Aw, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Great comics, great cartoons, (mostly) great movies, and great games. Where most licensed games are, at best, adequately playable, Turtles games include not only some of the best within that category, but also some of the best console games period. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game for the NES and Turtles in Time for the SNES are the most well-known, and were excellent beat ’em ups. This is no surprise, since Konami made them after having cut their teeth with The Adventures of Bayou Billy for the NES, and afterword followed up the above TMNT games with the arcade hits X-Men, The Simpsons, and Bucky O’Hare.
While Turtles in Time is generally considered the pinnacle of TMNT beat ’em up joy, Konami hasn’t stopped making good Turtles games. To check the truth of this statement, I took a look at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from 2003 for the Game Boy Advance. Inspired by the slightly darker and (arguably too) “edgy” 2003 cartoon series (not to be confused with the original 1987 run or the current 2012 Nickelodeon series), the first GBA Turtles title looks to be a classic beat ’em up meant to satisfy your Turtles in Time cravings. Play a few seconds of the game, though, and you’ll see that this brawler is actually a sidescroller without any of the Final Fight-esque foreground/background depth of movement allowed.
It still feels like a brawler in that vein, however, as it throws waves of enemies at you during bouts of locked screens. Bobbing arrows direct you to take occasionally diverging paths, and the backgrounds are definitely fitting of the TV show. So are the enemies, which range from mousers to purple dragons, and even Casey Jones in the classic Raph-meets-Casey-and-they-beat-the-crud-out-of-each-other story. That brings up the character graphics for the Turtles, themselves, which are a little mixed. At times, the Turtles actually look a little worse than the enemies, and it seems that the developers started the Turtle sprites by taking screen captures from the actual show, then modeled around them. This may not be true, but it would explain the excessive artifacting of their characters. The animations of the Turtles’ attacks are great, though, and make up for their slightly blurry appearance.
Each turtle has a normal attack, a jump attack, a special attack, and a power up attack that you can charge by Each turtle has some unique touches, like Raph’s ability to scale walls with his sai …holding down a shoulder button. Hold it too long, and your Turtle will apparently hemorrhage, reducing them to a shivering, panting easy target for a few seconds. The spaz-out is by far the coolest animation, and I urge you to do it every time you’re waiting for another wave of foes. The foes are relatively easy, though I did have to hit continue (of which you have infinite) every few screens and during some boss fights.
Rather than following a traditional beat ’em up plot, where you can select your favorite character and lead them through a single storyline, this title chooses instead to give each of the four turtles their own mini-plot. Leo searches out the source of the mousers, Raph fights Casey Jones, etc. Some reviewers have lamented the limiting of certain levels to certain Turtles, but I found the multi-story approach welcome, as the stories act as great intros to the core tales of the TMNT mythos. The cut scenes use static backgrounds with static characters moving in and out as they dive into the conversation, and do their part admirably. The writing is in keeping with the show, but could’ve used a little more charm.
The game starts with an intro culled and cut down from the show, and looks and sounds good for the GBA. The in-game music and sound effects are alright, occasionally rising up to remind you of the great SNES Turtles in Time tracks, though they never reach that excellence.
The truly unique thing about this ’03 GBA outing that sets it apart from its fellow sidescrollers and beat ’em ups is the minigame levels. These are stuck between the main sidescrolling levels, and include things like a rail-shooting Sewer Shark-style segment with Leo piloting the Sewer Slider, an Excitebike-style motorcycle race with Raph on the Shell Cycle, a sewer skateboarding section ala Sonic 2‘s special stages featuring Mikey, and a sidescrolling shooter with Donny hooked up to a glider. Clearly, Konami did their best to put in plugs for Turtle toys like the Sewer Slider and Shell Cycle, but the Thrashin’ Mikey and Air TMNT figures hadn’t been designed or released yet, leaving Mikey and Donny to use generic gear for their minigames. The minigames are a welcome addition, although some (like Leo’s) seem a bit overlong. However, if I were twelve years old and stuck on the school bus, I’d have been more than happy to sink the time into them.