News Article

Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles Helped to Save NES

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

In the UK they were heroes, not ninjas

It's a popular perception that NES swept all before it when it was released, dominating sales and 8-bit popular culture in the late 1980s. While that's probably true in North America and Japan, Nintendo's debut home console actually had a slow and rather unsuccessful start in the UK, with distribution via Mattel not bringing significant success. The reliance on third-party distributors wasn't going particularly well.

The situation did improve once distributor San Serif, which had also owned rights to Nintendo since 1980, took over UK distribution and made a particularly clever marketing move. Former SEGA CEO, Mike Hayes, was working for San Serif at the time and has explained (via how bundling a famous franchise with the system changed NES, and Nintendo, momentum in the UK.

Nintendo at the time was a failing brand, treated as a toy by Mattel and never really securing the phenomenal success that it had enjoyed in Japan and North America. Dusty boxes of the NES Deluxe Edition would languish on the shelves of the only major stockist, Boots the chemist - which is quite hard to believe in hindsight. What I learned from an early stage however was that while a good product would sell regardless, a good product marketed excellently would sell brilliantly. Lady Fortune was around at the time in the shape of the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles (the word Ninja was banned in the UK). Against Nintendo of America’s wishes we bundled the Nintendo Entertainment System with Konami’s TNHT and created the Mutant Machine. Sales soared 2,000 per cent in the Christmas of 1990 and Nintendo was established successfully in the UK market. We overtook the Master System as the number one console, then launched Game Boy (on a budget of no more than £200,000) and dominated the handheld sector, seeing off the Atari Lynx and Sega's Game Gear.

SNES launched in April 1992 but we thought that being on shelves a year after Sega’s Mega Drive launched would be a hard marketing challenge, and it was. However, great titles were produced and proved to be extremely popular. Among them was Super Street Fighter II from Capcom which we sold at an incredible retail price of £64.99! Consider that development costs were a fraction of today’s behemoths - no wonder Nintendo was the golden chalice.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Hero Turtles in the UK, was an enormously successful franchise, and perhaps this shows an early example of the 'games sell systems' philosophy in the industry. Also, considering we occasionally complain about game prices nowadays, perhaps the idea of titles such as Super Street Fighter II selling for £64.99, in the early 1990s, provides some context.

Did you buy the Mutant Machine back in the day?


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User Comments (38)



yobucky said:

65 Pounds!!?!?! And Here I am thinking that 40 quid for a download copy of NSMB 2 is steep, especially seeing as the Americans are only paying 40 Dollars...



Dazza said:

Yeah that's how I remember it. As a young teenager at the time, the Sega Master System had a massive stronghold in the UK.

The Turtles NES bundle really did help turn the tide that Christmas. When Super Mario Bros 3 was released in Europe in 1991 I think that really sealed the deal.



LeeGarbutt said:

I bought the Mutant Machine second hand from a next-door neighbour, and it was my first console ever. As crap and ridiculously difficult this game is, I have a soft spot in my heart for it.



hYdeks said:

I've noticed something, NintendoLife seems to take alot of it's articles/idea from articles from

As for this system, it's kinda weird to think that THIS is what sold NES over there lol. Over in Canada, just cause it was released with Mattel written all over it, we ate up the system anyways!! Not the original pack with Rob the Robot, but the Super Mario/ Duck Hunt with Zapper set probably sold the best here. Honestly, Nintendo in Canada was at the top (when N64 was about to launch, we had kiosks in store early here so we could actually try Mario 64 2 MONTHS before anyone else did!! Only time Canada got something cool lol) but around 1997, PlayStation started becoming the favourite, same with PS2, and now it's a fight between PS3 and 360. The love for Nintendo in Canada is sadly dieing



ThomasBW84 said:

I remember having this Turtles game on the ZX Spectrum, and as a five year old I was absolutely obsessed with it. At that young age I was barely aware that NES existed, which seems to have been down to the Mattel distribution at the time.

