TMNT The Cowabunga Collection
Image: Konami

With the upcoming bounty of TMNT goodness heading to Switch this year in the form of Konami's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection and Dotemu's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge, we thought it the perfect time to take a look at the history of Turtles games on Nintendo systems...

You could say that the Turtles, Konami, and Nintendo were something of a holy trinity, if you wanted to get thrown out of your church. The (very) late '80s and early-to-mid '90s were pretty much festooned with high-quality Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games on Nintendo systems (and elsewhere), so we begin in that early, evergreen era...

The Golden-Green Era

We begin with the rather unfairly-maligned 1989 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for NES, a game that is often highlighted for the second stage, which has you swimming underwater and defusing bombs. Funnily enough, this level isn’t particularly difficult compared to later stages, and overall the experience is rather better than its reputation may have you believe. It doesn’t have the accessibility of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (1990, NES) but it could be convincingly argued that it’s the more interesting experience.

1992 was the golden year for Nintendo and TMNT, with the brilliant Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project hitting the NES and improved arcade port Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time blessing the Super Nintendo with one of its very finest games and surely the centrepiece of the upcoming Cowabunga Collection. To this very day there are few side-scrolling beat-’em-ups as good as Turtles in Time, which marries simplicity, variety, and challenge as expertly as you could ever ask from the genre.

Game Boy wasn’t short-changed either, with 1990 and 1991 seeing Fall of the Foot Clan and Back From the Sewers bring rather low-key (but very fun) brawling to the green screen, while 1993’s Radical Rescue put the Turtles in a Metroidvania for the first (but not the last) time, in a game that we’re especially grateful is being included in the upcoming collection on account of how high its price is on the secondhand market.

Konami wasn’t done with the Turts yet, though, with cult fighting game TMNT Tournament Fighters landing on SNES in September ‘93 and, surprisingly, NES the following year. While it’s no Street Fighter 2, it does still have a competitive scene and the SNES game is comfortably the fullest-featured of the lot with 10 playable characters to the Mega Drive’s 8 – though the NES version may be the most notable as one of the vanishingly few fighters that saw release on the platform, and it’s not bad at all considering the age of the hardware at the time, either.

The New Animated Era

A dip in the Turtles’ popularity saw them skip N64 entirely, resurfacing with the (excellent) new animated series in 2003 with a staggering seven new games based on it.

TMNT Battle Nexus GBA
Image: Konami

Gamecube saw the largely-identical Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Battle Nexus, and Mutant Nightmare released in 2003, 2004, and 2005, respectively; none of them were any great guns but there’s fleeting fun to be had beating the snot out of Foot, Triceraton and the like.

Mutant Nightmare DS
Image: Konami

Mutant Nightmare adopted a sort of quasi-top-down view to the action but none of the games are complex enough to get your teeth into, nor fun enough to be a brainless bash-fest. A Power Stone-esque fighter, Mutant Melee, also saw release in 2005, but it’s so featureless as to be baffling.

Steering away from the Gamecube, though, it’s the Game Boy Advance takes on these games that are more worth your time. The GBA version of TMNT (2003) is rather joyful, if somewhat short platformer/smack-’em-down, but its sequel (Battle Nexus) is great fun – unlike any of the previous games it has a focus on exploration, with each Turtle starting each of the many stages without their weapons, forcing them to stealth their way through until they’re located. Once found, of course, you can go to town on the enemies and pick back through each level for hidden crystals; you’ll need more of them the higher your skill level, with 100 total in each world. It’s no masterpiece, but it is a lot of fun and surprisingly difficult. Both games pack great pixel art and superior SNES-style soundtracks.

The third game, Mutant Nightmare, saw release on the Nintendo DS, but we can’t recommend this one quite so highly. It’s fine, but as an early DS title it requires too much in the way of unnecessary, forced touch-screen interaction for such riveting challenges as turning a handle. Great, thanks for that.

The Ubisoft Era

The next major TMNT media was the 2007 movie, helpfully titled TMNT, for which Ubisoft took the Gamecube-and-Wii reins for a rather middling action-adventure that took some cues from Ubi’s own Prince of Persia series. Like the movie itself, the game was… fine, a step above the last few, but still nowhere near the Konami heyday.

The DS got its own underwhelming version, but more media interest was devoted to the GBA version, which took the form of a 2D side-scrolling beat-’em-up that drew hysterical comparison to said heyday, while in reality being a fairly mediocre single-player game that’s only really notable for sharing staff with the later, better Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

Ubisoft also attempted a Smash Bros.-alike called TMNT: Smash-Up that ought to have been a home run, but instead of including, ooh, you know, Turtles characters, they padded the roster with multiple Rabbids. We don’t know what they were thinking, either.

The New New Animation Era

All that remains, then, is the 3DS – thankfully it’s a pretty decent showing from the heroes in a half-shell, though not necessarily from the source you might expect.

Nickelodeon's 2012 CGI-animated Turtles series was the source of two games – an unremarkable 2013 brawler (also on Wii) and the rather ruddy good Danger of the Ooze, a WayForward-developed Metroidvania inspired by the earlier Radical Rescue that takes the Turtles all over the city, over and underground, with a rather enjoyable battle system allowing for all sorts of enjoyable combos. The movement can feel a little unusual, but once you get to grips with things it’s a bit of a hidden gem.

Danger Of The Ooze DS
Image: Activision

Even more hidden, however, is the tie-in game based on the Platinum Dunes Ninja Turtles movie, a Diablo clone of all things starring those ‘roided-up Michael Bay Turtles. It’s far from amazing, but it’s a lot more fun than you’d expect, and the internet barely seems to accept that it even exists.

The New-Old Era...

Looking to the present and future, of course, all you can do on Switch at present is play Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl as (oddly) two of the Turtles, as well as take them out racing in a couple of karting titles. But it’s The Cowabunga Collection and, of course, Shredder’s Revenge which have our attention – the latter looks as great as any TMNT game has ever been.

Looks aren’t everything, though, and it remains to be seen if Shredder’s Revenge will be Rocksteady or Rat King.

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