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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Tetralogy: 1990s Game Critics Weigh In
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on June 02, 2016   |   Episode 20 (Show Archive)  

   
Leonardo. Donatello. Michelangelo. Raphael. That guy from Arrested Development. They're all back and ready to kick some Krang in the newest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. To help celebrate what I'm sure will be a noisy mess of a movie, we're taking a look back at the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tetralogy. This is a series of games that ran from the Nintendo Entertainment System to the Super NES, and included a couple of the best known brawlers of all time.

Join us as we analyze what magazines like Electronic Gaming Monthly, Die Hard Game Fan, CVG, GamePro and Super Play thought of Turtles in Time, The Manhattan Project and The Arcade Game. And just for fun, we'll also be taking a look at the 16-bit spin-offs, including The Hyperstone Heist and Tournament Fighters. So put those nun chucks down and discover the early history of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.


TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES

Considered by many to be one of the most frustrating 8-bit games of all time, Ultra's first stab at bringing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the Nintendo Entertainment System was met with decidedly mixed results. While certainly popular, critics were split as to whether the game was pure genius or pure crap. I think it's safe to say history has helped decided the answer to that head-scratcher.

On the positive side, CVG featured Leonardo on their cover and gave this 8-bit game an 89%. "The Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles have certainly cowabunga'd their way into this issue with a vengeance," explained Paul Rand. He liked how much content there is, calling it an "extremely good value, both for those who buy it and those who get it for now!" I'm not entirely sure what that means.

Nintendo Power liked the Turtles so much that it was their 8th best reviewed game of 1989. What's more, UK magazines Raze and The Games Machine both gushed over the great graphics and characters. Not even the extreme challenge could keep the two magazines from scoring the game an 86% and 87%.

But before you think every critic loved this awful 2D waste of time, Electronic Gaming Monthly had a lot of harsh words for the poorly developed game. Jim complained that "the controls are too jerky and it quickly becomes difficult to control your character." To make matters worse, he added that "the scrolling also hinders the game by placing you in vulnerable positions." Donn agreed, saying that "TMNT wasn't overly impressive." He's not wrong.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES II: THE ARCADE GAME

After seeing the success of Konami's arcade game, the next obvious step was to port it to the Nintendo Entertainment System. There's just one problem: There's already a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game on the market. Ultra's solution was to turn the arcade port into a sequel to the completely unrelated 1989 NES game. I understand the reasoning, but all it did was throw off the numbering going forward.

Critics didn't seem all that concerned about the numbering at the time, with GamePro giving it a perfect 5 out of 5. "If you've had a bad day, bashing Foot Clan boffos is a radical way to lighten up," the magazine advises. CVG echoes those thoughts, calling it a great two-player game with great graphics and arcade fun.

Electronic Gaming Monthly went even further, giving it mostly 8s and 9s. "The turtle quartet never looked better than they do in this super sequel," notes Ed Semrad. "An action game, Turtles has the perfect blend of graphics and action." Martin agreed, positing that "Konami is pushing the NES to its limits with this hero in a half-megabyte."

The lone dissenter came from Video Games & Computer Entertainment, which featured the game on the cover and gave it a 6 out of 10. "Take the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles out of this cartridge -- what little of their humor and personality is present to begin with -- and you're left with a spectacular-looking but repetitive action game."

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES III: THE MANHATTAN PROJECT

Although it only took Konami two years to follow-up their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game, that clearly wasn't quick enough to please eager console gamers. To please the masses, Konami rushed out Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project, a completely original brawler exclusive to the Nintendo Entertainment System. Critics were largely impressed, with some saying it was the Turtles' best 8-bit outing yet.

GamePro gave it a perfect 5 out of 5 and loved its "non-stop, frantic fighting action." The magazine made this curiously misspelled point: "Nintendon't do alot of things that its 16-bit big brothers can, but one thing you can always count on is a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles adventure to push your NES to the max." I'm sure glad we've stopped using "Nintendon't" as slang in reviews.

Video Games & Computer Entertainment was also impressed, a complete turnaround after dismissing the last installment as being too repetitive. "Basically, we're looking at the best Turtles game by far," concludes Josh Mandel in his lengthy review. Nintendo Power was also into it, giving it a 3.9 out of 5 and narrowly missing our list of Nintendo Power's Best Reviewed Games of 1992.

Electronic Gaming Monthly, on the other hand was not as sold as the other magazines. "This latest Turtles' title does pack a punch, but there are some shortcomings," starts Steve. "The flicker problem that plagued the second adventure turns up again in part three." Martin wasn't as sold, giving it a 7 and noting that the "graphics and sound are improved a bit and the game play has a few new techniques," but "the game play is extremely repetitive and really has nothing innovative." EGM gave the game 7s and 8s, much lower than TMNT II: The Arcade Game.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES IV: TURTLES IN TIME

After testing the limits of the Nintendo Entertainment System, Konami finally brought Turtles in Time to the Super NES. Due to the addition of that original 1989 game and The Manhattan Project, this arcade port ended up being Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV. Confusing numbering aside, critics loved that this Super NES installment featured new levels and bosses.