@hydeks We have lots of sources we consult, and if there's a source article it's in the 'via' bit at the end. Whether it's press releases, our own sources in the industry or various sites that have dug up info we look for news that's interesting and worth sharing. Ideas for articles come from all over the place, and the features/interviews/reviews are all our own. And so it is on gaming sites in general, in terms of news, and we try and make sure we write up good stuff.



MAB said:

'SEGA dude does what NINTENDudes don't'

That TMNT game was alot better on the AMIGA 500 with the joystick that had the arcade style buttons



LittleFuryThing said:

Only game I remember seeing that was more expensive than SSF2 was Virtua Racing on the Megadrive - that was like £75.00 or something near to it. I thought that was crazy but that was nothing compared to Neo Geo game prices.

Didn't play this version of Turtles but the sequel was pretty fun with a second player.



KingMike said:

And people thought US$64.99 was a lot to spend on a video game. £1 is at usually at least $1.50, so that's one expensive video game.



alLabouTandroiD said:

We bought the Mario Bros. / Tetris / World Cup bundle and rented the game in the early ninetees. I don't remember much from it, especially in contrast to TMHT3 which we also rented. Sadly only rented the latter, i'd love to have it in my collection these days.

And yeah, i really liked the price of Wii games from year two on. I wish we could keep 'em.



Whopper744 said: me wanting to play something that there is no way to play anymore unless I'd find a copy on ebay. Stupid liscensing crap.



Shworange said:

I still have the original NES game cart. The turtle games were some of the best on the NES.



MAB said:

@LittleFuryThing 'Virtua Racing' on the Megadrive had a cartridge that incorporated the 'SEGA Virtua Processor Chip' designed by AM1 which made it a giant technical leap for a 16bit console at the time. I remember it was AU$100 when it was released and I happily paid that price because it was a great game especially when you consider it set the foundations for racing games today I even picked up the 32X 'Virtua Racing Deluxe' with arcade perfect graphics and framerate and also added extra tracks and vehicles that totally awesomified the experience to the next level



Big_Gamer said:

@Xilef it sounded to violent, Mikeys nunchucks was also edited out (hence he got the grapling hook in later seasons)



Marios-love-child said:

I had this game on the Attari ST

I do remember paying a similar price for a WWF Royal Rumble game on the SNES many years ago so it is true we really are quite fortunate now with the prices of our games.



DarkEdi said:

Why the box announces the cartoon turtles while the game is about the comic turtles? Demand sure, heheheh.



Big_Gamer said:

@DarkEdi actually, its the other way around, the game is about the cartoon and the cover is the comic (which most of the TMNT games did)



kdognumba1 said:

That's insane! I had no idea NES wasn't doing good in UK or that TMNT saved it. Very informative and awesome read!



TheDreamingHawk said:

Why on earth would the word "ninja" be bad in europe? Silly Euros back then, first their broken dates, now a name. At least they retitled the newer ones later.



hYdeks said:

@ThomasBW84 Cool cool, very good way to get interesting news, I'm just surprised alot of the news comes from that site. Honestly, he might have had this article on gonintendo yesturday, but your article is a much more fascinating read lol Keep up the great work!



StarDust4Ever said:

All of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles themed games got pulled, not only from Wiiware/VC, but also PSN as well, and presumably Xbox. I downloaded the Demo for a TMNT PSN game before they were pulled; if I click the "buy now" link in-game, I get a "404" style error in the PSN shop. I'm still kind of miffed that I didn't get the VC title while I had the chance, but it was 600 points, plus I own the original NES game in cartridge format. "Ninja" does not equate to "Hero", silly EU censorship. I was under the impression that EU was less stringent on censorship than NA.

BTW, they could have packed in a better system seller, SMB3, anyone? I'm so glad Nintendo didn't screw themselves by signing a distribution deal with Atari back in 1985. Atari had enough problems as a company, and Nintendo would have gotten screwed over big time. Didn't Mattel also distribute the NES in Canada?



