Review: Teenage Mutant Hero (Ninja) Turtles (Atari ST)

ST Format Review (Issue 19)

Equipment Used/Recommended

  • MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator.
  • Any of Automation 392, Flame Of Finland 49
  • Speedlink USB Joystick

My Review

Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles was a pretty big deal in the 90s – the cartoon was enormously successful, the movie sold tonnes, the god-awful Partners In Kryme song even made it to number 1. Suffice to say, bagging that license was pretty much a license to print money. Now this is where you’d typically expect Ocean or US Gold to make some half-arsed side-scrolling beat/shoot-em-up maybe with some platforming and some minigames. You’d expect it to be rubbish, because they almost always were, and you’d expect it to still get a reasonably solid score in the magazines.

In this case though it’s Mirrorsoft’s Imageworks label (ignore the box shot – Ubisoft probably published in some other territories) – they had the likes of Xenon 2, Bomb Uzal, Bloodwych and Cadaver in their stable so surely they had to be better. They did however also have the awful Back To The Future 2. The game was, according to Wikipedia, originally created on NES and then ported to other systems – the ports were not good, indeed the Amiga version was actually impossible to complete. The NES version scored fairly well with the press, generally 70-80%, while the Amiga (barring C&VG which was also an outlier on NES) saw scores between mid-30s and low-60s mostly and the Atari ST saw two reviews in the 30s and one in the 50s. I’m in for a treat then.

Wow. The game has a reputation but it really is just as bad as people say. The game is split into two sections – effectively an overworld shown top-down with a tiny sprite and very dodgy collision detection evading blue blobs on random paths that don’t seem to be aware of your presence but do seem to deal damage if they walk into you, and a platform section which is reasonably pretty but is so slow and jerky and is incredibly uninspired in terms of platform layout and enemies (and those enemies have bugger-all AI too).

There’s not much room for strategy or variety in combat – in the top down view it’s simply move (4 directions only – no diagonals) and stab. The stab is pretty short range and if you’re even slightly out of alignment you’ll miss while your enemies get far greater lattitude to walk into you and drain your health. The side-scrolling bits (accessed by going down a manhole cover) aren’t much better – here we find ourselves in a fairly monotonous side-scroller with enemies simply rushing you or walking on a pre-determined path, with only one move to attack. If you’re too close the attack won’t work, but that’s about as close as it gets to any level of tactics or timing.

One of the things which rather undercuts the design of the side scrolling is the ludicrous jumping, in that your turtle can achieve ludicrous heights and distances, thus making any obstacles in platform layouts rather pointless. You can jump over anything and to anything with ease from the ground. This limits the opportunity for creative platform placement to provide a challenge, and in the absence of any tactics or timing around the enemies leaves the game somewhat empty and uninteresting.

The Amiga version is identical bar the better sound, which is a bit of an insult given the capabilities of the machine, while the NES original is quite a bit better by virtue of being smoother and the overworld being a little nicer to look at, though still fundamentally the design is bad. The NES does sensibly make some of the enemies smaller in the side-scroller, while the overworld has a slightly different layout and adds a steamroller for no obvious reason, which doesn’t appear in the ST or Amiga versions.

It seems to me that this is another of those occasions where some developers are tasked with creating a game for a movie based on very little, and expected to rush it out quickly. Now I will say that this doesn’t excuse the turgid mechanics or the poor performance – any sensible coder will have a collection of libraries to call on to make sure character movement is smooth and fast. As it is, it really seems more at home among the games of 1988 than of 1991 – by this time 16-bit developers had done a pretty good job of figuring out what the machine could do and we’d reached a point where scrolling wasn’t so big an issue for the ST, and we could have smoothly-animated sprites. By 1991 though we have higher expectations. We’ve had Shadow Of The Beast, Turrican, Speedball 2, so really TMHT is out of place.

Verdict

One of the themes of games in the late 80s and early 90s was that film conversions were generally a bit lazy. Mostly terrible in fact. This is no exception, a truly awful game. Performance is poor, the artwork is mixed with the overworld fairly terrible but the side scroller looks a little better, mechanics are poor, and the game is a slow monotonous mess. Avoid it like the plague.

Resources

Manual: https://www.starehry.eu/download/action/docs/TMNT-Manual.pdf

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