Some of you may not be aware that heavy hitters Konami (well-known for both the TMNT Arcade Game and Turtles In Time) actually worked with Mirage Studios on three PS2 titles related to the second incarnation of the Ninja Turtle animation. While the storyline is much different (slightly darker) than the original pizza-eating, butt kicking (there’s no Technodrome and Shredder only wears his armor for battle) wise-cracking tortoises that we all grew up with, it still remains pretty close to the spirit of the original turtles and had Eastman and Laird’s creative control throughout. Oddly enough, each one of these three titles was vastly different from the others, making for a unique experience with every game.
The first game released was just called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) which is kind of an annoyance, since looking for it also brings up the original debut title for the NES (also by Konami) as well as the later title, TMNT (2007). At any rate, this first title seems to go back to the nature of the classic beat-em’ up, in which the player is merely asked to pick a turtle as they are shown a cutscene from the cartoon and then asked to pretty much mash buttons. But that’s the nature of a beat-em up, so no one should be complaining there. What’s more is that every turtle had a slightly different path in the game, which also included a boss that would be unique to their storyline. You had to finish all of the story lines to battle the game’s true final boss. Though repetitive, the game offered some interesting locales to spice up the modicum action, making good use of a three-dimensional plane and its sparse number of boss characters. The player didn’t just battle the foot, as robots and underground genetic experiments would also become fodder for your fists throughout each of the game’s six acts. Out of all the games, this one felt the most like a traditional beat-em up, yet it could also be punishingly difficult if one really wanted to test their mettle. But the best thing about this game was its music, which definitely contains the best soundtrack out of the three, with its mix of crushing guitar anthems mixed in with well-crafted electronic pieces. To some, this is the best of the three and I’d certainly consider it a must play.
The second game in the series was Battle Nexus (2005), easily considered the worst game in the series for many reasons. Though it offered up more footage from the animated series than any other game in the trilogy (and doled out more spoilers than is truly necessary, like the true nature of the Shredder), the game tried to take the beat-em’ up style into the level of platforming. Unfortunately, enemy life-bars were completely removed with the exception of even fewer bosses and most of them could be toppled in a number of hits. Make no mistakes, folks – this game is mind-numbingly difficult. I had to play through it on easy and with the invincibility cheat, just so I could actually finish the whole game. First of all, it is very easy to die in this game. You can’t really run off large platform areas, but the smaller platforms will kill you quickly. The game lets you use all four turtles and each one plays differently, also having a special feature that means you would have to switch to them at a certain part in the game. Raphael for instance, is needed to push large objects, while Michelangelo is needed for special glide jumps. Donatello can activate consoles, which can help or hinder the player. Sometimes the consoles that he activates will lead to special areas that you couldn’t access on the map normally. But Leonardo is pretty much default, because he’s the only turtle that’s really suited for melee combat, which pretty much constitutes the whole game, minus platforming. Now there are special hoverboard stages in the game, which seem to get evermore frustrating as you continue through. These will rack up your death total, especially if you’re trying to nab all of the coins spread throughout. The game also had special missions, like where you would have to throw the Ultroms into the teleporter while avoiding the Shredder’s attacks, or the pain in the ass section where you would have to carry Fugitoid on your back while avoiding enemy damage. To make matters worse, he had his own life bar and you would fail the mission if that life bar extinguished. Keep in mind that you also had respawning soldiers and difficult to hit flying robots in the stage, which makes the short trek a hell of a lot more painful than it might seem at first. Though the game offered plenty of interesting settings and backgrounds, its antique gathering sections were a bit useless (they may or may not unlock one of the games many unlockable costumes, characters or modes) and the music almost entirely forgettable. The game did manage to include a heavily modified version of the original TMNT Arcade Game (you have to find it as an artifact first), but all of the music was removed and most of the voice clips. Instead, it just plays one corny retro-styled track throughout, with the exception of an exceptionally corny boss theme. Just emulate it, my phone runs the damn thing. After you finished the game, the Battle Nexus section would finally open and you would be able to fight a gauntlet of sorts, which included some new bosses and a few other things. But I never cared to venture that far, seeing all that I needed to of the story and at that point becoming sick of the game entirely.
