April 11, 2007 - It's turtle mania! Everyone and their estranged uncle have been going nuts over the latest onslaught of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle material, from the blockbuster movie to its accompanying game. Despite mixed critical acclaim, the movie has done impressively well and the game continues to sell across various platforms. It was somewhat unusual that Nintendo chose not to release this 1989 NES Turtles title to coincide with the movie's debut, especially considering it was released for the virtual console in Europe and Australia two weeks ago. Stranger still, the North American release is 600 points -- 100 points more than the aforementioned continents -- and 100 points more than the standard (until now) pricing of NES games for the Virtual Console. Is it a cash-grab or a licensing issue with Konami? Pricing speculation aside, the original incarnation of our favourite mutant heroes' adventure, despite its nostalgic saturation, is deeply flawed and excessively unforgiving.
I have fond memories of taking control of the four teenage heroes and their quest to rescue April O'Neil and Splinter from the evil clutches of Shredder. Any of the four turtles can be swapped into the action at any given time -- a great feature that lets the player take advantage of each turtle's unique (yet unequal) weapon ability in the heat of battle. Unfortunately, most of the game is unbalanced, from the controls and characters, to enemy and level design.
Players traverse five stages, travelling across a top-down map and entering warehouses, sewers, and other locales in an effort to reach the end of each level. Other than the occasional appearance by Beebop and Rocksteady, the game is entirely void of recognizable and relevant characters from the show. Konami conjured up completely arbitrary enemies including evil butterflies, fire-consumed creatures, fire-breathing Darth Vader-esque baddies, and chainsaw-wielding maniacs. To make matters worse, these out-of-place foes respawn, disappear and reappear at random. You may have just endured an intense skirmish with 9 enemies to reach a health-recharging pizza, only to have 5 of them reappear on your way back out of area. This makes the risk-reward system of actually pursuing power-ups and health irrelevant -- and the actual quest far more difficult than necessary.
Leonardo's Katana blade and Donatello's Bo are the only truly effective weapons in the game, and more often than not, you will find yourself exploring the map with Michelangelo and Raphael simply because they are more dispensable. Their respective weapons, the nunchukus and Sais have cripplingly short range. While under certain circumstances their attack power increases (Michelangelo when his health is low and Raphael against certain enemies), the incredibly poor hit detection renders these characters virtually ineffective. Further, jumping and navigating small ledges is grossly inaccurate; there is a difference between a game that is challenging and one that is rife with gameplay and design flaws.
There is also an abundance of graphical glitches and slowdown that further hampers the enjoyment factor. To make matters worse, the game's score is devoid of any recognizable TMNT tunes, including the main theme. This is a travesty, to say the least. The sound effects are all right, but by no means make up for the lack of TMNT inspired sounds and music.
I probably sound like a turtle-hater. I actually really enjoyed this game as a kid and even made it to the end (which is quite the feat), but upon revisiting the game over a decade later it becomes increasingly apparent that the game is inherently flawed and simply doesn't stand the test of time. Fun is a very subjective concept, and there is doubtless nostalgic presence that will suck fans into downloading this title. However, the game's arcade version (also released in 1989) and sequels were far better, making this particular title difficult to recommend. Add to the mix a seemingly arbitrary price increase of 100 Wii points, this download will likely be relegated to the libraries of only the most hardcore fans.