Will the upcoming Shredder’s Revenge be one of the best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games? I certainly hope so, but in the meantime, let’s look at some excellent Turtles titles you can play right now! If you grew up in the late 80s and early 90s, you’re almost certainly familiar with the phenomena that was the Ninja Turtles. The mixture of a novelty concept, vibrant animation, fun characters, epic battles, and 90s attitude was near irresistible! The Turtles have evolved and endured into the present day in a variety of iterations, but I’ll always have a soft spot for the classics.
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If you happen to be new to Turtle’s fandom, check out the original run of episodes on YouTube. (or pick them up dirt cheap if you’re a collector). The first five constitute a “mini-series” that introduces the lore and characters in all their glory, and they hold up remarkably well! (thanks to Kamal for the heads up about them). If you’re a longtime fan like me, here’s the ludicrously nostalgic/amazing opening for a quick trip down memory lane:
Like any licensed property, the Turtles games do vary in quality across the decades they’ve been released. There are some duds (or “bummers”, if you will) to be sure. Yet some of the Turtles games stand alongside the greatest beat ’em ups ever made! Let’s look at my personal top five best Ninja Turtles games, with a quick note on how you can play it today (spoiler: either purchase the phenomenal Cowabunga Collection or utilize these eBay tips). Cowabunga dude!
5. Fall of the Foot Clan (Game Boy, 1990)
I only just picked this one up a few months ago, and it quickly took at spot in my top 10 best Game Boy games too! Fall of the Foot Clan is a bit simple in retrospect-a straightforward sidescroller with little platforming and basic attacks. You pick a Turtle and make your way through stages of a few screens each while Foot Soldiers, mousers, and obstacles come at you relentlessly. It’s never very tough or all that original. But what it lacks in complexity it nails in the vibe of Ninja Turtles. The sprites look amazing, the music is spectacular for the Game Boy hardware, and the bosses in particular are a blast to fight. With only five stages, the game is over in an hour or so, but you’ll be smiling the whole way through! It’s the Turtles embodiment of “short but sweet”.
Playing it today: You’ll need an original Game Boy cart and a way to play it (I recommend the Super Game Boy!). Luckily the game is very cheap and not too hard to find, especially cart only.
4. Turtles II: The Arcade Game (Arcade/NES, 1989)
This was THE Turtles game for quite some time! If you’re old enough to have gotten the opportunity, playing in the arcade was a glorious experience. The design of the Turtles and enemies were eye-popping at the time, and you could play with three other friends! Lengthy, challenging, gorgeous, and a celebration of both the animated show and comics- Turtles II had it all! The NES port is a bit more rough around the edges when revisiting today, but still shines as one of the best Ninja Turtles games, especially with played with a friend.
And remember how much Pizza Hut sponsored the game? My manual still has the coupon for a free personal pan pizza!
Playing it today: If you were lucky enough to download the arcade edition to XBox Live Arcade years ago, consider yourself lucky! That version has been de-listed for some time. Turtles Arcade1UP cabinets are available for pre-order very soon, but they’ll cost you a pretty penny. NES carts save the day since they’re dirt cheap-I bought mine at my local game store and cleaned it up to make it shine!
3. The Hyperstone Heist (Genesis, 1992)
If you’ve read other Chozo Project posts, you know I was a Genesis kid during the 16-bit era. And one of the games I was proud to own was Turtles Hyperstone Heist! It’s often looked down upon as a “lesser” version of Turtles in Time, but holds its own with some unique features despite sharing a lot in common. Levels are much longer and quite detailed, lasting several screens with changes in scenery, obstacles, and combat! Movement feels just a *bit* faster, and there’s a designated run button-much appreciated. Each Turtle has a special attack that takes off some life bars but is powerful and very effective when used at the right time. Boss encounters all play out differently, and the story forges its own path as well (Shredder shrinks Manhattan down to model size using some magical stones-how evil!). The soundtrack may not be quite as awesome as Turtles IV, but this is a great game that deserves a spot among the best Ninja Turtles games.
Playing it today: The only official release of this gem was the Sega Genesis cart, folks. Unfortunately due to rarity and Turtle mania, prices are very high, particularly for complete in box! I managed to find a deal on a box and cart sans manual, but hacking the Sega Mini or emulating might be the most practical move here.
2. Turtles III: The Manhattan Project (NES, 1992)
I can’t say this enough: this game deserves way, way more love. It’s often overlooked because it released on the NES just months before Turtles in Time (when most folks had moved on to the Super Nintendo). But the game is wonderful and a massive improvement over the Turtles II NES port in just about every way! Stages are a lot more vibrant, creative, and lengthy. The enemy AI is more balanced, and combat is more varied too. Each turtle has an added “flip enemy” move executed by holding down + attack to one-hit kill foot soldiers, but my favorite is the addition of “special moves” unique to each Turtle that take a life bar to execute and look awesome. When you’re down to one life bar, you get unlimited uses! (each play through will have “photo finishes” where you barely take down a boss with your special move before dying)
Additionally, with each life lost you can choose a new turtle to play, instead of waiting for a game over. I always appreciated the opportunity to switch up characters more frequently! Finally, the soundtrack also rocks hard-Scenes 4, 7, and 8 are personal favorites. All the “stage clear” sound bites are insanely catchy too. You need to experience this second best Ninja Turtles game!
Playing it today: Once more, a game that was never re-released (a shame for all humanity, really). You’re looking at emulation, hacking the NES classic, or an original NES cart. It’s not *too* bad if you’re going for cart only like I did. Check out my NES games worth playing post for some tips on how to make your NES look great on modern TVs!
1. Turtles in Time (Arcade/SNES, 1991/1992)
Was there any question? This is the game my friends and I play through every single time we do a “classic game day” together. It’s one I’ll just pop into my SNES and play for a few minutes when I need some instant joy. Everything about Turtles in Time works! The graphics are stunning to this day. The soundtrack is spectacularly catchy and 90s inspired. Time-traveling allows for a host of fun and silly settings. (I always love a good time-based story, even when it’s just kind of shoehorned in). Boss fights are not only numerous and challenging but full of fun cameos from across the Turtles lore. And the beat ’em up mechanics just feel right. I mean, how satisfying is it to throw enemies into the screen? (answer: insanely satisfying). Even the title names for each stage are so quintessential 90s, and classic Turtles. It’s all so ludicrously nostalgic and comforting.
An absolute must play for any Turtles or beat ’em up fans (or just fans of video games, let’s be honest), Turtles in Time is THE BEST Ninja Turtles game ever made.
Playing it today: There are a few options here, but it’s still not easy! The SNES cart is now fairly pricey, but isn’t completely out of hand considering the quality of the game. The Arcade 1UP has the game if you really want to get serious, as does Turtles III: Mutant Nightmare for the PS2, GameCube, and XBox (as an unlockable early on). Just avoid the “Re-Shelled” release for XBLA!
Have you been a longtime TMNT fan, or are you a recent convert? What do you think the best Ninja Turtles games are? Let me know in the comments below!