Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was indisputably the most popular children’s franchise of… whatever year I happened to be a child. After the likes of He-Man, Transformers, and GI Joe paved the way for “Saturday Morning Cartoons” that could also dominate every aspect of a child’s life from cereal to underoos, TMNT dominated the landscape with toys, blankets, live shows… and I’m pretty sure I still have a TMNT sleeping bag in my shed. It is keeping my lawnmower warm and radical. So it’s no surprise that there were also TMNT movies and videogames, as, come on, total media domination can’t just stop at a cartoon series that ran roughly every minute of the day (on my VCR, at least).
But, when you get down to it, this all raises one very important (not at all important) question: Where is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie: The Game?
Konami (occasionally under the guise of Ultra) once seemed to churn out as many Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle games as possible. Come on, we all knew it was going to be a fad, right? It’s not like the franchise would be rebooted again and again until the end of time like Batman or Spider-Man; no, these fighting lizard people or whatever are going to be no more remembered in ten years than everything on the USA Cartoon Express. So let’s crank out those games! A title set before the franchise even became established? Sure. Arcade beat ‘em up? Konami can spin that gold in its sleep. And let’s toss a few random portable titles in there! Maybe one could be a metroidvania? That might be fun. Yes, Konami did its best to exploit the Turtles license, and… did anyone complain? No, I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure TMNT: The Arcade Cabinet was responsible for supporting the economy of entire small towns (or at least the roller rink). Konami had no problem producing new TMNT games at the drop of a bandana.
But, once you get past the initial… uh… confused TMNT NES release, these games were all based on the animated series. And let’s not pretend you’re ignorant of what that means. Practically from its inception, TMNT had a tendency to introduce children to the concept of “micro continuities”. First, there’s the comic book that is a mixture of absurd and grimdark, wherein, incidentally, they killed Shredder within the first ten minutes. Then there’s the animated series, which is cute and bubbly and “rude” Raph at most occasionally makes a joke about Italian food. Then there are the toys! You might claim that the toys were just a logical outcropping of the series, but those of us that studiously read the back of those boxes knew better! This version of Ground Chuck is clearly different from the raging bull we got in the animated series, so the action figures must comprise their own universe. And then there were the storybooks and whatever was going on in the live show and Ninja Rap and…. You get the idea. Logically, all of those versions of the turtles couldn’t coexist, so any given TMNT merchandise that came down the pike had to fit into one or another category. Is Baxter Stockman a fly in this one? That means we’ve got a videogame based on the cartoon! It’s science!
Obviously, the movies had to be their own continuity. The turtles and April just met? Raph is the real leader? Corey Feldman? Yes, there’s no way this is real Ninja Turtles, this is everything through the Hollywood filter of “what’s gonna keep kids buying tickets”. After all, it’s easy to sell a tot a toy or “free” TV show, but good luck getting mom to ferry the whole brood to the movie theatre for the seventeenth time this week. We need real, human turtle monsters, and they need to be dealing with real, human problems like baldness and ninja gangs. And then they can travel through time! Because that’s something to do!
And, of course, the TMNT movies had their own merchandise. There we children’s books (guess where I learned to properly spell “katana”). There were toys of slightly squishier plastic. There were posters and clothes and Halloween costumes that looked marginally different from last year’s Halloween costumes. As a surprise to absolutely no one, the TMNT movie was just as merchandized as every other bit of TMNT media.
But there was no videogame.
Not to say the movie universe didn’t influence a few videogames! For an easy example, the mutant stars of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze, Tokka and Rahzar, appear individually in today’s (generally ignored) featured game, and as a duo in the arcade hit, Turtles in Time. But they’re not the only villains to stumble off the big screen: Tatsu, Shredder’s dragon du jour, appears in the Genesis-exclusive Hyperstone Heist as one of the turtle’s greatest opponents. Seriously. He’s just a human dude, but he can actually block, which pretty much makes you invincible in a beat ‘em up. So it clearly wasn’t a matter of TMNT Movie characters being off-limits or forbidden by license limitations. Pretty much everything that appears in any given TMNT movie (Foot soliders, unique mutants, bald men) takes a jump kick to the face compliments of Konami.
