Go Green Machine! A Ninja Turtle Video Game Retrospective


Yup, the Foot Clan doesn't stand a chance.

This last week my mother came to visit me/clean my apartment and one of the things she was kind enough to bring me, upon request, were my four really cool Ninja Turtle action figures based off the black and white comics. I set them up on my shelf to constantly remind me of my Turtley roots, so I got to thinking about where my two favorite childhood loves crossed paths. I decided I’d like to talk about Ninja Turtle video games today, so sit back and grab a nice cool mutagent canister ‘cause this trip down memory lane is gonna be radical.

Sweet Memories of a Better time

The very first Ninja Turtle game I had the chance to play, as with most kids, was the game simply titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the NES. It’s the only Ninja Turtle game like it, and it’s unfairly difficult. If you’ve played it then you already know how tough it can be, and even if you haven’t played it you’re probably familiar with the common knowledge that it’s completely unforgivable. It’s a strictly one-player game but you’re allowed to switch between the four Turtles at any moment to utilize their various weapons. Leo has his katana, which get twice as powerful when he’s at half health, Raph has his sai, which become very effective against later enemies, Don has the all-powerful long-range bo, and Mike is worthless. It always broke my heart but Mike had to be used as the damage sponge since his usefulness otherwise depended on which secondary weapon he’s picked up. The big trick to the game is patience. Anyone could dominate in the game as long as you take the time to max out each Turtle with the scroll weapon, but it’s tedious and takes exactly one forever. I never beat this one but I’ve become progressively better and better each time I attempt it.

By the way, the intro music for this game is one of my favorite video game tracks ever. Seriously, it's awesome.

I still loved the challenge of a good NES game, so when I got my hands on TMNT the Arcade Game for the NES, also known as TMNT 2, I was incredibly happy. It became the standard style for Turtle games from then on since it adhered to the Beat ‘Em Up formula, a genre that works perfectly here. You could finally have a second player join in the fight and the game was at least reasonably beatable, something that I did and did with gusto. I got so good I could beat this one without losing a single life. I was amazing. You just had to know the special attack that destroyed every minor enemy with one hit. Sadly, the Turtles all played exactly the same, just with different skins.

For bosses, it was all about the jump attack. Super cheap but super effective.

While I had played the actual TMNT Arcade Game in arcades as a kid, I never got very far before the difficulty became tremendous. After all, the game was built to suck quarters, and it knew just how to suck quarters. However, the NES version had more levels, so I wasn’t sure which I preferred. It wasn’t until Xbox Live got a port of the arcade game that I was able to truly appreciate the Arcade Game the way it was meant to be enjoyed: with all four Turtles at once. Awesome, despite the problems with lag. I still had a few weeks mastering the game once again, and while I don’t think it’s possible to beat it without losing a life, I’ve gotten quite good again.

It definitely had the NES beat in terms of graphics and multiplayer, hence the decent Xbox Live port here.

The successor to the Arcade Game was Manhattan Project, TMNT 3 for the NES. This wasn’t a port of an arcade title but a game built specifically for the NES. Once again, it was amazing. Konami knew how to treat the Turtles well, something I’m sad to say Ubisoft, the current holders of the Turtle rights, don’t have a clue about, hence why none of the newer games are going to show up in a favorable review from me. TMNT 3 took the style from 2 and pushed it further so that each Turtle did actually play differently and had individual special moves, except now they cost life to use, meaning you couldn’t just spam your way through the game with them. This was another one I never beat but I’ve been to the final boss many, many times. I only wish it’d get an Xbox Live treatment like the Arcade Game, with updated graphics and levels and all that for four players. Oh well.

The jump to the SNES was huge. Turtles in Time, TMNT IV, is one of my favorite SNES games and my absolute favorite Ninja Turtle game since it controls so perfectly. It’s tough to pinpoint what the precise aspect of the game is that makes it good, but the remake doesn’t have it, in case you missed that review. It may just be the soundtrack, but I can’t even come to a consensus with myself which version has the better music between the SNES version and the arcade version. I prefer the SNES version of the game since there are once again more levels, plus a ton of bonus features like Time Trials and the option to change the art style to the comic versions, making each Turtle look a bit different in comparison. Nothing huge, but it was great. Still, the prospect of four-player Turtles is always tempting.

