TMNT NES Header Image

The header image for this post was created by Reddit user Eisenhower7241

One of the topics that I’ve mentioned a few times in my posts so far is the “First Summer of Video Games” (especially when I’ve mentioned NES games).  I first mentioned it in our post on the 2017 Leeds Retro Game Fair and thought that I would, over a few posts, go into a little more detail about some of those games.

Today’s game: TMNT

Queue the intro music. You know it, I know it, let’s do it. Sing with me!

The Game

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a Nintendo Entertainment system game released in 1989, developed by Ultra Games and published by Konami. It was ported to Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS, MSX, ZX Spectrum, and PlayChoice-10.

So pretty much every popular system that was out at the time.

In  the early 90s Djstump and I were into a small number of things, among them where:

  • Video games
  • Playing football
  • WWF Wrestling
  • Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles
  • Sugar

The last one is a joke, obviously.

So when our Dad gave us with a TMNT game for the NES that we had recently received, we went crazy.

Stone Cold Crazy, you might say. That reference will make more sense in a moment.

Until the TMNT game,  each of the games that we played were completely new IPs, so we had no idea of any back stories or had any pre-existing connections with the characters. Who is this Mario guy, and why does he wear those overalls? What about this Nemo kid? Why is Arnold Schwatzenegger throwing a boomerang around?

But now, I could beat the snot out of Bebop and Rocksteady as Donatello.

Because he’s clearly the best Turtle.

First Impressions

As soon as you start the game, there’s a ticking of music, something teasing you to sit down and take notice.

TMNT Start Screen
The TMNT Start Screen tempted you with it’s pulsing drum beat

But if you stuck around on that screen you were treated to one of the most kick ass attract videos of all time.

This was a time when attract videos where usually just the first level being played out or some of the characters walking along the screen.

The most interesting thing about this attract video, though, is that Queen fans will hear something very familiar in that song. It’s pretty much a version of Stone Cold Crazy, with one or two notes changed.

Apparently that could work for Ultra Games, but not for Vanilla Ice.

Walking the Walk

Looking past the attract screen, as soon as you start the game you’re presented with a top down view of New York.

Donny in the overworld of TMNT for NES
Donny making his way to the end of the first stage’s overworld

You’re dropped directly into this crazy world. There’s no level design based training, like in Super Mario Bros. There’s just Leo (he’s the default turtle), a massive truck (which will flatten you), and an open manhole.

This game was the first that I played that I was aware of which rewarded exploration. Sure, Super Mario Bros. rewards exploration by teaching you how to play the game

Go read the link I from the previous paragraph. It’s fantastic.

but TMNT rewarded you with hundreds of enemies to defeat.

and for a TMNT fan, this was the way to go.

Source Material

Before going any further I want to point out that the source material for this game was a mish-mash of the TV show and the original comics that the show was (very, very loosely) based on.

This can be seen on the box art, and cartridge sticker:

TMNT Box art

Image source: By Source, Fair Use:

The first thing that a TMNT fan will point out is that all of the turtles are wearing the same coloured sash. That’s because this is the cover of the first issue of the TMNT comic book.

This is even more obvious when the Dimension X enemies are encountered. They really are a strange collection of creatures, most of them where never seen in the TV show.

Donny - Building dimension x enemies
Donny taking on a giant Frog, two eyes on legs and some men on fire

I wonder whether they where influenced by Pink Floyd


New York is split into a number of stages:

  • Sewers
  • Warehouses
  • Underwater (that damned dam level!)
  • Over ground
  • Rooftops
  • The Technodrome

The first area is all sewers and the over ground, and working through them you take on both Bebop and Rocksteady and rescue April O’Neil.

Leo - Bebop and Rocksteady
Leo taking on Bebop, while Rocksteady watches over April O’Neil

Then it’s off to the New York City damn, as The Foot Clan have placed bombs in the water which you have to disarm.

As a side note here: this is the hardest part of the game, and you have to do it at the beginning. It really sorted the men from the boys, as it were.

Mikey - underwater
Mikey making his way underwater to disarm the bombs

After then you find that Shredder has kidnapped Splinter and that it’s your job to rescue him. You do this by travelling around New York, going underground, entering the Technodrome and beating the Shredder.


All of the turtles are present in the game.

Right up until one of them dies.

When you lose a turtle, they’re actually captured by the foot. This means that you have the chance to rescue them (they’re placed randomly inside warehouses) and continue playing as them.

Each of the turtles attack with their characteristic weapons, with Leo and Donny being better at long range attacks and Raph and Mikey better at close range attacks.

But we all know that Donny is the best turtle, so why you’d play as any of the others is beyond me.

Those Unforgettable Days

As I said at the top of this piece, this was one of the games in our First Summer of Video Games. What was great about this game was that we were both very into the TV show

We had an untold number of TMNT action figures, skateboards, and other toys

but we also used this game to bond with the boy next door. It helped us to forge friendships, as we swapped hints and tips.

This was a time before The Internet (as we know it), so gaming hints and tips came in the form of magazines, cheat books

They used to sell books that contained all known cheat codes for games. Which is preposterous now, what with Google and all.

and discussions with friends.


I recently fired up TMNT in a NES emulator and I feel like it has aged well. There are parts of the game that are difficult

The dam level and some of the, so called, “impossible” jumps

 in fact, a lot of the game is quite difficult.

There are a lot of articles out there about how games have gotten easier, and how it’s related to graphics or story telling or any other number of reasons. This game is hard because it’s hard.

It’s not one thats easy to pick up and hard to master. It’s just hard. But it’s extremely rewarding when you finally complete the game.

If you’ve never played this game but call yourself a gamer, then I’d recommend that you try this one out. Don’t watch any play-throughs, don’t look up strategy guides and FAQs. Get a NES and the cartridge, or an emulator and a ROM

Google will help

and start playing the game. That’s how we did it, back in the day. Then let us know what you think of the game.

If you’ve played TMNT before, let us know what you thought about it.

Either way, let’s keep the conversation going in the comments.

Jamie is one of the Waffling Taylors. He spends a lot of time blogging about things sometimes related to programming and sometimes not.