Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game was made by legendary developer Konami as, perhaps obviously, the Nintendo Entertainment System port of the popular TMNT arcade unit. Released in 1991, it was a successful follow-up to the first Ninja Turtles NES video game, offering a gameplay experience closer to the side-scrolling beat-’em-up action of the arcade cabinet.
Following a loose storyline involving a fire at April O’Neill’s apartment that results in her being kidnapped (what else is new?) and, later, Splinter being kidnapped as well before both recovery efforts end up with the Turtles taking the fight straight to Shredder at the Technodrome, this one-or-two-player game allows the player(s) to select their favorite teen-ninja turtle and hack-and-slash their way through levels teeming with Foot Clan robot ninjas, environmental hazards, and classic boss fights.
This game gets the controls correct: The A button jumps, the B button attacks, you can attack in mid-air with a jump kick, and hitting both A and B simultaneously results in a little hop-slash special attack that has a bit more power to it. The gameplay is smooth and seamless, even with multiple enemies, with only a few exceptions (some slow-down when you blow up an oil drum on multiple enemies on the parking lot level, for example).
This is a satisfyingly repetitive two-and-a-half-dimensional side-scrolling beat-’em-up that provides a tough road for players to battle through, hundreds of enemies to slaughter in your path, and a faithful rendering of the licensed characters yet with high-quality play that even non-fans can enjoy.
The visuals are a step down from the arcade game, given the 8-bit limits of the NES, but otherwise look pretty good. There are a number of fun little unnecessary touches throughout: The flames in the foreground of the first level, multiple instances of interactive stages, the formulaic elevator-type portions done well, boss flourishes (look out for a floating head, giant snowballs being thrown, etc.), etc. It may not be the number one all-time best-looking 8-bit NES video game ever, but there is not much to complain about in regards to the looks of this cartridge.
Rockin’ tunes, appropriately explosive sound effects, heads-up boss tracks, the feel of a Konami cart done right. Again, this may never go down as one of the best NES soundtracks of all time, but it never gets annoying and was developed in a high-quality fashion.
There are definitely a couple of intriguing bits of innovation, as concerns Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game. Although many arcade ports had been done before for the Nintendo Entertainment System, notably the classics like Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, etc., the TMNT franchise took one unique step forward: Although arcade ports to the NES always suffered a step back in graphics, this game takes a step forward in content by extending levels and even adding two new levels altogether, being the winter field portion (yes, the one with the spring-loaded robotic rocket-launching snowmen foes) and dojo stage (with those ferocious paper tigers), each even including a new boss created just for the game. This was a great way to strike a compromise with gamers who wanted the experience of the arcade but gaining something to make up for the demotion of presentation.
Also, TMNTII:TAG represented one of the first instances of product placement into a home console video game, with the multiple insertions of the “Pizza Hut” text and logo occurring throughout, including a portion of the second level where Pizza Hut signs actually fall on the characters. This made more sense than in some later games, as the Turtles did indeed enjoy pizza, and started a trend that would grow in the coming years without becoming overwhelmingly prevalent.
Overall, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game is a well-done arcade port that sacrifices a little image for a little more gameplay, and executes the result in a high-quality, thoroughly developed beat-’em-up classic, good for some playthrough sessions, especially with a friend. While Konami could be slighted for using an “easy” source material to craft a cartridge from, the end results shows polish and care taken in its production. One of the best, if not the best, licensed franchises for the NES slices up four stars out of five for a solid all-around effort for this installment.