The turtles introduced themselves to gamers with a horrible brutal game. Jumps were near impossible, enemies endlessly respawned. It was a commercial success so a sequel quickly game, just like the Michael Bay movies. The second game was a successful arcade beat ‘em up port. Released for the NES in 1992, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Manhattan Project continues the beat ‘em up style. The third iteration built on the arcade style beat ‘em up with crisp colors, varied enemies and an interesting story with cut scenes. It capitalized on characters from not only the television series, but the films too. It unified the different turtle universes into one classic save April story. The game was crisp and Electronic Gaming Monthly awarded TNMT 3 its best NES game of 1992. Crosstix and I recently grabbed some pizza, a rat, and took down Shredder and his foot clan. So after 15 years, how did does the game hold up?
TNMT 3 begins with a colorfully intense 90’s cartoon style cut scene. You are on vacation in Florida when Shredder interrupts the chill vibe. He kidnaps April and Manhattan (He had to one up Bowser). Who is going to save her? You! Save the city? Let the Avengers battle Ultron for that one.
The first level is a good introduction to the game play mechanics. Enemies are simple and present little challenge. Mash the buttons and you will quickly master the basic attacks, a punch and air kick. There are two advanced moves. Read advanced as two buttons at once! Use down B and you toss enemies to a fiery explosive death. There is a super attack using A and B “simultaneously” (We tried hitting them that way and it never worked. Rolling our thumbs on A and B granted more success). The negative here is that you lose a tick of your life every time you use the super attack. You rush yourself to death that way, unless you reach your last hit point, then you are golden to spam away. These super attacks are unique for each turtle. My personal favorite is Raphael’s skull crusher, or as I like to call it, the drill attack.
NES game stories are not usually worth dissecting in a review, but TNMT goes the extra mile so I will too. The cut scenes look good even today. The writing is another matter though. The narrative is littered with cliché turtle catch phrases and an outrageous premise. Then we have the plot holes. How you can surf from Florida to Manhattan in a single level. Likely the designers meant to the beach to be Jersey Shore where Turtles could easily blend in (You know I love you Jersey). The other hole was motivation, demands, master plan for Shredder. Ok. It’s a cartoon and a NES game so lets to back to our safe place of not trying to think this through. You are a turtle and you beat stuff up. It is an NES game with a story and cut scenes that work. Good enough.
Level design is a major plus in TNMT 3. Each level presents a drastically different color palate and look to previous locals like a beach, to surfing, to a bridge, to the sewer, and even a spaceship. Each presents similar yet unique feels. The care taken to vary up the game play is appreciated. There are touches of environmental interaction like open pits, high/low ground, and being able to knock back projectiles.
The enemies are very similar in style, but have enough variety to present different challenges. Each one is color coded so you know the move set that they could unleash on you. Yellow throws sand, white blades, and purple wants to hug you from behind. Beware! Bosses have enough variety. Early game bosses all do similar attacks and feel repetitive. Dirtbag is the first to have a different feel, as he jumps platforms and shoots a ray attack. Shredder and Krang also perform unique moves that call for changes in strategy. The boss difficulty can be brutal, as they take a huge amount of hits. One trick to quickly take them down is figure out which turtle they are aiming for and use them as bait while the other wails away at their back. If one turtle dies, the boss often just stands over their body and will never go after the living one. Taunting or a glitch, you decide.
While the majority of the game components are clean and well executed, it is the graphics that really shine. 15 years after its release Manhattan Project still looks good. The colors are vibrant. The art style is cartoonish, which perfectly fits a series that is based on a cartoon. The graphics show off the best of what the NES could achieve.
There are two separate options for co-op in TNMT 3 in the menu screen. The difference is being able to hit the other player or not. The difficulty of the game is not extremely high, just time consuming bosses. Adding damage to your teammate is a brutal option that just tests friendships, not gamers. In our play through we opted to not do damage to one another, but we mostly took care of different areas. Doing so helps speed through enemies and capture points for extra lives. It is an interesting way to increase difficulty, but not that rewarding or challenging.
TNMT 3: Manhattan Project might be 15 years old, but it passes the test of time. The art style, cut scenes, and game play keep the turtle power alive. It is not a game without its faults, but those are minor compared to the fun of bashing the foot clan. If you need a Michael Bay free TNMT experience then look no further than this quality turtle game. I give it four heroes in a half shell. Cowabunga!