MeWario said:

Down here in New Zealand the NES had next to no presence here and Sega ruled the world. Wasn't till SNES that Nintendo became a big deal.



madgear said:

This is true. Turtles was what got me into video games and oh how I pestered my parents for a NES when I saw that advert.

I didn't get one, though! They opted for a Commodore instead, like most Brits, which was an infinitely better choice looking back. I mean back when this was being advertised (falsly as "only on Nintendo" I seem to remember). Considering it was more than £40+ for the NES version and you could get a superior 16-bit Amiga version of the same game for £7 made it no contest. It wasn't until the Megadrive that console gaming really took off here - everyone either owned a C64 or an Amiga before then. £3 - £10 for superior games? Yes please.



McHaggis said:

I had the Mario bundle, but my mum bought me the Turtles game, too. I know it gets a lot of criticism for its glitchy graphics and high difficulty, but I really hold the game dear from playing it across my childhood even after getting a SNES and a PSX.



WarioPower said:

This may seem offtopic, but what's so bad about the word "ninja"? Isn't there freedom of speech? Like, I can understand regulating speech if it's threatening, but "ninja" seems harmless. BTW kind of a bad game to launch the NES into the UK mainstream.



madgear said:

@mjforthewin There's nothing wrong with the word Ninja here. It was just changed to "hero" for the cartoon series because they didn't like the idea of kids looking into ninja weaponry / fighting etc.

The movie was still called "Ninja Turtles" here and pretty much everything else since (new movie, cartoon series etc all use Ninja). We had a lot of other games with ninja in the title such as The Last Ninja series so it was just a descision based on the fact that the Turtles are aimed at kids.

As for nunchucks, that was just a temporary thing based on the cartoon series too. All Turtles video games retained the nunchuks and, obviously, there are hundreds of movies that feature them here too. If you buy the Turtles movie on DVD here too the nunchuck scenes are still intact. It was just the original cartoon and even that was temporary. Nothing to do with "freedom of speech", that's just blowing it way out of proportion.



hYdeks said:

@StarDust for some reason, they didn't allow aggressive words like "ninja" be in there cartoon titles because they though kids where dumb and would start imitating ninjas cause there fans of the TMNT (or TMHT, whatever ). Honestly though, England is not even close to the censorship it once was, and yay, there not as strict as over here now (weird considering anything seems to go on tv with America lol) Why in England the original series is TMHT, and the 2000 series is known as TMNT. It's just down-right silly if you ask me -_-



GreenDream said:

LOL "Hero" Turtles... Talk about cultural ignorance... Not to mention, this system seller was a "turkey". TMNT 2/arcade is the real hero of the franchise!

As for pricing, many SNES-exclusive RPG's were $80, and one Genesis-exclusive RPG, Phantasy Star 4, was $100. Durable cartridges housing games with an expensive production track aren't cheap, but £65 for Super Street Fighter 2!? They knew it was basically a multi-platform patch of Street Fighter 2, right?



Raiko said:

I remember those old SNES prices. I managed to pick up Street Fighter II Turbo from a neighbour for just £5. Happy days.

As for TMHT on the NES. I have no idea how I ever made it to the near-end of that game. I haven't come remotely close to matching that since adulthood.



trendyface said:

hi every one i have this tmht set all mint con and complete , but in there is a party hat what i can not remember anything about it at all, in my pro pic you can see my tmht set i know its a small pic but in the wrrenty you can see the hat bagged so it has its own bag like the rest of the pieces that came in the set now this party hat is ironically the same colors of the tmht aka the mutant machine set , dose any one know if this hat came free with the set because it was released xmas 1990 and would make sense of the party hat being in there but then im not sure coz a hat could of came from anywhere but then would not explain the extra bag in the tmht set when all other pieces are present and in bags that all match age and their look and the way they feel , its a strang one im working on and is killing me to figure out where this hat has come from or if it was in the set coz it was in with the warranty , cheers guys , hope some one can remember unboxing the mutant set as a kid lol

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