Hopefully you’re all enjoying the absolutely tremendous Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge, the latest addition to the TMNT video gaming canon from Dotemu and Tribute games. We know we are. It’s another blistering action game in the tradition of Konami’s NES and SNES beat-’em-ups. And that’s great — we called it "the best Turtles beat 'em up ever made" in our review — but Revenge contains a distinct lack of homage to another well-loved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles incarnation; the 2003 animated series.
There was nothing less than an onslaught of games based on this darker, meaner, more story-led take on the TMNT, but three of them in particular seem to fly under the radar, and it’s those three handheld Konami-developed games we’re going to look at today. Shell we begin?
In some cases, Konami followed the trend of converting their SNES games to GBA – however, their port of Contra III: The Alien Wars was somewhat compromised, and the twin-pack Kessakusen! Ganbare Goemon 1 & 2: Yukihime to Magginesu, to our eternal sadness, never left Japan.
It’s a very good thing, then, that GBA's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opted to take inspiration from its predecessors, Game Boy titles like Back From the Sewers and Radical Rescue. It’s a platform game, mostly, but with a focus on relatively nuanced combat. At first, it seems almost disappointing that the action only takes place on one plane (with the exception of a bike chase scene), but you’ll quickly get into the swing of beating seven shades of… er, soup out of Purple Dragon martial arts thugs.
The game takes place as an episodic exploration of the four different turtles. You choose who you want to play as (do we have to name them?), then take on their unique stages – four per Turtle, the last of each one being a boss fight. Of course, once these are beaten, you tackle a final stage as the ninja of your choice, culminating in a fevered battle with arch-nemesis Shredder.
And it’s good, it’s a deeply enjoyable side-scrolling platform/beat 'em up hybrid thing, with a few Mode 7 style gimmick stages that don’t last long enough to offend. The music’s awesome, with a sort of Mega Man X feel to some of the tracks; check out the tune below which accompanies the fight with Casey Jones and tell us it doesn’t have Mega Man X vibes.
There’s replay value, too, with five hidden crystals for each Turtle to find that trigger a better ending if you’re curious enough to claim the lot. And you’d better get used to crystals, because the next game doubles down on them in a big way.
You’d think this sequel would offer more of the same, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Battle Nexus is a huge and fascinating departure from its predecessor (the handheld version — all of these games had home console counterparts), with the Turtles starting each level with their weapons missing, leaving their only offensive manoeuvre being inordinately weak shuriken.
Of course, once you recover your weapons, you can absolutely go to town on the Triceratons – each Turtle’s combat style has been modified, with new moves activated by holding the attack button and releasing – some of which become essential for digging up secrets.
Unlike last time, you can choose your Turtle for each stage, and they all possess different movesets in order to facilitate replay value. See, there are now 20 crystals hidden in each level, and their acquisition is the primary aim of the game. It’s a task that necessitates some level of repetition, with each stage likely needing to be played in excess of four times – one for each Turtle, natch — but then more attempts for the crystals you missed out on. We’re not gonna pretend that this repetition can’t be a little disheartening at times, but a certain breed of gamer will get a huge kick out of exploring every nook and cranny of the game’s worlds.
A collectathon, then, but one that’s well-designed, atmospheric, and a lot of fun if it clicks. The only downside is that the combat, as good fun as it is to execute, falls by the wayside a little with repetitive enemy encounters and some frustrating sequences if you fail to stay out of sight. Nonetheless, a good, interesting game, albeit one that dares to stray from the Turtle formula. As a continuation of the Game Boy titles, it makes a lot more sense.
This third handheld game in the trilogy came to DS and didn’t review brilliantly at launch. On a surface level, it’s easy to understand why. There’s a baffling decision that brings the proceedings down in the form of an irritating “bleep” that plays every single time your Turtle’s co-op move is available – which is basically all the time. We found we were able to tune it out and enjoy the game regardless, but your mileage may vary.
When you get down to it, Mutant Nightmare is a fitting follow-up, going back to the more action-packed pacing of the 2003 game, while still incorporating the platforming and exploration of Battle Nexus, albeit to a somewhat lesser degree. Thankfully, the fighting feels great; while the sprites are a little smaller, this gives you more screen estate and therefore more reaction time.
Depending on which Turtle you choose for each stage, you’ll be able to use team-up moves in order to access alternate routes, meaning it’s once again going to be necessary to replay levels in order to collect all of the crystals in each world. They’re elusive, which means they’re rewarding and fun to find.
Graphically, the game delivers consistent results, but never “wows”. It’s subtly spruced up compared to the GBA games, with more frames of animation allowing for much smoother Turtleage and battles that feel fairer and more precise than what came before. It’s not as rich as Shredder’s Revenge, but it’s pretty impressive stuff for fans of the older school of side-scrolling. The multiple routes (including full additional levels in places) keep things fresh, and there’s a surplus of different enemy types to face. The music, too, is pretty great – if only it didn’t have that bleeping over it thanks to the team attacks.
Obviously, Digital Eclipse's upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection will feature plenty of Konami-crafted TMNT goodness, but we feel the trilogy of lesser-known handheld games above are also worth investigating. They're not perfect, but if you're a Turtles fan jonesing for testudinal gems, you'll find they have much to offer. Let us know your thoughts below if you've already played them.