Turtlemania was at an all-time high in the '80s. First, there was the action-packed cartoon. Said cartoon caused parents to hunt down Ninja Turtles action figures in droves for kids' birthdays and Christmases. Of course, I can't exclude the classic arcade beat 'em up from '89, which was released during the rise of the arcades; countless thousands of children lined up to play as the heroes in a half shell.
Beyond the '80s and '90s, the turtle craze died down. But, come 2003, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles returned to television with a more slick and dark appeal. With a new TV series on air, it didn't take long for a new video game to capitalise on the franchise's resurrection.
This time around, it was Konami's turn to tackle the pizza-loving ninjas. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was released on October 21, 2003 (April 16, 2004 in Europe). The developers returned to the framework that made the '89 arcade game so successful, but this time, they translated it into a fully 3D environment.
Hack and slash
In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you play as one of the four reptiles: Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, or Michelangelo through the first few episodes of the TV series. The game uses animation directly from the show, as well a pre-rendered sequences that mimic the show's art style. You can easily tell which is which.
Each turtle comes equipped with his signature weapons. Leonardo's katana brings precision attacks to deal with enemies. Raphael battles his way through enemies with forceful, steady blows from his sai. Donatello's bow strikes opponents fast, leaving them no time to counter. Michelangelo's moves are both diverse and quick. His nunchuks can clear rows of enemies in no time.
The turtles show off their prowess through the story mode, which is broken into several parts. You'll select a turtle at the beginning, but bear in mind that each turtle has a different plot line as you progress through the story; so you'll want to do multiple play throughs. A second player can join you, although their choice won't have an impact on the story (as the story exclusively follows player one).
Once in battle, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a compelling, arcade-styled beat 'em up. The mechanics hold the '89 arcade brawler in high regard. Each level takes place at night, where you'll battle your way through waves of enemies using both light and heavy attacks. Each turtle brings unique move sets for dealing with adversaries, with Michelangelo being the most fleshed-out.
Just in case your moves aren't always cutting it, you can dash around enemies to get the upper hand.
When you get to the end of the story mode, you might be wondering: where's the last battle with Shredder? Reaching Shredder requires you to play through each turtle's campaign. This also provides a great opportunity to see what you missed on your first few play throughs (although one slight downside with the repeated play throughs is that you'll notice the turtles will start to repeat the same dialogue over and over again). Of course, Shredder isn't the only boss-type character you'll face off against. As you complete each level, you'll encounter a range of sub-bosses; they aren't too difficult, and make for a nice warm-up for Shredder.
Thankfully, Shredder is worth the wait. He holds nothing back. And if you defeat him, you'll be suitably rewarded with playable versions of Splinter and Casey Jones (who you can use in both the story and versus modes).
Speaking of which, the versus mode takes the form of a one-on-one fighting game where you can go up against any character you choose. Quick battles with the computer or a friend are a great way to unwind after playing the main campaign. It's the proverbial cherry on top of the pizza sundae.
I love being a turtle!
I think Konami achieved something special with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They managed to pay homage to the '89 arcade original, while also bringing the experience into full 3D. Konami continued making sequels to this game, but none of them compared to the original.
Looking back on this game - and the turtles themselves - from 2022, it's clear that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have retained their popularity through the decades. They're just as firmly ingrained in pop culture now, over thirty years after the original arcade game was released.
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