But dang it did you feel dumb when you hit a spiky ball.

My final memory with Turtle games happens to be the biggest stretch for the franchise, Tournament Fighters. I played the NES and SNES version, but I can safely say the SNES version was the best. It was a shameless Street Fighter rip-off, with the various moves assigned to the different Turtle cast such as Don knowing Chun-Li’s Spinning Bird Kick, Leo knowing Guile’s Flash Kick, and Mike capable of the Shoryu-ken, though he calls it “Rising Thunder” in this game. While the four Turtles are obviously playable, as well as Shredder, the other fighters are more obscure, assuming they even appeared in the Turtles catalog to begin with. You have Wingnut, which I know they had as an action figure, Chrome Dome, another action figure and character in the cartoon, and the Rat King, though you had to input a code to play as him. Otherwise the other players are Armaggon, a shark mutant, War, a spiky thing, and Aska, the girl character. The final boss is Karai, a character none of us knew at the time of the game’s release but who has become fairly well known at this point. My favorite aspect to the whole game was the special meter that charged up as you did damage and blocked attacks. When it was full you could unleash your super move, with Mike’s “Dance of Fury” being my favorite since he just bum-rushed his opponent and used every single move he had to beat the heck out of them. It wasn’t a great game, but it had Turtles in it, so I was rather happy with the outcome.

Ninja Turtles in Street Fighter? Sure, I'd buy that, and did.

You may be asking, where are the Game Boy Turtles games? Well, I only played Rise of the Foot Clan, and while I thought it was pretty great, I don’t have much to say about it. I never played the others, despite my desire to do so. Overall, these are my memories, which I write to you as I listen to various Ninja Turtle game remixes and the soundtrack to Turtles in Time. I’ll just never tell you which version of the soundtrack I’m listening to. That’s my secret. Okay, it’s the SNES version. But my memories are running out, which means it’s your turn to talk Turtle for a bit. What were your favorite Turtle games? Did you ever beat TMNT on the NES? Do you wish Ubisoft would just give the rights back to Konami? Me, too.


About Author

Chris was the former Head Writer/Editor of Toy-TMA. He did a great job overseeing the site and getting new content published regularly. Always more than willing to respond to a comment or two, but pitiless with trolls! He has since moved on from TMA, and we wish him the best.


  1. which tmnt tournament fighters was the best? I enjoyed the nes version the most. Although moves were limited, the nice animations, tight controls(in turbo mode) and the cannonball pickup strategy made the game really enjoyable. There was enough room to move around that you could consistently win against a button masher in this one. + the barehands fighters appealed to me more than weapons. Then there was the great music….I still remember the cool sewer track.

    I first played the nes game and had a great time skipping school and beating up the guys on my street. I was so addicted to the game that I couldnt wait to get my hands on a 16 bit console and a taller, faster, stronger tmnt one on one. What a disappointment that was. Given that the 16 bit games had better graphics, more arenas, characters, moves and whatnot, I found the music sucking and gameplay lacking…any buttonmasher could win, not much strategy. I thought whats the point in having fancy looks, more players and moves if its not any fun to play.

    The nes game got its basics right. I played it again recently and it still felt solid…..wish the 16 bit games were based on the nes version. Then we could have seen some really memorable stuff. Hope someone makes a tmnt tournament fighters game again…in 3D.

  2. I played the TNMT IV for the SNES, it was a blast playing it with my best friend. That was a decade and a half ago, a couple of months ago I played a remake for the PS3, I’m not sure if it was the same one listed here, but it was a PSNetwork game my buddy bought and we got relive the game. It was fun…

  3. Oh wow…TMNT along with X-Men was an arcade title I spent *way* too many quarters playing. I haven’t tried the Xbox port b/c that game is nothing going solo. I’m gonna chalk those 4-player arcade titles as some of the first “social” gaming experience.

    God bless you, arcades. We miss you.

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