For a very long time, Konami had the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video-game license. Besides a few games in the franchise, almost all of them are great. Turtles in Time, Hyperstone Heist, Princess Maker: TMNT Edition, there was something for everyone. In keeping with tradition, when Konami brought the green-shelled ninjutsu masters to the Game Boy Advance, they produced yet another fantastic game.
Based on the early 2000s TV series, this version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is what I like to call the "angsty" and "dark" one. I watched a few episodes back when it was on TV, and while it wasn't the TMNT I grew up with on VHS cassettes on rainy days, it was still a lot of fun to watch. Up until recently, you could find all the episodes of the "gritty" series on YouTube, where I was catching up on them, until they were expectedly pulled from the web site.
The game is an interesting case, in that it had numerous publishers. Konami developed the game, and they also published it... with help from 4Kids Entertainment, FoxBox, and Mirage Studios. I think this was less that they published it and more that they didn't want Konami to take the majority of the revenue from sales. The game was released in 2003 to somewhat critical acclaim, reaching from above average to high scores. I look at the game objectively, now, over a decade since its release, and I actually think it should have scored a little higher.
What would a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game be without all four Turtles in playable form? They are all here, with unique moves and functions. Michelangelo can wall jump, Donatello can climb pipes, Leonardo can crawl through vents... something seems wrong here. Why can each of the Ninja Turtles only do one thing? That's a bit dumb! Surely if they are such great ninjas, they'd all know how to do these things? Pfft, Ninja Turtles.... Honestly...
Each Turtle has three general stages and a vehicle stage, which you must complete to unlock the last stages, where the Turtles take on Shredder and his right-hand man Hun. I could just imagine Shredder saying, "Come over here, Hun, I need help with something." Ha-ha, Hun.
A shell of a game, if you've mas-turtle'd the stages on Hard!
Much to the chagrin of all players, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is rather repetitive. It is also fairly short, and has little in the way of replay value. This is bad enough, but the game also contains no multiplayer support, hidden boss rushes, secret stages, or underwater bomb disarming sections. In short, there's very little to do, and you just do that very little over and over. There are crystals to find, and maybe collecting them unlocks a better game, but I have not the patience. I probably have about sixty more years in this life game that everybody's playing, I've got to make them count.
I forgot how good the dialogue in this series is. The game channels it perfectly, with each transition sequence being a joy to watch, just to see what inane thing Michelangelo says next. These dialogue sections are fine, but the opening cut sequence is awful. Crackly audio of the TV show theme, and ugly still images, give off the wrong impression. You get the immediate thought that the game will be bad upon watching that, when in reality, it's pretty decent. Oh, poor audio is a thing throughout the whole package, it's not a patch on stuff we'd hear back in Hyperstone Heist or Tournament Fighters, but beggars can't be choosers, right?
The standout part of the presentation is truly the in-game graphics, especially on the characters. Each Turtle looks like they are supposed to, their animations closely match their character and in-show behaviour, the enemies are well drawn, it looks smooth and it looks professional. The background locations, while they suffer by being bare and uninteresting, are at least drawn well and almost pop off the Game Boy Advance screen. They even made Casey look good. Excellent job, I say.
The vehicle sections are good looking indeed. The skateboarding section is particularly good as far as I'm concerned, because it takes a relatively simple concept and rolls with it. It never once gets difficult in these sections, but they give you a breather between otherwise difficult stages. While the game in itself is quite monotonous, on Normal and Hard it can be quite challenging. Also, you can only beat the game on these two difficulties so only adept players will make it through. This I appreciate a great deal because as a game based on a show directed towards teenagers, the difficulty matches up well with that.
As I get to the end of what I want to say, I guess the critics were right back in 2003. The game doesn't have enough variety to justify its then high price-tag, but I think nowadays in the era of flea markets, charity shops and eBay, the game is finally worth the lower price it now demands. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may not have all the content it quite frankly needs, but what we have here is one extremely well polished beat 'em up X platformer X vehicular mayhem game with a damn sight more creativity and vision than Ubisoft's later attempts. Konami proved that they had the gumption to bring the TMNT to Game Boy Advance, and make them look and feel damn good while doing it.