(Oh, and if anyone wants to be pedantic, yes, Tokka and Rahzar did appear in the animated series, but it was approximately three years after their videogame debut. And, reminder, three years when you’re ten is more time than there is in the universe.)
But an actual TMNT Movie videogame never surfaced for any of the consoles. It would have been easy enough, too. It’s not like Konami needed to use photorealistic graphics or some such nonsense, just follow the excuse plot of one of the movies (or both! Together!), make sure the foot soldiers say “barf” instead of explode, and maybe toss in a cooperative Casey Jones for good measure. Are there not enough bosses in your average TMNT movie? Original TMNT NES had the turtles fighting anonymous robots when its stable wasn’t too established, and nobody complained about that (and, yes, we could deal with always-on-fire guy returning). What could have possibly been holding Konami back from TMNT: The Movie: The Game.
Oh, wait. Maybe it’s because Shredder kidnapping April and then suspending Manhattan in midair…
Is more interesting than anything that ever happened in the movies.
It’s probably that.
FGC #344 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project
- System: Nintendo Entertainment System. I’m kind of surprised we never saw this resurface with the likes of Arcade and Turtles in Time. It’s a forgotten gem! (Not to be confused with Hyperstone Heist, featuring a literally forgotten gem.)
- Number of players: Two! And there’s a twist! There’s a “regular” mode, and a “friendly fire” mode wherein Raph can beat up Leo to his heart’s content. At least, that’s what happened every time I played with my friends…
- Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: This is a TMNT beat ‘em up, but it’s the only one distinctly made for the NES. It’s pretty good! There seem to be some console bits you wouldn’t see in the arcade (like more of a story), and the graphics look more like they were made for the system, rather than scaled down from more robust hardware. And the special attacks are pretty cool! It’s still a fairly boring game half the time (there is practically zero enemy variety), but it’s a fun time. Or that’s just the nostalgia talking.
- Favorite Turtle (this game): Raph’s drill attack is pretty amazing, and his traditional short range doesn’t seem all that short when throws are the way to go for most of the game. And jumpkicks are universal. Donny is second, because he’s Donny.
- Nintendo Switch: You’re allowed to switch turtles after every death, so you don’t have to wait and waste a continue just because you picked the wrong tubular teen. Why isn’t that a feature in every beat ‘em up?
- Don’t judge a book: There is a triceraton on the game’s cover. Triceratons do not appear in this title at all. I want to fight more dinosaurs!
- Smart Kid: Even as a child, I kind of had a problem with the plot. The turtles are in Key West, Florida, and their plan is to surf back to Manhattan. For one thing, surfing does not work like that. For another, we’re talking about… let’s check the ol’ Google Maps here… 1,446 miles. 22 hours or so. I don’t care how mighty you are, you’re not going to be much of a ninja by the time you hit landfall.
- Did you know? In TMNT 3, Rahzar has an ice breath attack. In Turtles in Time, Tokka has ice breath, and Rahzar has a fire breath attack. What kind of breath do werewolves have, Konami!?
- Would I play again: The nostalgia may trick me into going down this road again. It’s better than TMNT 2 in every way, but it’s also no Turtles in Time. Decisions, decisions.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Ghouls ‘n Ghosts for the Sega Genesis! Oh! Spooky! Happy Halloween, boys and ghouls! Please look forward to it!
Yeah, come to think of it, it is pretty bewildering that there never was a TMNT game based on the 90s films. Like you said, some characters would migrate from the films to the games (pretty sure Super Shredder got in on that action too), but there was never a game based directly on the films. Like, you wouldn’t even have to follow the films’ plot 1:1 or anything to make one! Batman sure as hell didn’t.
Just have a beat ’em up where a few stages are based loosely on locations from the films. Hell, use TMNT 3 as an excuse to dress up Bebob and Rocksteady as kabuki actors, have Krang piloting a giant bunraku puppet take on his robot suit, get Leatherhead to show off his Shingen cosplay. And bring back Shredder ‘cuz who cares if he’s dead (in the movies), let’s have ourselves a Samurai Shodown right here on a moonlit rooftop in the finale!
Yep, good ol’ Super Shreds did get in the final act of this very game.
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