After complaining that TMNT II was too repetitive, Video Games & Computer Entertainment did a complete reversal and gave Turtles in Time a 9 out of 10. "Even with the lack of challenge, there's a lot to like about this game: gorgeous graphics, rocking soundtracks and superb playability." Critic Zach Meston later went on to call it a "must-buy."

These sentiments were shared at Super NES Buyer's Guide, which called the game "stress relief." Guy explains: "If I wouldn't have seen the Super NES sitting in front of me, I would not have believed it!" I'm not sure I would go that far, but clearly that's a theme repeated throughout most of the reviews. GamePro even went as far as to suggest Turtles in Time is good enough to buy a Super NES for.

It was Electronic Gaming Monthly that was the most enthusiastic, giving the game nothing but 9s and slapping a Platinum Award on the brawler. "Quite honestly the best side-scrolling action game to appear on the Super NES so far," Steve said. "Besides virtually duplicating the arcade title, Turtles 4 also delivers some of the best graphics you'll ever find at home!" Hear that Uncharted 4? This Mutant Turtles game from 1992 has the best graphics you'll ever find at home.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: THE HYPERSTONE HEIST

A few months after stunning critics and consumers alike with Turtles in Time, Konami returned with a Genesis exclusive named The Hyperstone Heist. Despite having a different story, much of this fifth Turtles game is recycled from past iterations. The brief adventure takes levels and bosses from older games and mashes them together hoping you won't notice. I definitely noticed, and so did the critics in 1992.

Electronic Gaming Monthly's Sushi-X noted that "it doesn't compare to the arcade, and even on Normal Mode it is incredibly easy." These are some of the complaints heard around the industry, as the Genesis exclusive mostly picked up 7s and 8s. Sega Force's Paul compared The Hyperstone Heist to another Sega brawler: "The MD version of Turtles is like Golden Axe 2 -- ie, totally unoriginal but good fun all the same."

Even the high scores still found ways of dwelling on the easy gameplay and short length. GamePro gave the game a 4.5 out of 5, but wished it was more challenging. Same with Mega Play, which gave it an 83%. Mean Machines gave the game an 83% and spent a lot of the review complaining about having too many continues. Everybody agreed, this was a big step down after Turtles in Time.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: TOURNAMENT FIGHTERS

Given the overwhelming success of Street Fighter II, it was only a matter of time before the heroes in a half-shell found their way into a one-on-one fighting game. Konami ran with this idea in 1993, creating three very different versions on the Genesis, Super NES and Nintendo Entertainment System.

We'll start with the 8-bit game, which is both the rarest to find and the most maligned by critics. "Ouch!" Yells GamePro. "This TMNT game hurts, and it's not just from the fighting." Electronic Gaming Monthly was a little more kind, but still gave the game mostly 7s. "Well, it wasn't exactly essential to do a version of this game for 8-Bits, but on the smaller platform, TMNT: TF does pretty well." Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Critics were a bit more receptive to the Genesis version, which scored a 68% from Force Mega and 79% from Mean Machines Sega. GamePro called it a "fun way to work up a fighting sweat, but major league Street Fighter junkies should not approach this cart with a killer attitude." Even Die Hard Game Fan turned on the Turtles, with scores ranging from 49% all the way up to 70%. "What happened?" asks K. Lee. "My worst nightmare has come true: KONAMI MADE A BAD GAME!" Calm down, it's going to be okay. Konami has plenty of bad games ahead of them.

Of the three iterations of Tournament Fighters, the Super NES version was by far the best reviewed. Die Hard Game Fan went from hyperventilating about Konami's track record to giving it scores as high as 96%. "If Street Fighter 2 didn't exist, I honestly think Tournament Fighters would be the best fighting game of all time," explains The Enquirer. Super Play backs that up, giving it a 90% and calling it "great fun and a worthy bed-fellow to SFII." You also saw high scores from SNES Force, Game Informer, Nintendo Power and Electronic Gaming Monthly, who called it a "real surprise."

THE WINNER: TURTLES IN TIME

Critics generally liked the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles brawlers in the 1990s, giving high marks to the final three games in the Turtles tetralogy. The best reviewed game of the bunch is, unsurprisingly, Turtles in Time. That said, both The Arcade Game and The Manhattan Project were praised for pushing the NES hardware to the limits. On the flip side, critics were less enthusiastic about Tournament Fighters and the very first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game. These days, you're better off sticking with Turtles in Time.
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