The TMNT franchise began as a comic book series in 1984 and exploded in popularity later that decade, becoming a cultural phenomenon. The four turtles – Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael – quickly became household names as they battled crime in New York City, trained in martial arts by their wise rat sensei, Splinter.
Naturally, this popularity led to a plethora of merchandise and spin-offs, including numerous television shows, movies, and of course, video games. And that’s where the NES games come in.
We look at the four TMNT NES games that came in the form of an action platformer, side-scrolling arcade beat ’em ups, and a street fighter inspired one on one fighter.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989)
If you’re a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and you love side-scrolling action platformers, then boy, the first TMNT game will be up your street, or perhaps more down your sewer! The 1989 TMNT NES game was a classic, selling more than four million copies worldwide.
The game follows the four heroes in a half shell as they battle their arch-nemesis, Shredder, who has kidnapped April O’Neil and their mentor Splinter. It’s up to the turtles to save their comrades and defeat the evil Foot Clan.
You start the game as Leonardo but can switch between the turtles at any time. Each turtle has their own strengths and weaknesses, so choose wisely! The game features six stages, from the Streets of New York to the Technodrome, where the turtles must defeat enemies, navigate traps, and complete tasks.
During gameplay, you can collect pizza to replenish your health (because what else would the turtles eat?). The game also features boss confrontations with some of the most memorable villains from the TMNT franchise, including Bebop, Rocksteady, and of course, Shredder himself.
So get ready to don your favorite turtle’s mask and wield their weapon of choice as you take on the Foot Clan.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (1990)
The TMNT Arcade Game was a HUGE hit in arcades (it makes it in to our best 2 player arcade games list), blowing people away with its cartoon intro complete with an authentic soundtrack straight from the popular cartoon series of the time. So, how does the NES port hold up?
So, Shredder’s up to his old tricks, once again kidnapping April O’Neil and Splinter. It’s up to the turtles to rescue them and defeat Shredder once and for all.
Choose your favourite turtle that comes with their weapon of choice. Donatello may be slow, but he’s got range for days with his bo staff. Michelangelo with his nunchucks and Raphael’s twin sai are speed demons with a shorter reach. Leonardo’s your all-around average turtle, like the tofu of the group (Poor old Leo is never the favourite!).
Special moves are also available, like throwing Foot soldiers overhead or performing a jump attack with your weapon.
Watch out for those Foot Soldiers, color-coded for your convenience! Some enemies can restrain your mobility and drain your health, leaving you vulnerable to other attackers. But fear not – objects like traffic cones and fire hydrants can be destroyed to help you take down the bad guys.
The bosses in the game are no joke and the NES version has its own collection of boss fights – From Rocksteady and Bebop, Dr. Baxter, Tora, Dr. Baxter again in fly form, General Tragg, Shogun, Metal Soldier, Krang, and of course, the big bad himself, Shredder. Phew, you’ll be needing a pizza after that lot!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game is an excellent arcade conversion, despite the NES’ very modest hardware.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project (1991)
Get ready to join the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on their latest adventure in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project!
In this side-scrolling beat-’em-up released by Konami for the NES in 1992, you once again get to choose between any of the four turtles. With each turtle wielding their signature weapon, it’s up to you to stop Shredder from taking over Manhattan, which he’s conveniently turned into a floating island.
TMNT: The Manhatten Project feels like a natural successor to the TMNT II: The Arcade game, it has pretty much the same fighting mechanics and the same wave after wave of enemies looking to turn you into turtle soup!
The controls are pretty straightforward, with one attack button and one jump button. But in this game, the turtles can perform a toss attack against their enemies by holding the D-pad downwards while pressing B. Plus, each turtle has a different special attack that costs a portion of their energy, adding an extra level of strategy.
The game features eight levels, from the beaches of Florida to the Technodrome, and includes regular enemies like Foot Soldiers, Giant Mousers, and Stone Warriors.
But what’s a TMNT game without epic boss battles? This game delivers appearances by villains from the cartoon series and toyline, including Slash, Leatherhead, and even Super Shredder from the film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze.
So grab a friend and get ready to kick some shell in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (1994)
The NES version of Tournament Fighters is a special one, as it was the last game Konami ever released for the platform in North America and the PAL region back in 1994, making it an iconic entry in the series.
Interestingly enough, the NES version of the game was not released in Japan, making it a rare treasure for collectors worldwide. Tournament Fighters was one of the few fighting games released for the NES during the fighting game boom, and it certainly made an impact on fans of the franchise.
In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters, players get to live out their turtle power dreams and duke it out to see who reigns supreme. The single-player Story mode has the turtles facing off against each other to see who’s tough enough to take on Shredder’s challenge.
The NES version of the game has a fun little Easter egg that allows you to match any character against a clone of themselves, except for Hothead. The game doesn’t allow for same-character matches under normal circumstances, but there’s a way to bypass this restriction in the game’s “Vs. CPU” mode.
The second Hothead will be colored differently, but the game will also flicker due to the large size of both characters. It’s little quirks like this that make Tournament Fighters stand out among other fighting games of its time.
In the end, Tournament Fighters was one of the few fighting games released for the NES during the early 1990s fighting game boom, and it definitely made a splash. While the graphics were minimalistic, and the gameplay was standard, it still delivered the goods.
The End of an Era
The NES era of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games was an exciting time for fans of the franchise and gamers alike. With four unique games, each offering its own style of gameplay, fans were able to experience the world of the Turtles in a variety of ways.
From the side-scrolling beat-em-up of the first game to the tournament fighting game of Tournament Fighters, there was something for every type of player. Fans could take on the Foot Clan, the Technodrome, and even face off against classic villains like Bebop, Rocksteady, and Shredder in epic boss battles.
While the games may seem dated by today’s standards, their impact on the gaming world and the Turtles franchise cannot be denied. The games captured the spirit of the animated series, and their popularity led to the development of even more TMNT games in the future.
So, whether you’re a fan of the original NES games, or just discovering the Turtles for the first time, it’s clear that these games left an indelible mark on the world of gaming and continue to be cherished by fans today. Cowabunga!
A lifelong avid gamer and computing enthusiast, Matt has decades of Retro Gaming experience. Now over 40 years old, Matt now even considers himself retro, but fortunately, nobody has developed a Matt emulator (not yet at least!).