In the 80’s and 90’s, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were an institution; almost required curriculum for growing up. It was an unavoidable pop sensation that absolutely everyone knew about, unless you weren’t a kid, didn’t have kids, and didn’t want to have anything to do with kids…or happiness. When the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cartoon hit airwaves in October of 1988 (A 5 episode pilot aired in 1987), pizza fever was rampant. You couldn’t really go anywhere without hearing about or seeing something Ninja Turtles related. It was a fact of life.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles started out as a fairly dark comic book series by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, way back in 1984, before a lot of Mutant Ninja fans had even been born yet. The comic series was an underground cult hit, and spawned toys, the TV show, movies, and you guessed it, video games. The Ninja Turtles video games were just as important to the success of the media empire that Mirage Studios had set into motion as those toys and cartoons. In fact, the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video game was being produced before the show went onto the air that fateful fall in 1988.
The blurb in the picture above reads: “TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES – Word has it that this one is still six months away. However, it’s never to (yeah, there’s a typo) soon to hope that Ultra/Konami will come up with yet another winner. TMNT is based on the cult comic book series. These mutants are really making the rounds, as we understand they’ll also appear in a new cartoon show this fall.” The reason the original NES Turtles game didn’t have all those recognizable cartoon characters is because it wasn’t based off the cartoon, it was based off the comic book. The Japanese developers likely didn’t have a lot of easily obtainable material to go off of.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the first game based off the franchise I had played, like a lot of other kids from the time period. I actually really enjoyed the game. The fact that I couldn’t beat a game never really killed the enjoyment I got out of it. I liked really hard games that I couldn’t get anywhere in growing up. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was no exception. I liked the gritty art style and excellent soundtrack. It just felt like a good solid video game to me.
I had countless Ninja Turtles action figures, and I watched the TV show as often as I could consume it. I ran around outside with my friends, flailing plastic weapons around at each other as we pretended to be our favorite turtle. I was always Leonardo, because I was older and bossier than my siblings and friends. I even made an entire cardboard Ninja Turtle costume in Kindergarten once. I was the prototypical Ninja Turtles kid, and I loved it.
Then I played the arcade game at a Showbiz Pizza in Fairview Heights, Illinois. My little mind was blown. This game looked so much better than anything I had ever seen on my Nintendo at home. Luckily for me, it was 1991, and the game had seen a home console release on the Nintendo Entertainment System just that winter. How I had missed out on this game made absolutely no sense to me. My friends started receiving copies and I’d constantly be at their houses, playing this games until the twilight hours when my mother would call me home.
I had just as much anticipation waiting to play TMNT 2: The Arcade Game on the NES as I did any new Super Mario Bros. or Mega Man game. The same could be said for Turtles in Time on the Super Nintendo, a game I didn’t actually own until much later, though I rented it countless times. Konami made such solid licensed games that they just became part of the entire Ninja Turtles experience. They were just as important to a lot of kids as the toys and the cartoon. They were also just as good as any of the other video games out there.
Any time you ask someone who grew up playing Nintendo games what their favorite games were, you’re going to hear one of these games mentioned. When you put together a collage of video game character sprites, TMNT is going to get thrown in there. The Ninja Turtles are just as much video game stars as Sonic the Hedgehog or Mega Man.
Think about it this way: Sonic the Hedgehog had three very highly regarded games on the Sega Genesis. Super Mario Bros only saw 4 games in the main series before the SNES was done (5 if you count Yoshi’s Island). The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had at least 3 highly regarded 8 bit and 16 bit era video games in TMNT The Arcade Game, TMNT Turtles in Time, and TMNT The Hyperstone Heist on the Sega Genesis. You could even throw in TMNT 3 The Manhattan Project or the original NES TMNT, which weren’t as impactful as the aforementioned games, but still solid and memorable titles in their own right. You also had the decent, but still fun, Tournament Fighter games released on both Nintendo consoles as well as Sega’s Genesis.
To this day, my best memories of the green teen machine were those days playing with my friends, be it beating each other senseless with toy weapons, beating each other’s action figures senseless, or parked in front of the TV, playing the TMNT Arcade Game or Turtles In Time. Memories of the cartoon have faded with time. The ability to go back and play my NES and relive those memories over the years was a much easier task for me. Most of my turtley knowledge still lingers because of the old games and the characters featured within.
Unfortunately, the Turtles were never able to regain their former video game glory. Since Konami lost or abandoned the rights to produce TMNT games in the mid 2000s, companies like Ubisoft and Activision have tried and failed to release something that stands up to those excellent games from the 3rd and 4th generation. Ubisoft even attempted to recreate Turtles in Time, to a very lukewarm reception. Today, the new movie and TV series are starting to gain steam in popular culture again, and the new IDW comic series is EXCELLENT. Hopefully gamers will get to finally see a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game that lives up to their memories.
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