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Why was the First TMNT Game so Weird?

Posted by Steven Collier on Dec. 11th, 2015

Ever since its release in 1989, gamers have been more than a little confused by the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game for the NES. In some regards, it is a faithful adaptation of the Heroes on a Half-Shell, yet most of the game focuses on locations and enemies that have absolutely nothing to do with the beloved '80's cartoon and movie franchise.

How is it possible that a game that lovingly recreates classic villains like Shredder, Bebop, and  Rocksteady, goes so far afield of its source material? Even the goofier elements of the Turtles' cartoon are present, including the Turtle Blimp and the Party Wagon. Yet most of the game is populated by an assortment of bizarre mechanical or alien foes that seem like they'd be more at home in a title like Contra.

WHAT WAS WITH THESE ENEMIES?

AND LET'S NOT FORGET THE SEAWEED!

Although these additions are baffling. The answer to why they're present is surprisingly simple. In 1987, when Konami first began developing the original TMNT game, the franchise had yet to really get off the ground. Aside from a rough movie script being tossed around Hollywood and a few episodes of the new cartoon series, the only reference materials available were the original black-and-white comic books created by Eastman and Laird. For those of you unfamiliar with these comics, they were a lot less kid-friendly than the Turtles you probably remember. The stories were violent, brooding and usually downright creepy.

THE ORIGINAL TURTLES WERE EVEN WEIRDER!

Coincidentally, this is also why all the turtles are wearing the same colored bandannas on the game's box art. It's an image lifted straight from one of the comics, where all the turtles dressed alike.

Considering that the design documents with which Konami had to work were largely based on an overview of these comics and a few blueprints for an upcoming toy line, its easy to see how they felt free to add their own ideas to this macabre world. Suddenly, characters like "Chainsaw Maniac" and "Giant Frog" make a little more sense.

Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles for the Nintendo marks a fascinating turning point in the history of these crime-fighting terrapins. It was the only media to try and bridge the two radically different versions of the Turtles that existed in the late 80's. Even if the result was less than perfect, I think most would agree that Konami more than redeemed themselves with its sequels. Turtles in Time is still regarded as one of the greatest arcade action games ever made. If you'd like to dip your toes into the New York sewers and see for yourself, the FC2 SLIM that can play the entire Nintendo and Super Nintendo TMNT Game Library, so there's never been a better time to be a turtle.

But what do you think? Does this information give you a fresh appreciation for one of the hardest games on the NES? Or do you find this convoluted history only makes the game all the more frustrating? As always, let me know your thoughts in the Comments section.

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