This Week in Gaming History: Turtle Power hits the Nintendo0 Comments
The Nintendo Entertainment System was white hot in North America in 1989. Perhaps the only other name in entertainment that could even come close to touching it was the license for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The cult favorite indie comic had become the hottest weekday afternoon cartoon since He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and toys based on the characters were flying off shelves. On May 12, 1989, these two retail megapowers united for the first console video game based on Master Splinter's prized pupils.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was released in Japan first, and came to North America in June by Ultra Games, Konami's shell company. The Turtles are on a mission to obtain a special gun that might restore Splinter to human form, but in order to get there they must rescue their friend April O'Neil, disarm a series of underwater bombs, and defeat the evil Shredder's henchmen and robots along the way. A combination of overhead map scenes and side-scrolling platform levels are used to create the adventure.
The game was an instant hit, proving to be one of the hottest games for the Nintendo Entertainment System for well over a year. Critical response was mostly positive, with the only true complaint about the game stemming from the incredible difficulty of it. In turn, this extra challenge provided constant pro-tip sections across a variety of video game books and magazines, which, in turn, kept the game in the press. In the end, Konami/Ultra sold some 4 million copies.
In an unusual move, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was also ported to a variety of home computers from the era, including the Commodore 64, Atari ST, and Amiga. Unfortunately, these ports left a bit to be desired, especially in their control schemes, an after effect that actually made the game harder than the NES version. It was also ported to Nintendo's arcade "jukebox" system Playchoice-10, where it proved to be among the top earners for the unit.
TMNT also appeared in 1989 film/Nintendo PR machine The Wizard, starring Fred Savage. Infamously, legendary film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel actually noted their expertise on the game within their televised review of the movie. Ebert seemed to take great offense to how The Wizard's script referred to a different level than what appeared on screen at the time, as he noted his own personal playing experience with the game to back it up.
Capitalizing on their rights to the IP, Konami also released an arcade game based on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles around the same time as this game dominated Nintendo Entertainment System sales charts. This coin-op release was far different than the Nintendo console version, featuring side-scrolling fighting action inspired by earlier arcade hits such as Double Dragon. However, this game proved so popular that it was ported to the Nintendo Entertainment System as well. To avoid confusion with this title, it was marketed as a sequel to it under the name Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game.
Today, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is mostly remembered fondly, all while being pointed to as one of the inspirations for the modern-day phrase "Nintendo hard." An original copy of the game is sought after by collectors, but doesn't yet command a high price due to the sheer number of copies that avoided destruction over the years. An overseas exclusive Nintendo Entertainment System bundle is highly sought after in the box, due to rarity and the commercial tie-in.
The license for the franchise continues to this day as well, proving to have staying power for generations now. With new cartoons and movies, the odds are high that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will continue to appear in video game form for quite some time to come. However, this will always be the first, and perhaps the only one that all Turtles fans still can't beat.