Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (video game) I

Nope – this flashback is not to coincide with the TMNT movie of 2007. It’s the time when Saturdays are really what they are and not filled with – ‘oh, no…tomorrow is Sunday’ feeling. Or maybe a little. Especially so when the kid is still dressed in white-navy blue ceremoniously for 5 times a week during waking hours.
But anyway – this is the Nintendo Entertainment System game. Most of us have, at some point or rather, own or have at least played on the NES for a fair bit. Myself – I don’t have the luxury of getting those from Nintendo Corp itself, so I ‘ve to be contented with the clones of the NES – along the lines of ‘Micro Genius’ or some generic machine capable of playing 8-bit cartridges. You know, the ugly ones that costs a mere RM20 to as high as RM 60 per cartridge –  but if there’s a right game on it; it’s money well-spent.
Now, I’m sure most of you born circa 1980 to 1987 would have been mesmerised by the Ninja Turtle mania that swept our shores sometime early 1989 to 1990. Back then, there were those action figures which you can kit up. There’s a plastic ‘weapons rack’ which you must cut by yourself. I can’t remember how much it costed back then –  but I can say that it was around RM 29.90 if memory serves. Turtle mania struck and it was around all four turtles – Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Raphael and Donatello and 3 to 4 more action figures before boredom set in and it’s time to move onto something else! But it was not before acquiring a Turtle Parachute (not quite sure how it could work), a sewer vehicle with some fancy pizza engine fans or something like that and the scuba set for those 2nd generation figurines. Anyhow, it doesn’t take much of an accountant to figure out that to keep kids satiated; it’s not going to be cheap. So, keep those family planning in check.
So, it was long after the toy craze has subsided that the new mania on the video game cropped up.
Yes, kids do grow up. Then they start asking for more sophisticated items to play with. Imagine a 10-year old kid still clamouring for action figurines! And it’s no strange coincidence that it was the boom time for video games. Nintendo has outdone itself with visionary games that could well have set the pace for the future and that its games could well keep future gamers happy enough with its simple but engaging software.
So when TMNT video game arrived in Malaysian shores in late 1990, it was no surprise that the average scholar in blue would rather spend time in pointless yakking about that rather than to ogle at girls at the first spurt of puberty. In today’s eyes – it’s a sorry looking game; with poor graphics, frustrating gameplay, lack of multiplayer modes such as that of its predecessors, and rather cheesy dialogues.
You only control 1 (one) turtle at any one time. Main difference between the 4 are obvious but to the untrained eye; they are hard to imagine.
Leonardo – katana blades. Actually a middle class fighter. His blades don’t deal that much damage but he has the benefit of slightly longer range than that of Raphael’s or Michaelangelo’s weapons. Usually, he is cannon fodder!
Raphael – sai. You know; two small blades make for excellent barbecue skewers! Truth is – Raphael’s weapons are sadly underestimated. They can hit airborne creatures well and can usually destroy them in one toss. Sad thing is – his weapon range really sucks. They cannot hit the floor directly beneath him and are almost next to useless against enemy bosses. In my youth, I play Raphael when I need to pass by the Manhattan dam area (the mission to defuse all 8 bombs underwater) especially when navigating through a tight spot. Otherwise, he’s a below-average team player.
Michaelangelo – nunchukus. I concede; he’s my favourite turtle of all 4. Maybe it’s because I love the orange colour. His weapons deal a funny sort of damage. Against airborne creatures – he may shine; but against bosses – he’s, again, next to useless. That’s not to say that his usefulness is undermined by that. His weapon range is adequate and his weapon response time is quick; so it’s the player’s call as to the situation where Mikey can play his cards well.
Donatello – bo. A staff weapon. Not difficult to see why old gamers absolutely love to play his character throughout the game. Alone, he can take on all sorts of enemies that it comes as no surprise that he could be a one-man show. Against bosses, all the other turtles have to do is to soften the enemy up and then call upon Donatello to deliver the final blow. His plus factor is also when enemies are located in split level platforms where his weapon can reach. Naturally, all the pizza reloads and top weapons find their way to him.
The game starts off in a gameworld map where you can explore several entry points marked on the intelligence map. When you enter each entry point, it’s just a simple principle of battling your way though aka from Point A to Point B. The premise of the game is to keep entering entry points until you reach the level boss. It sounds simple but the gameplay isn’t.
Here are the levels of the game: – (Note: the level names are taken from Wikipedia since I don’t have the original manual at all. The descriptions are wholly my own and I take credit for any oversight I may have).
1) Sewer network – Sub boss is Bebop who doesn’t have any brains whilst attacking and appears quite early in the game. Not that tricky to take down. Level boss is Rocksteady. Now, he’s a little more tougher to eliminate. My suggestion is – use all other turtles to deal him damage in turn before switchin to Donatello to deliver the final crippling blow.
2) Dam – A very small level with new enemies. The toughest part is clearly the swimming area with laser gates, electrocuting weeds and the circular flame ball that twirls round and round. You’ll have to disarm all 8 bombs in the area. In the NES days, I took so much heartache before achieving victory that the satisfaction of having done that is still fresh in memory.