That leads us to the third and final game in the trilogy, Mutant Nightmare (2005). This was the final Konami created title in the series, as TMNT (2007) was handled by another company entirely. Sometimes called “Ninja Turtle Legends” or “Ninja Turtle Alliance”, this game played very much in the vein of the X Men Legends and Marvel Ultimate Alliance titles. All four turtles would be on the screen at one time, with an up to four co-op system implemented. It’s very much set up like a top down beat-em up, but also proved to be a bit difficult on its “normal” setting. Playing it on “easy” actually made the game enjoyable, with no change to the story outcome whatsoever. The game also offered a gem system as currency so that the player could purchase new skills, items, powers and the elusive ninja scrolls. These were hidden well in most aspects and quite hard to find, even though they offered upgrades to the turtles in the vein of life extension, greater damage/defense amounts, greater shuriken damage and several others. The best scrolls that you could get in the game were usually gained right towards the end of it, making the bonus Nightmare missions quite simple. But Mutant Melee was not just a beat-em up, as it offered three other modes which were actually quite satisfying. The game also doubled as hoverboard style racer, in which you could even fight bosses and that was pretty cool. Additionally, it also featured four-person rail shooter missions, in which you had varied opponents and even boss battles. The final mode in the game was the dive mode, in which the turtles would be parachuting down a certain area, with things to avoid and usually things to collect as well. DVD’s were the other coveted item in this game, mostly offering more short movie clips (the game storyline offers quite a few long ones in itself, as well as an ending that is truly satisfying to watch and worth the struggle of going through some of the more boring stages in the game) which did nothing but show scenes detailing a certain object or pertaining to a character, while a member of the TMNT 2003 cast did a voice-over for each. I’m not sure if a full episode was available or not for all of your trouble collecting the DVD’s, but now you can just watch the whole series on Netflix. If you do manage to finish the original three episodes (which comprise of about 16 chapters each), then you get to explore even more of what seemed to be unused stages (perhaps the game was rushed) in the Nightmare “episode.” It’s got an interesting premise and features a final boss that isn’t old Shred-head, but some of the best stages in the game are featured right here. You’ll fight bosses in the rail-shooter mode, bosses in the hoverboard mode and even a gauntlet before taking down the final. The whole thing is really satisfying and even more fun when you’ve got the best items and scrolls equipped. The game does suffer from some of it’s more boring beat-em up modes, as well as it’s protect missions which result in a separate life bar for April O Neil and Master Splinter (yeah, they made Splinter nearly helpless in this one) but considering the fact that it offers plenty of special attacks and ground-clearing team attacks, these can become a whole lot easier to navigate. And oh yeah, you can get lost – even with the map on the HUD. Fortunately, the game does offer an easily unlocked (you get it right after you finish the first episode after defeating the game’s coolest boss in the triceratops mech) yet modified version of the classic Turtles In Time (arcade version, not the SNES) staying true to the 80’s cartoon visually, but to the 2003 series as far as the music and sound effects are concerned. Some of the lines have been re-recorded by the TMNT 2003 cast, or remastered from their original versions. Additionally, the victory theme and title theme is that of the TMNT 2003 opening, which makes sense; because most kids in that era have never heard of the original turtles. Oddly enough, other than the boss theme (which I’ve always liked as well as Shredder’s battle theme) I like most of the new tunes that they decided to put into this new version. They manage to fit and aren’t nearly as boring as the two stale tunes used in the last title. Though I’ve played the original SNES version well over fifty times in my youth and the arcade version just one time before (there’s no Technodrome or Super Shredder), I quite enjoyed this re-imagining. It’s a much better job than the last one, that’s for sure. But there’s really no need to beat that dead horse again.
So while Eastman and Laird have sold their souls to the unholy corporate bastards over at Viacom (to the tune of 600 million dollars, no doubt) and a new version of the Ninja Turtles stalks the streets looking for foot to bash – keep in mind that these three titles show the potential of that 2003 series, which by fans is considered one of the best adaptations of the Turtles ever conceived. Now I’m not sure about the new movie, but I do know that even with a few changes here and there TMNT 2003 still remains true to the Ninja Turtles that I remember… and I know, because I used to be that Ninja Turtle kid. Playing these games took me back to childhood for a minute, which is always great considering the world today isn’t quite so carefree (or at least in my mind anyway) and these games offered me a brief respite (and mild frustration) from the hectic hustle and bustle of the real world. If you also have Ninja Turtle nostalgia, then you might want to pick them up as well. I don’t recommend the second title at all, but the first and third games are plenty of fun and should keep you occupied for a while during the summer months, right before the big guns of the fall come out. Keep checking back for reviews of more classic games and until next time… Pizza Power!