Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project Review

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When it comes to side scrolling beat ’em ups, Turtles in Time is one of my favorite games in the genre. So when my friend suggested we play through the other Turtles beat ’em ups, I was eager to do it. The Cowabunga Collection, which contains all the games we wanted to play, has proven to be a great way to experience them, too. Mainly because it comes with options that make them more accessible. The arcade and NES games can be brutal. At this point, we’ve played through the arcade game and first two NES titles. The first NES game sucks, to be quite frank, and while the arcade game and its port for NES are challenging, they’re also good fun and successfully capture the charm of the 1987 animated series. So next comes Turtles III, the second original Turtles NES game without a preceding arcade version. Developed and published by Konami, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in February, 1992. It was re-released as part of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection in 2022. For this review, we played the version from the collection for PC.

Once again the story is pretty barebones. The turtles are on vacation in Florida when Shredder takes April O’Neil hostage and turns Manhattan into a floating island. So the turtles set out for New York to save their friend and stop Shredder. The game is structured much like Turtles II. But Turtles III is longer and just as challenging if not more so. It does support up to two players and an actual scoring system is in place now. Your score isn’t just simply how many enemies you’ve defeated. Defeating enemies with different attacks results in different amounts of points. The version in the Cowabunga Collection comes with a rewind feature and Enhancements that make it more accessible. Before jumping in, you can select the starting level and enable infinite lives and an easy mode.

Most of the mechanics from Turtles II are here along with some changes and new stuff. Once again, you start by selecting one of the four turtles; Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael. Performing special attacks will drain through a small bit of health and the turtles can now use their weapons to throw or toss enemies and you can toss them into other foes which can prove to be a good strategy. When you die, you have the option to select a different turtle before jumping back in and there are two different two player modes. One mode allows both players to hurt each other and the other does not.

As expected, the game plays out in scenes, what I refer to as levels, and each level has you going from area to area defeating enemies. Enemies come from the backgrounds and off-screen and every level ends with a boss. Plus, you’ll have to face mini-bosses every so often. Turtles III can be a brutally difficult time and will require multiple playthroughs to truly master. We consumed multiple continues just trying to complete certain levels. Knowing what you’re up against beforehand will be beneficial here. We do feel some of the bosses are a bit too spongey so the fights just drag on. Despite some of their attacks feeling like straight up bullshit, once you get the strategy down, you should be able chip away their health hopefully unscathed. That said, some bosses will take a while to defeat especially if you’re careful and take your time. A little too long in our opinion. We were able to exploit some and jump kicks and hit and run attacks still prove to be good strategies just like in Turtles II.

Mastering Turtles III will require practice and patience. We went into it thinking it would be a little more forgiving than Turtles II because it’s not a port or conversion of an arcade game. But we were wrong. We expected it to be difficult but not as brutal as it is. Even with the new mechanics, Turtles III can easily kick your ass. Pizza, a pickup that replenishes health, seems to be scarce but at least this time two Pizzas will appear in the two player mode. You’ll encounter many of the same enemies and bosses as before along with some new threats and dangers and you will be outnumbered most of the time. You’ll have to be mindful of hazards and the amount of hits to defeat enemies will vary.

Interestingly enough, despite how long Turtles III is, we don’t feel it overstays its welcome like the previous game. And we attribute that to the new mechanics, better scoring system, and slightly more variety. There’s more to it I guess you could say. It can take up to an hour and a half to beat. The game contains eight levels with multiple areas per level and a cool a little surfing set piece early in the game. You’ll engage enemies in Florida and New York, The Technodrome and in Krang’s Spaceship. Each level does feel different and we enjoyed the variety of areas each level offered.

Turtles III definitely looks like an NES game and we can’t say it looks bad. In fact, we think it looks better than Turtles II. The presentation is colorful, the sprite work and animations are good, and the game showcases plenty of visual variety. The soundtrack is also good with a lot of upbeat and catchy tunes and in general, we would say Turtles III is another good reflection of the 1987 animated series. On the technical side, the game ran smooth and we encountered no major issues. It should be noted that the Cowabunga Collection does allow the player to remove sprite flickering and slowdown.

We really enjoyed Turtles III. It’s a brutal game that will take practice and patience to master but the gameplay is fun, it’s got that turtles charm, and it can be enjoyed with a buddy. We find beat ’em ups are usually always more enjoyable with friends and in this case, an additional player can help alleviate some of the challenge. Because Turtles III is a challenging game. Being an NES title, we expected it to be tough but were a little surprised at how tough it is just because it’s not a port or conversion of an arcade game. That said, the challenge combined with the length should keep you occupied for a while. We also appreciate the new or changed scoring system. Not that we’re high score chasers but at least there’s more to the scoring than just tracking how many enemies have been defeated. Out of the three Turtles NES games we’ve played so far, this is easily our favorite. But to be fair, most games are better than the first Turtles. When compared to II, we simply prefer the mechanics and changes in III.

We would recommend Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project and we feel the Cowabunga Collection is a great way to experience it. The collection comes with options that make it much more accessible because the fact is Turtles III is tough. It’s a tough game. But it’s the kind of game that can be rewarding once you master it. Definitely check it out.

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