3) City – A fairly large area to explore. Usually, the joke among players who have played the NES version is that this is the ‘final’ level. This is due either because gamers would have grown so worn playing this frustrating game over and over or that it’s time for dinner (applied to kids) and that it’s time to pack up the set and go in to do homework soon after. For myself, the 3rd Area is the only achievable level when played from scratch and is achieved in usually over 2 hours. By that time, it’s time to pack the schoolbags and go off to sleep as it would have been very late. Principally, the 3rd Area is quite difficult even till today. There are many pitfalls along the way – such as the need to get a rope before attempting long-range jumping and also the need to collect missiles for the turtle van (this level is where you can take the turtle van) to break through barriers. The newcomer to this level can expect to replay this level over and over before deciding to call it quits or to take a breather and a well-earned dinner. The boss is the ‘Mechaturtle’ who can assume 2 forms; one after the other has been vanquished. This boss is peculiarly easy as there is a raised platform where the player can roost there and launch the ‘scroll weapon’.
The new enemies on this level is the flame-spurting robot where the head would come flying in a ascending/descending pattern to home in on the player if the host body is destroyed – gamers should also take note that they cannot run away from the flame if caught within its blast and the only way out is to destroy the host body; a disgusting leaping frog creature with a tongue as primary weapon; a flame creature which creates new smaller hybrid fiery creatures; a ninja unit which can multiply itself when being attacked and go running all over the map; a cosmonaut unit; and a blimp unit with the ‘Foot Clan’ logo dropping bombs on you.  
4) Air Base – a rather straight-forward area. Each entry point is numbered to facilitate going to ‘No. 18’ as the briefing describes. Time to time, the map is bombarded by enemy fighter planes and the prudent gamer should be wary of venturing into tight spaces in between entry points. I achieved victory in just one sitting for this one and I thought it was very easy. Heck, even the boss is not the one to challenge your responsiveness. All the gamer has to do is to stand beneath the mouth and use Donatello to hit all the mousers that come out of it, at the same time hitting the central core.
5) Warehouse/ foot clan base – a spooky night-time setting and searchlights add to the excitement. For a 8-bit game – it’s very cool to incorporate details such as these. Overall, the enemies here are a lot tougher. There’s a new raven creature dropping rocks on you; mechanical spiders; a hedgehog beast and a rolling enemy. You’d have to find the entrance to the technodrome and it’s not easy, given the number of enemies and their new-found difficulty level where they absorb fewer damage and dish out more in retaliation. You’ll get to meet the miniaturised Technodrome as enemy. It’s not that difficult to destroy it but you can get white hair doing so.
6) Technodrome – I’ve a confession to make – I’ve never been able to wipe Shredder out of this hellhole as it is virtually impossible to do so. By now, if I can make it this far – the long hours would have taken their toll on me. One day, perhaps, one day.
And now the pertinent question – how do we play this game?
Assuming you have a decent NES controller or if you’re looking to play via the NES Roms, the game is where you jump, hack, slash the enemies to a bursting point. (Enemies ‘splode) There are 3 primary modes of attack; front stance, upwards strike and downward slash. Naturally, you can combine your jumps with these 3 attacking modes but as with all enemies in the game, even minimal contact may mean that your turtle would receive damage. So, time your jumps and attacks well. Even the jumps have 2 types; one the full spinning jump where your turtle may not attack but may incur damage, whereas there is also the short jump where you may do a combo attack. In case you’re hoping for more combos, you might be sorely disappointed. There are a few weapons which might be of interest. First, there is the usual shuriken (comes in set of 20) and is the first secondary weapon you’ll find. You might also acquire the boomerang which can be claimed back or you may fire off 3 of them and switch to another turtle who doesn’t have it to claim as their own. Another powerful shuriken combo comes in a wave of 3. Then, there is this unique scroll weapon where it is similar to the ‘wave’ weapon sweeping all enemies in the path. This is best used against large clumps of enemies or the bosses.
The summary:
There are some games which will remain classics in their own right. TMNT 1 is simple, straightforward and has the storyline which you might enjoy after a while. If exploring sewers and hacking enemies sounded boring, TMNT makes sure that the exploration is fun, with some novel items and some puzzles to solve. Obviously, ‘jumping games’ do not always find their niche of comfort amongst all strata of gamers. Most of us hate ‘jumping games’ ; the ones where the protagonist needs to jump on one platform and then continue through a series of them in succession. This game doesn’t always emphasise the jumping factor although there are times when it can get on your frayed nerves, especially when you’ve clocked in more than 3 hours revolving around the same puzzle. The key is to notice the difference between the types of jumping modes and to be sharp as to situations where a rope would do the trick as opposed to a gung ho plunge.
The AI isn’t terribly intelligent; but then again, Nintendo weren’t that well-known for their AI programming as opposed to their marvellous level design and such. The AI would stick in their position, waiting for your attacks while some of them disappear of the gamescreen for good by jumping down ladders. To counteract this, the progammers of the game have made any slight contact with the enemies to be hazardous. I suppose it’s a fair tradeoff since you can always rely on Donatello to attack enemies beyond their reach.
The soundtrack is decent; the game sounds are fair. The level designs are also okay I suppose; since the flow of the game must be apparent. Some aspects of the graphics are laughable today, but it was a well-meant effort by the programmers at those times given their limited technology for graphical greatness. Most of all, the game was a tough cookie and still is today; this game will give you plenty of headaches and will test your patience with its steep learning curve but once you get past it, you might appreciate the simplicity and creative genius so apparent in the game.
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