The first Ninja Turtles game was released for the NES in 1989. The aptly titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles allowed players to play as any of the four Turtles. The game was based on the original cartoon series though the graphics more closely resembled the grit of the comic book series. It was a commercial success and helped jump-start the Turtles as a video game franchise. A sequel was also released for the NES, though it was a port of the arcade version of the game. This game differed significantly from the original’s top down gameplay by featuring an entirely side-scrolling game. The arcade version had a four player mode but the NES port only allowed for 2 player co-op. The graphics were much more in line with the cartoon series and the game featured many of the characters from the show. April O’Neil, Bebop, Rocksteady, Krang, numerous Foot Soldiers, and Shredder himself all make appearances. While there were subtle differences between the arcade and NES versions of the game, the gameplay was ultimately the same. The final Turtles game for the NES was titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project and revolved around Shredder turning Manhattan into a floating island. The gameplay was similar to the arcade game but added a special move to the Turtles’ repertoire. This game was also based on the original cartoon though strangely, the game’s cover art features a Triceraton – a species from the original comic book – even though are no Triceratons in the game.
The next great leap for the franchise came in the form of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time. This SNES arcade port, released in 1992, played similarly to the games released before it but the gameplay and graphics had all been improved. The plot revolved around Shredder stealing the statue of liberty along with his usual goal of world domination. After fighting their way into the Technodrome, the Turtles are hurled back in time. The levels span throughout history, featuring dinosaurs, a pirate ship, a train and a futuristic space station. Many notable bosses return along with some new ones – Super Shredder, Bebop and Rocksteady, Baxter Stockman, Slash, Tokka and Razar, and Krang all make appearances. The controls, as in the previous games, feature the ability to run, jump, attack and special attack, in addition to a new ability to throw enemies. All four turtles are playable and while the arcade version saw support for 4 players, the SNES version was limited to 2 again. The soundtrack is notable for featuring delightfully catchy songs that added to the ambiance of the game. Turtles in Time remains one of the greatest Ninja Turtles games of all time. In 2009 the game was remade from the ground up and released as a downloadable title for Xbox and PS3. Turtles in Time Re-Shelled featured very similar gameplay to the original but lost much of what made that game great. The music was redone and the general tone felt off. Overall it wasn’t a bad game, but it didn’t help gamers relive the nostalgia left over from the original.
After the original cartoon came to and end, the franchise began to wane in popularity. It wasn’t until 2003 that the Ninja Turtles re-entered the limelight when a new animated series began airing on Fox. This series was much closer in tone and plot to the original comic book series. The stories were a little darker and the turtles were a little older. The popularity of this new show spawned a bevy of new games, starting with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the GameCube, Xbox, PS3, and PC. The game was met with mixed reviews and the general consensus was that it didn’t live up to Konami’s legacy of Ninja Turtles games. But that’s not to say that it was a bad game. It was a fun co-op experience with with some highly memorable sound bytes. The console version saw two sequels titled Battle Nexus and Mutant Nightmare respectively. Konami also released a game under the same title for Gameboy Advance.
By 2007, Konami was no longer the rights holder for the franchise. Ubisoft released a game based on the 2007 CGI Ninja Turtles movie simply titled TMNT. Unlike previous console iterations, TMNT featured no multiplay whatsoever. Ubisoft released handheld versions of the game with entirely different gameplay from the console version. In 2009 the publisher released Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash Up, which was a multiplayer brawler in the same vein as Super Smash Bros. The game was notable for featuring characters from throughout Ninja Turtles history, including characters from the original comic books.
One of the original creators of the Ninja Turtles, Peter Laird, eventually sold the rights to the franchise to Nickelodeon who immediately began production on a new CG animated series. The series was so popular that Nick greenlighted a second season before production of the first was completed. It came as no surprise when new games based on this iteration were announced. The first release came in the form of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Rooftop Run, an endless runner for iOS. While the endless runner genre is rather bloated these days, Rooftop Run stands apart by adding a Ninja Turtle flair. The Turtles can attack enemies by tapping the screen as well as run along walls for short periods of time. Overall the game matches the style set by the TV series. The next game announced – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows – is set to be released August 28 on Xbox Live Arcade and September 24 on Playstation Network. This game, while mostly based on the world of the Nickelodeon show, features much more realistic looking turtles and more violence than is found in the TV series. It seems as if the game will appeal to older fans of the series and take cues from the original comic. Out of the Shadows features 4 player online co-op and a 2 player side-scrolling arcade mode for single console co-op. The controls are intuitive and the combo system is robust. A third new Ninja Turtles game is set to be released this year in October, which will be geared for younger audiences and presumably feature visuals more closely aligned with the TV series.
The Ninja Turtles have had a long and varied history in video games. While not every release has been stellar, the franchise remains at the forefront of pop-culture. The TV series is going strong, a new movie is in active development, and a new comic book series began in 2011. Fans of the Ninja Turtles have a lot to be excited about in the coming years and if history has taught us anything, the turtles are here to stay. Turtle Power!