The first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game premiered on the original Nintendo console in 1989. Many of these games are in the beat ’em up genre, but some game companies took more exotic routes. There have been TMNT party games, dungeon crawlers, and even Metroidvania (a genre of gaming that’s basically a mixture of the classic games Metroid and Castlevania) style games. The best of them gives players satisfying combat as they tear through legions of the Foot Clan and other enemies. Another key quality to a successful TMNT game is to differentiate the four pizza eating Turtles, as the best games give each character different skills and stats, while the worst games make each of them mere clones of each other.
The TMNT games have gone through three major eras as of today: First was the Konami era, as Konami was responsible for early classics like Turtles in Time. Then there was a brief interlude when Ubisoft was given the reigns to develop TMNT games. As of today, the powerhouse Activision has the license to create new Turtles games. Each of these brands tried their best to capture the spirit of what makes TMNT such a special and long lasting franchise beloved by fans young and old. The following list draws from the 30 plus year history of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise to chronicle all the games, from worst to best.
15. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: TURTLES IN TIME RE-SHELLED
Turtles in Time Re-Shelled is by far the worst TMNT game because of how much it squandered the legacy of one of the all-time greatest games ever made. The idea of Re-Shelled was a slam dunk: to remaster the original Turtles in Time game for a modern video game console with updated graphics. The problem is that everything about this game falls flat.
The three dimensional characters and stage backgrounds look terrible. The character models look like unofficial third party action figures. The classic soundtrack from the original game was abandoned for a new, inferior soundtrack. The game promised a modern online multiplayer experience but fans soon discovered that it did not work as well as expected. Re-Shelled is a yet another example of a fresh coat of paint ruining a classic.
14. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: TRAINING LAIR
Training Lair is a gimmicky Xbox Kinect game that was based on the 2014 live action film. The game was made with Pizza Hut’s backing and features hundreds of Pizza Hut boxes littered throughout the game. The game itself plays like the wildly popular game Fruit Ninja or, at least, the game is supposed to play like Fruit Ninja. As a Kinect game, the motion controls were unresponsive and frustrating.
The game promises that the player will feel like one of the Turtles but does little to keep that promise. Playing the game does not feel like wielding a katana or nunchucks. It’s all just flailing your arms wildly and hoping the game will recognize you have hit the targets on the screen. The only reason this is not the worst TMNT game is because it was free to download.
13. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS
Out of the Shadows was marred with terrible graphics, uninspired voice acting, and muddled controls. The game took on a darker tone with levels cloaked in shadows and obviously tried to capitalize on the success of the Batman: Arkham video games by including stealth elements like silent takedowns. Also similar to the Arkham games is Out of the Shadows’ combo inspired combat.
This game was confusingly marketed as an adaptation of the 2012 Nickelodeon show but didn’t look anything like it. Instead of a fun cartoon aesthetic, the Turtles looked more “realistic” and creepy. The cutscenes were lazily produced faux comic book stills that were not animated in any way. These cutscenes don’t even feature speech balloons, making it a little hard to determine which Turtle is talking.
12. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (2014)
This Nintendo 3DS game was a tie-in for the Michael Bay produced 2014 live action movie. The game does get some positive points for taking a slightly different approach to how a TMNT game works. It’s a single player game that offers the ability to swap between each of the four Turtles. There’s also a bit of an RPG-style upgrade tree for each character, and the gameplay is more adjacent to a dungeon crawler rather than a traditional side scrolling beat ’em up.
However, on the negative side, the main problem with the game is the graphics. The look of the game is poor, even for a 3DS game, and the characters are stylized like their 2014 film counterparts but don’t look anything like them. The 3DS is a handheld system that is nowhere near the current gen in terms of graphics, but Activision still could’ve stepped up their game a little in the looks department.
11. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (1989)
This game is infamous for its difficulty. It’s a cruel joke that one of the best games available, for a time, to children in the ’80s was this impossible game on the NES. Many gamers and TMNT fans will still shudder when remembering the underwater level with the electric grass. Even today it takes a skilled player immeasurable patience to get through that underwater ordeal.
This game was curiously only single player and forced the player to alternate between Turtles. Unfortunately only two of the four Turtles were viable options. Leonardo and Donatello were the main characters to use while navigating the game, while Michelangelo and Raphael were just cannon fodder. The only redeeming value to this game is that it was such a massive success it led to other, better TMNT video games.
10. TMNT: MUTANT MELEE
Mutant Melee is a party style TMNT game. It’s sort of positioned between Super Smash Bros., Mario Party, and the oft-forgotten Dreamcast classic Power Stone. Players can control one of the four Turtles or one of twelve other characters to do battle against each other in different game modes. It’s this radical departure from other TMNT games that makes Mutant Melee such a compelling game to play.
Even though the game isn’t completely perfect the chances that were taken to make this party-style game fun and unique to play must be applauded. The graphics and controls might have been a little on the poor side, but that can be forgiven because the game is full of frenetic and fast-paced gameplay for up to four players.
9. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: MUTANTS IN MANHATTAN
PlatinumGames, the developers behind such games as Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance lent their skills to making a TMNT game. On paper it seemed like a match made in heaven. PlatinumGames products are noted for the ridiculous, over the top, and satisfying melee combat, so the hope was that this would translate to a game featuring the Ninja Turtles.
As expected the combat was definitely the best part of the game. Unlike the basic hitting found in other TMNT games, Mutants in Manhattan had a robust set of moves players could pull off including team-up moves. The cel shaded art style was a nice touch as well. However, on the negative side, the missions players were forced to complete ranged from mildly annoying to painfully repetitive.
8. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: TOURNAMENT FIGHTER
It might seem wrong for the Turtles to fight each other but that’s just what this game was. This game was strongly influenced by the Street Fighter series and, weirdly enough, Konami made three slightly different versions for the NES, SNES, and Genesis. All three games allow the player to pick one of the four Turtles or another character from the TMNT universe.
What’s strange about these games are who the other playable characters were. In the SNES version, arguably the best version, the other characters include Armaggon, Wingnut, War, and Chrome Dome. It’s a knock against the game that Konami didn’t choose more well known characters like Casey Jones, a Foot Clan ninja, Bebop, or Rocksteady. Having said that, the game is still a pretty solid 2D fighter, especially the SNES version.
7. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES III: THE MANHATTAN PROJECT
The Manhattan Project took elements from The Arcade Game on NES and Turtles in Time to create what was arguably the best TMNT game on the original Nintendo. One or two players could choose a Turtle and take them through stages that seemed to be inspired by previous Ninja Turtles games. One such level took the players out on the ocean while on surfboards that felt a lot like the sewer level from Turtles in Time.
The Manhattan Project was one of the earliest examples of giving the four Turtles different special attacks. Raphael could do a drill twist, Donatello had a front flip slash, Michelangelo had a hand hop, and Leonardo had a tornado spin. These unique special moves showed that developers were finding ways to break up the monotony of the generic beat ’em up genre game.
6. TMNT (2007)
This game is an adaptation of the usually forgotten about 2007 animated movie. Ubisoft, the developer of the game, used their game engine from Prince of Persia to create this game featuring the Heroes in a Half Shell. For that reason, this game is more of a platformer than a beat ’em up. There are still combat sections to the game, but unfortunately the game is single player only.
Like the game previously mentioned on this list, the Turtles each have some unique abilities that the player must use to solve the platforming challenges. The graphics of this game do a great job of mimicking the look of the 2007 animated film. As a bonus, the four actors who lent their voices to the Turtles returned for the game.
5. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES III: RADICAL RESCUE
The original Game Boy had a strong line up of TMNT games. Radical Rescue is the best of the bunch because of how different it was. Whereas games like Fall of the Foot Clan and Back from the Sewers were inspired by the original NES TMNT game, Radical Rescue did its own thing by leaning more towards a Metroidvania style game.
Each of the four Turtles can utilize their weapons in unique ways that help them navigate the environment. Mikey can use his nunchucks as a helicopter, Leonardo can downward strike his katana to break rocks, Raphael can curl up into a ball and get into tight passages, and Donatello is able to scale any vertical surface. The idea of marrying TMNT with the Metroidvania genre is phenomenal and something that future game designers should consider instead of the same old beat ’em up.
4. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES 2: BATTLE NEXUS
Battle Nexus was part of a trio of games that adapted the 2003 TMNT animated series. This second game had a leg on up its predecessor because it supported up to four players. In addition to controlling the four main Turtles, players also had to choose a back up character to assist in the gameplay. That addition of characters makes this one of the few TMNT games to let the players choose someone other than a Turtle.
The gameplay is mostly a beat ’em up style like other TMNT games but also contained some differences that were a welcome change. Depending on what Turtle was picked, the player could utilize them to navigate through the stages in fun and unique ways. On the bright side, the cel shaded style was a good representation of what the 2003 animated series looked like and the graphics were pretty good.
3. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: THE HYPERSTONE HEIST
Hyperstone Heist is a remixed version of Turtles in Time. In fact, the stages in the game have been combined and reconfigured from Turtles in Time. The graphics are even similar to the SNES version of the classic arcade game. and the animation of the four Turtles are similar too. Hyperstone Heist even starts the same as Turtles in Time with a news report from April O’Neil.
None of these similarities are actually bad. In fact, there’s a reason why Hyperstone Heist is near the top of this list and especially for fans who owned a Sega Genesis. The only real negative to this game is the removal of the awfully fun mechanic to throw Foot Soldiers at the screen.
2. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES II: THE ARCADE GAME
This game and the first TMNT game on the NES were both released in 1989, but this is the one that put the TMNT franchise on the map for both Turtles fans and gamers. This game provided a successful template for all the best TMNT games to follow: Up to four people could play the game, there was satisfying combat, and the Turtles were not mere clones of each other.
In fact, the only reason this game is not the number one ranked TMNT game of all time is because the following game built and improved on the foundation that TMNT: The Arcade Game laid down. It’s unfortunate that the NES port seems to be more remembered that the arcade version, as that port is an inferior version of what this particular game has to offer.
1. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: TURTLES IN TIME
Not only is Turtles in Time the greatest TMNT game of all time, it is also one of the greatest arcade games of all time. Turtles in Time is the quintessential video game experience for the TMNT franchise. The arcade cabinet let up to four people pump quarter after quarter into the machine to take the Turtles on a beat ’em up adventure through time and space.
Everything about this game is firing on all cylinders. The music is phenomenal, as it’s got an upbeat tempo that encourages players to keep churning through the waves of enemies. The combat feels amazing, which is impressive since there’s only really two buttons to press. The Turtles have different character stats but they all feel like viable options to play as. Finally, the graphics, especially in the arcade version, are standouts of the era and actually still hold up pretty well today.
Disagree with how we numbered these Turtles games? Do you think TMNT: Tournament Fighter should actually be in the first place spot? Let us know in the comments below!
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