredder himself.

When you start the game from the title screen, you are first dropped into a top-down view of a portion of the New York City streets. You control a tiny Ninja Turtle here. You can walk in four directions with the D-pad, and attack straight ahead with the B button. Right next to you is an opening to the sewer, and you can go inside if you want. There the gameplay changes to the side-scrolling view where the action takes place. You can also walk around the building and take the path on the left but be careful if you do. Right around the corner is a large steam roller that will drive toward you, and if you touch it you get crushed and die instantly, or in this game, get captured. You can explore the map freely and go in and out of the sewers or doorways freely as well. The idea is to locate the end level boss and defeat him to move on.

You can press Start to pause the game. This brings up an information screen. On the left side there is a minimap of the current area. Red squares indicate where you can walk around, and white squares indicate entrances to the side-scrolling areas. There is also a small, flashing plus sign that shows where you are on the map. On the right side is a small profile of each of the four turtles: Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello. You see a small picture of each turtle, his shortened name, a life bar, and what special weapon he has, if any. You can switch between turtles anytime in this game. Press Up or Down to highlight which turtle you want, and you will control him directly when you unpause. The lower part of the screen shows an informational message from one of the other characters, typically master Splinter.

Words of encouragement AND character selection!

Most of the game is played within the side-scrolling areas. You move around with the D-pad, jump with A, and attack with B. The turtles take high, loopy jumps and will curl up into a ball. You can take shorter jumps by tapping the A button. Once you start moving sideways in the air, you can’t stop until you land, making precision jumps on small ledges difficult. The B button attacks straight ahead. You can attack above by holding Up and below by holding Down when you strike with B. Your turtle crouches with Down while standing on the ground.

The lower part of the screen during gameplay holds vital information. The left shows both your current score and high score. The middle part displays your health bar. You begin with eight squares of health and you can get damaged in half-square increments. Below that is an enemy health bar that only appears during bosses or stronger enemy encounters. The right side shows your main weapon, sub weapon, and any other items you may encounter.

Each of the Ninja Turtles is known for mastering a specific weapon and you get to use them as your default weapon depending on which turtle you choose. Leonardo wields a katana. This has the best total range for all directions. Raphael uses sai, which is easily the weakest weapon in the game. It is very fast to deploy repeatedly but has virtually no range and isn’t as strong as you might expect given its natural handicap. Michelangelo wields nunchucks, which have good horizonal range but weak vertical range. Donatello is a master of the bo staff. This weapon has the best reach, but not necessarily the best range. Attacking enemies at your feet is tricky since you either have to attack while crouched, which gives you very little range, or attack downward while jumping. However, the bo is the most powerful of the standard weapons, therefore making it the most useful weapon in the game.

This screen should bring back some painful memories.

There are secondary weapons in the game that you mostly pick up from defeated enemies. They are uncommon drops, but you will see a few of them during play. Shurikens are simple projectile weapons that pack some surprising punch. There is also a three-way shuriken with a much wider range. Boomerangs are slow moving and don’t travel very far, but they come back toward you and you can grab them again to add them back to your stock. There is also the infamous scroll weapon that is not dropped by enemies and can only be found in a few places. This is a wide projectile attack that does heavy damage. Each weapon pickup gives you twenty ammo. Grabbing a new weapon replaces an old one, so typically you will switch turtles to spread the weapons around.

Other items are planted in the levels. Health-restoring pizza is the most common pickup you will find. Slices restore a quarter of your health, half pizzas give you back half of your health, and a full pizza restores it all. This only applies to your active turtle so you may choose who gets health if several turtles are in danger. Missile pickups give you ten missiles for the turtle van in the overhead view of Level 3. Ropes are used in special sections to help you cross large gaps. Finally, there is an invincibility item in the shape of a Ninja Turtle face. Grab it to ball up and swing your weapon all around you for several seconds. Then you can wipe out pretty much any enemy by bumping into them.

