Cartridge Cache is a look backward at the video games of previous generations, both acclaimed and arcane. Some brought about a seismic change, while others simply faded into obscurity but are fondly remembered by a certain few. As a completely informal examination of the medium in its earlier incarnations, this touches on the qualities and flaws of these games but should never be read as a review. Rather, we simply talk about titles we happened to take notice of and, hopefully, bring them to the attention of our readers. And if you have any recommendations, or want to see one of your old faves featured, by all means let us know.
To find a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game that is not crap, you need to go back at least two, maybe even four console generations. (Oddly enough, the N64/Playstation era saw no entries.) This might have something to do with the fact that, at heart, the concept is exceedingly simple: teen tortoise ninjas talking smack while kicking other ninjas' butts and scarfing pizza. It's the perfect premise for a straight beat-em-up, which is why TMNT IV: Turtles in Time is still considered one of the best in the genre. Today, though, we're looking at the less well-known trilogy on the Game Boy, particularly the first installment- which happens to be celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. (Also, the first [and best] live-action film, but that's another story.)
The plot of Fall of the Foot Clan, in a nutshell: everybody's favorite reporter, April O'Neil, has been kidnapped by Shredder, and it's up to the Turtles to save her. To quote Roger Ebert: "The plot? Do you care?" We're not here for sibling rivalry and valuable life lessons, we want to put Shredder and the Foot in a world of hurt. And Ultra (one of Konami's subsidiary studios during the days of publishing caps) offers up five solid levels of doing just that.
FOTFC is the 2D beat-em-up pared down to its most basic fundamentals; after picking a turtle (who are distinguished mainly by their weapons, because black-and-white), you walk from left to right until you reach the end, beating up bad guys and dodging obstacles along the way. One button lets you jump, the other attack; lose all health and you have to start the stage again with another turtle. And that's pretty much it; there are minigames hidden throughout each level (one of which seems impossible to beat), but for the most part you're doing your ninja thing. If there's a major knock against this title, it is the deeply repetitive and simplistic nature of the gameplay. With only three different attacks and little enemy variety, you'll rely on reflexes more than anything, and having just one really difficulty level that barely offers a challenge means you'll easily beat it in, say, an hour. Fortunately, the gameplay is just solid enough that reaching the end is worth it, and the short length means it manages not to wear out its welcome.
Aesthetically, the game manages to capture the comic-book feel of the franchise. (One cutscene memorably makes the turtles two stories tall.) Characters are large and well-defined - in an especially nice touch, Raph and Mikey twirl their weapons as they walk. Although there are only a few different enemy types, the bosses are vibrant and unique. There is, however, a recurring problem with tearing when two objects overlap, which becomes a big problem in the third and fourth levels. Each level is quite different and, while often sparse, are meticulously detailed when they want to be. The music, a lot of looped thirty-second tracks from future Castlevania maestro Michiru Yamane, is both playful and propulsive at the same time, perfectly suited to the genre. The sound effects, on the other hand, can grate.
Each subsequent title in the Game Boy trilogy brought something new to the table. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Back to the Sewers made the characters even larger and more detailed (though they took on an exaggerated look akin to the 80s animated series), while throwing in some scrolling skateboard levels and allowing for more eight-directional movement (background and foreground). TMNT III: Radical Rescue took an even more intriguing shift, becoming a kind of precursor to the Metroidvania genre, with a large, nonlinear environment and each turtle possessing a specific technique essential to getting around (Mike uses his nunchaku to hover, Raph ducks into his shell and does a Morph Ball, Leo digs holes with his ninjato, and Don climbs walls). Unfortunately, this came at the expense of a slight visual downgrade and some issues with the rather sprawling nature of the game - the repetitive look of the environments made it easy to get lost without repeatedly consulting the map.
Nevertheless, these are three solid titles from both the Game Boy and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles heyday, somewhat dated but still worth a look for those who are interested. Perhaps what makes them superior to nearly every subsequent Turtles game is that, instead of trying to put a shiny new coat on an old and somewhat tired formula, they adopted the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality and set out to be the most solid action games they could on a portable system. And maybe the lesson here is that, instead of trying to make TMNT a thing again, we should celebrate what made it great in the first place: some good old-fashioned ass-whupping with attitude. Sometimes, you just can't ask for much more out of a game.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan
Platform(s): Game Boy
Developed by Konami
Published by Ultra Games