Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game, a Thirty Year Reunion

Do you remember the first game you have ever played? In my case, being a small kid who grew up in the mid-90’s, you would imagine I first played a game on the Nintendo 64 or the SNES. Nope, my first gaming memory was playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game on my family’s old NES, a game I will forever love and cherish. A game that’s turning thirty in 2020. Time sure flies, and it’s about time to pay homage to this important 8-bit gem of a game.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game is essentially a port of a 1989 arcade game, which was heavily downsized and modified in order to run on the then-dated Nintendo Entertainment System. Think about it, by 1990, the TurboGrafx and the Mega Drive were already out. The Atari Lynx, which was vastly superior to the NES in terms of hardware, was also out. Yet the NES still reigned over them all. Konami was in its heyday, releasing so many gems, one after the other, to the point they had to create a secondary label, Ultra Games, in order to bypass Nintendo’s strict limitations on how many games a publisher could release each year. There was no way a game like this would fail. And it didn’t.

You pick one of four Ninja Turtles, and then partake on a quest to save April O’Neil from the Shredder. Yadda yadda yadda, you all know how the story goes. Given the limitations of the NES’s hardware, there is only one attack button and one jump button. This is a true button masher, a real OG in this sense. Either two or three foot soldiers will show up onscreen (NES hardware can’t handle more of them at a time), you beat them senselessly, walk a few more steps, fight a foot soldier, and so on, until you finally reach the level’s boss. There might be new enemies every now and then, as well as a few traps, but nothing out of the ordinary.

The first piece of product placement in gaming history!

Despite these limitations, I still think that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game is the best TMNT game ever made. Better than Turtles in Time, better than the proto-metroidvania hidden gem that is Radical Rescue, better than The Hyperstone Heist. There’s something about its rudimentary gameplay and presentation that makes it way more charming than its younger siblings. Its 8-bit aesthetics, simplified yet addictive gameplay, and much more aggressive chiptune soundtrack give it some kind of “punk rock vibe” that’s missing in later installments. Turtles in Time is AC/DC, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II is Black Flag. It’s raw, edgy, and 90’s as hell.

The question that lingers is: does this game hold up after thirty years? I’d say so, considering the limitations of its time. You have limited attack choices, but so do your opponents. You have a sizeable life bar and many lives, and you can even get some more if you know the specific button combinations. You’ll never be overwhelmed by a huge mob of foes, meaning that even newcomers can appreciate it as an entry-level brawler. Besides, it’s the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. No matter how old you are, the classic Turtles will forever remain charming in our perpetually immature hearts.

More than just a good beat ’em up, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II was another big reason why we 90’s kids fell in love with that juggernaut of a franchise. Between the cartoons, the (not-so-bad) movies, toys, and more, we also had fantastic Konami games to make us grow fond of the heroes in a half shell even more. This game will forever remain in my memory as the reason I started playing and liking video games, and the reason I like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to this day. And if you’re curious as to which turtle is my favorite, well… my name is Leo. Take a guess.