There are a lot of weird enemies in this game. Some are TMNT staples, like foot clan soldiers and mousers. There’s an enemy that’s all legs that jumps off ceilings with reverse gravity. There are weird glowing men, and chainsaw-wielding freaks, and flying saucer shaped robots, and men completely on fire, and robot soldiers with detachable heads, just to name a few. Some enemy encounters lock the screen for awhile and one of the stronger enemies will appear with its own dedicated health bar. There’s a weird quirk about the enemies that happens a lot in this game. Most areas have two enemy groups but only one is active at a time. The one you get when you enter a new screen appears to be chosen at random. You’ll find you prefer certain groups over others. Even weirder is that the enemy group can change in the middle of an area if all on-screen enemies are cleared out first. It’s one of the stranger game mechanics I’ve seen, which seems to fit given the equally strange enemies within the groups.

Heads will fly.

Let’s take a brief look at the stages in this game. This is already dipping into spoiler territory, if you care about such things. The first level is a good introductory stage to get used to the map and game mechanics. You will face both Bebop and Rocksteady as bosses here. The second stage is the infamous dam level. In the latter part of the stage you go underwater to disable eight bombs before time runs out. Swim by tapping A to rise and the D-pad to move around. There are electrical barriers and painful seaweed to deal with, but the timer is essentially the boss of this stage. In Level 3, you take control of the turtle van, or party wagon, as you seek out the boss. You can fire small bullets or large missiles that take out barricades in your way. Level 4 takes place at an airport and contain 18 numbered areas to explore. Level 5 has a dark map with searchlights that drop foot soldiers near you if you get caught. The boss is randomly hidden within one of the sewers and the enemies are very difficult. The final area has no map, playing only in the side-scrolling view. This large area contains one of the nastiest stretches of gameplay I’ve witnessed in this project.

You can survive a long time in this game because you manage four full health bars all at once. Inevitably, one turtle will succumb to damage or an instant death trap. In this case, that turtle gets captured and you have to go without him. There is one spot each in Levels 3, 4, 5, and 6 where you can recover a captured turtle, but you can only get one back per level. If all turtles are lost, it’s Game Over. You can continue twice which sends you back to the start of the level.

TMNT was one of the NES games I acquired back in the Ninja Turtles heyday of the early 90s. I have played the game a lot and have beaten it many times before. I remembered all the main points of the adventure despite not playing through the game for a long time. I think the last time I played through the game before now was in college just to show off to my friends. It’s regarded as a difficult NES game for good reason.

Some areas get clogged up with enemies.

It took me two attempts to beat the game. The first time was meant to shake off the rust, so to speak. I almost beat the game anyway. I was able to reach the last level without too much trouble, but that nasty corridor I mentioned earlier reared its ugly head and I couldn’t make it through. That spot is a long area littered with these flying robot soldiers that shoot lasers. They appear constantly throughout the length of the room, while the height of the room gets narrower and you have no room to dodge. They take at least two hits to kill with the best weapons as well. There is a bit of a trick to passing through the area, but it eluded me the first time through. I was successful on my next attempt though I had to use up both continues before figuring it out.

I will defend TMNT as a fun game, but it is kind of a mess in a few regards. The turtles themselves are unbalanced. Raphael is practically useless, mostly serving as either a damage sponge or special weapons expert. Donatello is easily the best character, but the game gets a lot more challenging should you lose him. The changing enemy group mechanic is strange and can hinder you as much as it can help you. I think some enemies take too many hits to beat. I can try and skip some, but that becomes an issue because there is significant slowdown and flicker when too many enemies are stuck on screen. The slowdown isn’t helpful from an enemy avoidance perspective since your movement is on the sluggish side normally. Many areas are too narrow to properly avoid enemies anyway. Another bonus mechanic is that a turtle gets an attack power boost when he is low on health. However, this doesn’t always seem to work, and I don’t think it’s something you can depend on even though it is useful when it happens.

Now that I’ve said my piece on TMNT, I think it is a disappointing game. The technical issues and balancing issues mentioned above hold the game back. I expect more out of a Konami game on NES. TMNT lacks the typical Konami polish, particularly from a 1989 release. By then, Konami had already released several games, including ones I’ve already played like Top Gun, Contra, and Gyruss. All of those games are a better technical experience than TMNT. The game does have some good qualities. The music is really good, and the graphics are solid. I like the overhead map and the variety of the gameplay it provides. The idea of switching between the four turtles each with different weapons is a great idea. I think the difficulty curve is even and each stage is harder than the one before it. The structure of a great game is here, but it falls a tad short of the mark for me. Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking, but I find TMNT to be a fun game anyway despite its flaws.

#82 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles