Game Review

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989) [NES]

TMNT Cover

“Forgiveness is divine, but never pay full price for late pizza.”
-Michaelangelo, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles



abxy1 “The following is a contributor post by the ABXY Mage.”

In 1984, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were introduced to the world through a comic book from Mirage Studios. In 1987, CBS brought us an animated series. That show lasted ten seasons. During that time, the Turtles also made it to the big screen three times. They also found themselves in almost a dozen video games. However, the movies and myriad of games all came after the original two, which both had the same title.

Turtle Blimp 1

1989 saw the release of both the arcade classic, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which would later be ported to the NES as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game, and the Nintendo Entertainment System original of the same name, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

While both games were developed by Konami, only one spawned a series of sequels and is still regarded as a classic. The other one is the game being reviewed in this critique.

Shredder Has April.png

Based on the, by then, hugely popular animated television series of the same name, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles starts with an extremely short opening cutscene that shows Shredder and The Foot Clan kidnapping April O’Neil. This is all the motivation our heroes in a half shell need to begin their quest to take down Shredder and his goon squad.

Bebop 1

If you’re a fan of the original TMNT animated series, then it will come as no surprise to you that in charge of kidnapping April, Shredder trusted Bebop and Rocksteady.

You would also (correctly) expect that they are quickly dispatched by our hero turtles.

Shredder is no fool, and he knew that Bebop and Rocksteady would be unable to prevent the Turtles from rescuing April. After all, while they may be strong and have guns, they’re also bumbling idiots.

Dam Bomb 1


In fact, they–along with the entire kidnapping of April–are just a distraction to occupy the Turtles while Shredder has bombs planted along the city dam.

With April safe, it’s up to the Turtles to find and disarm the bombs, in what many consider the most memorable level of the entire game.

Lucky, turtles are great underwater, so there’s no danger of drowning. Unfortunately, the dam is surrounded by electric seaweed and the bombs are on a timer. With barely enough time to disarm them all, it seems the day is saved and Shredder’s evil scheme has been foiled. All that’s left is to get back to the sewers and enjoy a piping hot pizza…

Home Wrecked

Well, it turns out that those dam bombs were also just a distraction aimed at keeping the foursome busy. Really? Yes, really. But, why did the Turtles need to be distracted this time?

Splinter Taken

Not only does Shredder have the Life Transformer Gun–the only thing that can return Splinter to his human form–but now he has Splinter, too. With April now safe, it’s time to save your sensei, your father. Will you finally bring down the Foot Clan or will Shredder dine on turtle soup?  Will you be ordering a celebration pizza (no anchovies, of course) or is New York destined to be ruled by Oroku Saki?

Turtles Intro



visuals Visuals: 6/10

Sewer JumpThe visuals of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are all over the place. Some are really good, some are terrible, and some make little sense. First of all, the game consists of two kinds of visual styles. One is for the overworld between stages, and the other is for the stages themselves.

While the overworld is nothing to write home about, it’s fine for what it needs to be. It’s essentially just a maze. Various building and manholes lead to different dead-ends, rewards, or paths forward. The best looking and most memorable part of this is when you get to drive the Turtle Van. However, it’s very short and pretty much wasted.

Spike RoomThe side-scrolling stages range from sensible and detailed to headache-inducing messes. Someone please explain why there is so much purple, teal, and peach in this game.

The Turtles look pretty good, if exactly the same except for their colored bands. The bosses, all classic characters from the series, also look surprisingly detailed.

Jetpack SoldierMaybe this is why the regular enemies look so terrible; a sacrifice for the greater good. There are fire monsters that are just walking, flashing blobs, flying things, jumpy things, clay-looking guys that sit down and stand up seemingly at random. Some of the enemies have features that can be made out, but most of them are not recognizable from the television show.

Glaringly absent from nearly the entire game are the familiar Foot soldiers. A puzzling omission. Even with the very small amount of enemy variation in the game, Foot Soldiers should be the most common enemy in any TMNT media.

audio Audio: 6/10

In typical fashion, Konami delivers a more than worthy soundtrack, this time by way of composer, Jun Funahashi. It’s upbeat, it’s hip, it’s surf, it’s rock & roll. Maybe they knew you would spend countless hours listening to the same songs over and over again, but we’ll get into that later on in the review.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles not only has bad sound effects, it has repetitive bad sound effects. Every time you hit an enemy it makes the same sound. Every time you defeat an enemy, it makes the same noise. Every time you land a jump, for some strange reason, it sounds like a chain clink. One of the only cool sound effect tricks is that each Turtle’s weapon sounds unique. Otherwise, just focus on the music.

gameplay.png Gameplay: 4/10

Remember the days of your childhood when you would play old NES games that would have characters clip and disappear when too much was on screen at one time? And, remember how everything would slow way down and lag because the game just couldn’t keep up with itself? Well, grab your rose-tinted glasses because if you’re into those things, then your cup will runneth over with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Enemy Clipping

The controls and weapon variation in this game are a hot mess, but TMNT does contain one pretty cool feature. That feature though is tied to part of the mess, so let’s just start with the jumping. The jumping in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is infamous. It may be what the game is most remembered for, actually.

Ball Jump

There are essentially three types of jumps in the game. There is the low jump, the high jump, and the ball jump. Which jump you perform mostly depends on how hard you press the jump button as well as if and when you press over on the d-pad. I think. It’s hard to know for sure. This makes things difficult since there are several instances in which only one of the jump variations will actually allow you to land where you need to in order to progress. Missing some of these jumps will set you much further back than you will want to have to deal with, so it can really be infuriating when you don’t jump as you intend.

Now, let’s touch on the one cool feature, as it’s a great segue into the rest of the gameplay disaster.

Intro LeoThere is one theme more prevalent in the TMNT comics, shows, and movies than any other: teamwork. Each of the brothers has their own unique personality and ability, and this is what makes the four of them such an unstoppable force. So, it was a pretty thoughtful idea for the developers to give you the ability to choose between the brothers at any point. Pausing the game and selecting a different Turtle allows you to use the strength of each as needed. Well, theoretically that’s how it should work.

Intro RaphUnfortunately, the developers seem to have forgotten to make the Turtles as unique as originally planned. It isn’t completely missing, which becomes obvious as you test out the different brothers, but the mechanic is shallow to the point that you wonder if they only half-finished the idea.

Leonardo, the character that you begin the game as, has medium range, medium speed, and medium damage. As the leader, it makes complete sense for him to be the most well-rounded character.

Intro MikeyI cannot, however, offer any explanation as to why Michaelangelo has the exact same range, speed, and damage. You would think maybe he’d be faster and slightly weaker, but no. He is pretty much the same as Leo.

The cool but rude Raphael, who is also known as the tough guy of the group, will be the least used Turtle by literally every player of this game. He is no stronger than Leo or Mike, for some reason. And, while he does have increased attack speed, his range is practically non-existent. Oh, and did I mention that the increased speed doesn’t actually allow you to attack an enemy any more times than you can with one of the medium speed characters? Yeah, Raph is pretty much pointless in this game.

Intro Don

Donatello, with his bo, is by far the best character. He’s so much better that the other three are essentially only there to take damage (especially Raphael) so that Don doesn’t. While he has the slowest attack speed of the group, that is more than offset by the fact that his attacks do the most damage. He can literally kill enemies in half as many hits as the others. His range is also about triple that of Leonardo and Michaelangelo.

accessibility Accessibility: 4/10

You can jump, you can attack. You can change characters in the pause menu, which would be hard not to figure out. You can pick up special weapons like ninja stars which can be equipped or unequipped with the select button. Of course, as you may have inferred by now, it’s not even close to as simple as it sounds. The game doesn’t give much direction once it begins. This is even more frustrating when you start to find dead end routes full of health-draining enemies.

Area 1 Map

challenge Challenge: 2/10

Is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles challenging? You bet your sweet bippy it is! Because it tests your skills? No. Because it’s glitchy and often unfair? Yup! It does more to test your patience than your skills.

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Each overworld consists of both buildings and sewers that you can enter. Some lead to hordes of enemies or slices of pizza (health). Some allow you to progress. There is no way to know which is the correct way but for trial and error.

Considering the precision needed to land many of the jumps, the preciousness of each Turtle’s health, and the fact that you only get three continues, it’s insane that the developers designed the game as if it were meant to eat your quarters. The equivalent of 100%-ing this game would be a test of will better left to the Buddha.

Wall Trap

replayability Replayability: 1/10

Seaweed DeathHonestly, I can’t think of a single aspect of this game that gives itself to any kind of replayability whatsoever. It’s far too buggy and arduous for most to complete once, let alone a second time. So, literally the only replayability would exist in a player’s OCD requiring them to complete the game. Since the game only provides three continues, starting over (or replaying) would happen many times over.

uniqueness Uniqueness: 6/10

Grappling Hook.pngWhen it released, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the first video game to feature the reptilian heroes, making it quite unique, if disappointing, in that regard. The open world style of the overworld areas is also pretty rare in the olden days of the NES. Otherwise, as an action-platformer, it’s certainly nothing to write home about. If it weren’t for the fact that it’s a Ninja Turtles game, there wouldn’t really be any reason to play it.

Of course, if the four characters were actually balanced out and unique from one another, and the game weren’t so frustratingly difficult due to poor design and controls, the game could have potentially worked even without the martial artist teens.

mypersonalgrade My Personal Grade: 3/10

Shredder 1.png

When I was a small boy, I was obsessed with Ninja Turtles. I was also really into video games, and especially my NES. I don’t know if I could have been any happier when I got Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and got ready to play it for the first time. I could, however, have been much happier once I actually started playing it.

In the late 80s and early 90s, you loved the games you owned, no matter what. You only had so many you played them to death. Now, with the access to games that we have today, there is no reason for anyone to play this game. The TMNT game that we all wanted first came on an arcade later the same year that this game released. It would later be ported to the NES as TMNT II: The Arcade Game. That game started the series of beat ’em ups that everyone wanted the Turtles’ games to be. This game belongs in the sewers.

Aggregated Score: 4.0


The ABXY Mage leads a double life of unfathomable hipness, if his expertise in jazz is any indication. Music maker, fandangoist, writer, you can find this hip cat as ABXY Reviews on Twitter and on YouTube.


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8 replies »

  1. I had a real love/hate relationship with this game as a kid. Strangely as much as I usually hate water levels in Video Games, I was actually pretty good at this one. I think the random “Boomerang Guys” were harder to deal with than most of the bosses, though some enemies were predictable and easy to kill, the boomerang guys often caught me off guard enough to make me hate playing. There were many times I have enjoyed this game, and I still play once in a great while. Every time I pick up that controller and start playing there is a 50/50% chance of either loving the game… or hating myself just for grabbing the controller.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Loved this game as a child, so it’s nice to see it reviewed in a modern way, because it really doesn’t hold up like I wish it would. Uneven is the name of the game, and you can sense TMNT’s potential as you play it. It just never quite delivers in the way it should, for all the reasons you state. I do agree with thedeviot though, there were far, far worse licensed games back then.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ah the original TMNT game. The NES version gets all the love in spite of the difficulty, and screwy things. But most forget it was also on every computer format of the time too! The Commodore 64, Amiga, Atari ST, and MS-DOS all saw ports. Europeans also saw ZX Spectrum, and Amstrad CPC versions in addition to that, and there was also an MSX port. Every one of these versions had their own pros, and cons. But they were all basically the same game. I remember the general strategy back in the day was simply “Don’t let Donatello die” since he had the longest range. The beat ’em up games were far better, but as far as licensed games go, there were far worse at the time. Hell, there’s far worse now!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I had no idea it was on all of those platforms, I only knew of the C64 port. You are correct on your remembrance of the strategy. Donatello is BY FAR the best in the game. I agree that there are far worse, which is why it didn’t score lower, but it still isn’t great. The real love and attention was given to the beat ’em ups; this game felt a little rushed and a tad broken.


  4. MEMORIES! I have the NES cart lying around somewhere. Still ridiculously difficult even after all these years, and the under-water level still gives me anxiety.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was only ever able to beat it one time as a kid, and I was barely able to this time around. It’s brutal for like 90% of the game, but then Shredder is like the easiest boss ever (assuming you’ve saved any amount of scrolls or stars).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Heh, I’ve never beaten it. Tried in earnest a few times to get as far as I could, but I just could never devote the time to it. In terms of the NES TMNT games, “II: The Arcade Game” is a better game overall, IMHO. This first one is just an interesting oddity, Konami took a lot of liberty with it. I don’t ever remember playing The Manhattan Project, but definitely played the crap out of Turtles in Time… Even sat down with a friend of mine last year and ran through that game while we enjoyed a couple of beers. Good times.

        Liked by 1 person

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