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Shortly before the Cowabunga Collection released, my friend asked me if I wanted to play through the side scrolling Turtles games and I agreed. As it happens, the Cowabunga Collection contains all the games we planned on playing and then some. He insisted I play through Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for NES first. So I did and I hated it. Terrible game. With that out of the way, I’ve been looking forward to playing the rest and the next title is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the arcade game. Developed and published by Konami, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was released as an arcade game in October, 1989. It was re-released as part of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection in 2022 and that’s the version we played for this review. Just like the NES game, it is based on the 1987 animated series but unlike the NES game, it’s actually fun to play even with the arcade difficulty.
As far as we could tell, the plot is pretty barebones. Shredder kidnaps April O’Neil and Splinter so it’s up to the turtles to save their friends and defeat Shredder and the Foot Clan. Turtles does support up to four players and the Cowabunga Collection release allows you to easily change the difficulty, set the starting level and starting lives, enable God Mode and Nightmare Mode, and remove penalty bombs. Before jumping into the gameplay, you must select one of the four turtles; Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael, all of which wield their own unique weapons and play slightly differently. Donatello is slower than the others but has the longest range, Mikey and Raph move and attack faster but have shorter range, and Leonardo is the more rounded turtle.
As expected, Turtles is a game that will kick your ass because it is an arcade game and arcade games are typically designed to eat your money. Luckily, this Collection allows you to acquire more lives at the press of a button so no matter how good or bad you are, anyone can easily get through it. The Collection also allows you to rewind the gameplay. That said, Turtles is not the hardest arcade beat ’em up we’ve ever played and with the exception of bosses, we found most of the game to be pretty fun. The action can get hectic and is more enjoyable with multiple players but, overall, it offers solid beat ’em up gameplay. You can move left and right, towards and away from the screen, jump, attack, perform a special attack, and throw enemies. It’s easy to pick up and play and if you play it religiously, you’ll eventually learn how to overcome much of the arcade bullshit.
The game plays out in scenes which I’ll refer to as levels and each level takes you to a different location. Most of the foes you face are the Foot Clan soldiers which come in different colors, some wield weapons, and some will throw things at the turtles. Other enemies include robots like Roadkill Rodneys, Mousers, and Tubular Transports. Enemies will arrive from various parts of the screen and off-screen and it can be easy to get overwhelmed and some foes can grab and stun the Turtles. At the end of each level is a boss and they’re all mostly bullshit. We were able to find exploits for some but they they can hit through your attacks and hit hard so you can easily drain through a lot of lives during boss battles.
Most of the game is set in New York. You’ll fight enemies on the streets, in the sewers, and even in the Technodrome and each level is structured the same way. You go from area to area defeating enemies. Enter an area, defeat all the enemies, move onto the next area, rinse and repeat until you reach the boss. One sequence has the turtles riding on what looks like rocket skateboards making for a nice break from the typical on-foot action. Things in the environments can be used to your advantage. For example, you can hit barrels to blow them up and hit certain objects so they go flying at enemies. You will always be outnumbered so proper positioning is important. You will have to move and jump to evade enemy attacks and often strike foes repeatedly to defeat them and throwing or sending them flying into things is always a good strategy.
The enemies and bosses aren’t the only dangers you need to worry about. The turtles can fall down manholes, get electrocuted, frozen, and even run over by cars and most hazards can be avoided if you pay attention. For the most part, the difficulty ramps up as you progress and the later levels are more challenging than the early ones. Trial and error is all part of the game. Mastering it will require repeated playthroughs. It will be beneficial to know what enemies you’ll be up against and what hazards to expect going in.
I think the presentation holds up pretty well. It’s colorful, the sprites look good and are well animated and each level looks and feels distinct. The backgrounds are detailed and I feel several levels do a good job at capturing an urban feel. As for the audio, the intro contains a portion of the Turtles theme song and the music heard during gameplay is good and catchy. In general, Turtles showcases a solid audiovisual presentation. On the technical side, we encountered no major issues.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a fun game. We enjoyed it. We still think Turtles in Time is the better arcade game and I believe it is the sequel to this but this is still good stuff. It’s not very long, it’s better with multiple players, and if you go into it expecting arcade difficulty, we think you’ll have a better time. It’s the kind of game that will take practice and memorization to truly master. The colorful presentation, the catchy music, the Turtles charm, and fun gameplay all make it appealing. It might not be the most in-depth beat ’em up out there, the scoring system simply tracks how many enemies you’ve defeated, but beating up and defeating enemies is satisfying and it’s easy to jump into. And if you get the Cowabunga Collection, you can easily modify various aspects of the game, adding some more replay value to the experience.
We would recommend Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s a fun game and can be enjoyed with friends. The Cowabunga Collection is a great way to experience it and as long as you go into it expecting some arcade bullshit, we think you’ll have a pretty good time. Definitely check it out.