Shell yeah! A brief history of TMNT games
A look back at some turtle-y awesome adaptations.
TEENAGE. MUTANT. NINJA. TURTLES.
Few media franchises are as firmly rooted in the 1980s as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who at the height of Turtlemania exploded from the pages of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s underground comics across kid-friendly TV animation, the action figure toy market, movie theaters (thanks to the Jim Henson Creature Shop), and of course just about every console and computer system in existence.
It started as a joke, with Eastman and Laird satirizing superhero-comic standards like Uncanny X-Men and Daredevil, but their first 1984 comic’s ridiculous premise and surprisingly gritty action struck a chord with readers almost immediately. Still, few could have predicted the mainstream success of the “heroes in a half shell”—four turtles transformed into humanoid teenagers who live in the sewers, eat pizza, and fight crime with their ninjutsu combat skills—before they were suddenly everywhere.
By 1989 the Turtles’ self-titled arcade-game and Nintendo Entertainment System debuts were pop-cultural sensations; the side-scrolling version for the NES, released by Konami, sold more than four million cartridges worldwide, becoming one of the bestselling NES titles not made by Nintendo. (That it was also potentially unbeatable only cemented its place in the annals of ‘80s video-game history.) Not too shabby for those little green guys.
Though the franchise’s popularity waned slightly in the ’90s and early ’00s, the Turtles have intermittently returned to screens in live-action and animated form, most recently with this month’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. And they’ve retained a presence on arcade and home video game platforms; in fact, after signing a deal with Nickelodeon/Viacom in 2012, Activision published five unique Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles titles of its own, starting with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, first released 10 years ago this month.
To mark the anniversary, and with the heroes raising shell at the box office once more, what better time to look back at Activision’s TMNT titles?
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2013)
In this Red Fly Studio-developed third-person brawler, loosely based on the 2012 animated series, players could opt for a four-player online mode and offline two-player co-op, switching seamlessly between each of the four Turtles and weaponizing their unique fighting styles to duke it out with the Shredder, the Foot Clan, Baxter Stockman, and other franchise-familiar opponents across a four-hour hack-and-slash campaign. A “classic” Arcade mode, reminiscent of coin-op cabinet gameplay, also allowed players to progress through the main story levels in a side-scrolling combat style.
Out of the Shadows rendered its world in an impressive level of detail, offering up distinctive main character models, and relying on cinematic camera moves while offering a darker, more realistic take on the world of TMNT and harkening back to the graphically stylized look of older animated series and the original comics.
As with the arcade titles Out of the Shadows paid homage to, teamwork was an important part of the game, with team combos and KOs making the Turtles more powerful together than apart, and this element received particular praise from reviewers at the time of the game’s release for Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2013)
This Magic Pockets-developed title (for Nintendo 3DS, Wii, and Xbox 360), intended as a direct video-game adaptation of Nickelodeon’s 2012 animated series, was a side-scrolling beat-’em-up title aimed at younger audiences.
Fighting against the Foot Clan, Krang, Baxter Stockman, and other opponents in order to rescue April O’Neil from the Shredder, this brawler allowed up to four players to shift between playing as all four Turtles at once—all of whom were voiced by actors from the animated series, including Sean Astin as Raphael and Mae Whitman as April.
Even with its show-off combo system and combat-heavy gameplay, this was a sillier outing for the Turtles in which players could collect mutagen canisters to unlock extras and chow down on pizza, sushi, noodles, algae, worms, and more to replenish their health.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
Also developed by Magic Pockets but this time based on the 2014 live-action movie reboot of the same name, this 3DS beat-’em-up featured the character redesigns from the Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (yep, even down to the unsettling humanoid nostrils) and acted as a semi-sequel to the film’s story.
After defeating the Shredder, the Turtles go after the remaining Foot Clan, take on opponents like the Rat King and his robotic Mousers, and hunt for their missing sensei Splinter. A third-person hack-and-slash actioner, the game let players toggle between the four half-shell heroes while leveling up in power, unlocking new abilities, and cobbling together raw materials in order to make new weapons.
The Turtles all had different weapons and abilities that came in useful in different places (Leonardo’s katanas could slice past shielded enemies’ defenses, while Donatello’s bo staff was better at holding off waves of swarming opponents). As such, players were encouraged to move back and forth between different characters as they made their way through the classic TMNT game levels (sewer, subway, street, and waterfront) and occasionally completed side-quests.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Danger of the Ooze (2014)
Developed by WayForward for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo 3DS, this second game based on the 2012 animated series was set between its second and third seasons, following the Turtles on a quest to prevent the Shredder from forging an alliance with the Krang and unleashing a new bio-weapon on New York City.
But Danger of the Ooze’s real draw was its side-scrolling, 2.5D style, reminiscent of classic Metroidvania titles in its guided non-linearity and focus on utility-gated exploration and progression. More colorful and dynamic than previous Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles titles, it allowed players to maneuver a large map and slowly unlock new areas, eventually navigating laser grids, dodging projectiles, and escaping other booby traps.
Though it was possible to play as all four Turtles and move between them at will, any Turtle losing their life meant that they had to then be recovered from random points along the map, necessitating a fair amount of backtracking. (Pro tip: never leave a Turtle brother behind.)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan (2016)
Hatched by Platinum Games, responsible for everything from Bayonetta 2 to Activision’s Transformers: Devastation, this hotly anticipated hack-and-slash title was written by Tom Waltz, co-writer of the IDW comics, which meant that its storyline—of Shredder and Krang invading New York—felt closely aligned in tone with what was happening with the Turtles on the page.
Heavily informed by the art style of those comics, Mutants in Manhattan boasted a gorgeous, cel-shaded look, bursting with bright color and made even more propulsive by a pulse-pounding, 8 bit-inspired score. Scaling walls, crawling through sewers, and racing across rooftops, the Turtles were able to move swiftly through various city environments.
When going up against all manner of fan-favorite adversaries (like Bebop, Rocksteady, and Wingnut), players were able to alternate between light and heavy attacks, dodge rolls, counters, and so on; the bigger challenge was managing all four turtles at once in the midst of a close-quarters brawl, given that the main story unfolds as a single-player campaign.
One cool collectible: All 50 of Kevin Eastman’s variant covers for the IDW series were scattered at randomized locations throughout the game’s levels.
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