Retrospective: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

A look back at an NES classic

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The first ever Ninja Turtles game was widely decried as being as much fun to play as a set of asbestos bagpipes (our words) at the time of release, so imagine our surprise when we revisited it well over two decades later and found that actually... it holds up pretty well compared to other NES games of the era.

Don't get us wrong, it's still a little bit grot: garish colour schemes, punishing difficulty spikes, enemies that spawn right under your nostrils and level layouts so indescribably irritating and counter-intuitive that we assume the lead designer must have done at least a small stretch in prison.

But these were nits you could pick with approximately 107% of NES games of its era, so it seems harsh that TMNT has become byword for 8-bit awfulness just because it's a bit tricky and has a crap bomb disposal section where you have to swim around in a reservoir full of electrical seaweed.


Look at it with a fresh pair of peepers in 2012 and you'll see a game that works hard to please, through sheer force of variety. Top-down streetwalking sections (not in that way) are punctuated with classic side-scrolling segments, taking you through sewers, over rooftops, deep into the Technodrome and beyond. You even get to hop into the Turtle Wagon and mow down hordes of screaming foot soldiers. All that, and people moan about seaweed?

We guess TMNT gets a hard time of it because it so emphatically failed to live up to the hype of its launch. While we now know that cartoon tie-ins are far from a guarantee of quality, our primitive 1989 ancestors had no such frame of reference and many of the four million who came away from Ye Olde Game Shoppe with a copy were left wondering why they weren't playing The Game To End All Games (TM).

Time is a great healer, and it's allowed us to put our childhood disappointment into context. Perhaps in another 20 years we'll be saying, "Hey, do you know what? Turning the Turtles into aliens wasn't such a bad idea after all." Or maybe not.