With Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge recently getting released and being seemingly universally loved, and the Cowabunga Collection, including all the video games based on the 1987 TMNT cartoon on its way later this year, I thought it would be fun to look back on an overlooked classic.
Video game manufacturer Konami’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time has often been cited as one of, if not THE, best beat-em-up game of all time. It started life as the second Turtles arcade game, before being ported to the Super Nintendo in 1992. Konami and Nintendo must have had some sort of exclusivity contract, because the game was never directly ported to the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive.
Or was it?
TMNT: Hyperstone Heist has been called a poor man’s Turtles in Time. And it’s easy to see where that assessment originates; The game uses a lot of recycled artwork and music from Turtles in Time (which I dare not abbreviate), as well as versions of enemies and hazards from the original 1989 TMNT arcade game. But I think that’s actually to this game’s strength, and not its detriment.
Besides, a direct port of the SNES version wouldn’t have been possible on the Genesis — Using the Super Nintendo’s Mode 7 graphics processor, Konami was able to create effects and stages (notably, Neon Night-Riders) that the Genesis’ native hardware wouldn’t have been able to handle. So rather than release an inferior game with the same name, Konami opted to release what was effectively a “remix,” with a brand-new title.
In this game, Shredder has used the power of the Hyperstone (probably based on the Eye of Sarnath from the second season of the cartoon) to shrink the skyscrapers in Manhattan, as well as the statue of liberty. It’s up to the Heroes in a Half-Shell to defeat old Shred-head and his sinister Foot Clan, stopping their Hyperstone Heist, and return the Big Apple to its proper glory.
The four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo, are all playable, each with their trademark weapons fully intact. Players take control of a turtle in one- or two-player simultaneous action based on the 1987 animated series. They all control nearly identically to Turtles in Time, except for the ability to throw enemies into the screen — Again, something that the Genesis wouldn’t have been able to handle as easily as the SNES could. The default controls use A to attack and B to jump, pretty standard arcade-style fare. But the Genesis game also make use of the C button as a dedicated run button, rather than the double-tapping left or right on the SNES version. I actually prefer having running as a separate action button. It just makes more attacks immediately available, giving a little bit more variety to your actions than just mashing the A button over and over again.
While there’s only 5 stages, each one is broken up into 3 parts, giving a total of 15 sections of the game. The game begins in a brand-new sewer level before moving up to the alleyways reminiscent of In Time’s Alleycat Blues, and then back to the sewers to fight mutant alligator, Leatherhead, pulled right out of Turtles in Time. Stage 2 starts off with a surfing level that handles just like Sewer Surfin’, but is an oceanic view similar to TMNT III: The Manhattan Project on NES. That leads to a mysterious ghost ship, mostly made up of recolored assets from Skull & Crossbones, the pirate level from Turtles in Time. Stage 2 sees classic TMNT boss Rocksteady, but without the pirate garb from Turtles in Time — This one is closer to his appearance in the original TMNT 1989 arcade game. Stage 3, Shredder’s Hideout, is an all-new level, though it IS probably inspired by the dojo level from the 8-bit Nintendo TMNT II: The Arcade Game port. This stage brings an all-new boss: Tatsu, Shredder’s right-hand man from the 1990 live-action movie, making his video game debut. The fourth stage, titled The Gauntlet, uses the cave assets from Prehistoric Turtlesaurus, and has the Turtles face off against the three previous stage bosses in nifty palette swaps, before battling the human version of Baxter Stockman and his mechanical Mousers, in the same flying machine as the original 1989 arcade game. The last stage, the Technodrome, using assets from Starbase: Where No Turtle Has Gone Before, as well as the sweet elevator from the SNES version of Turtles in Time, includes the final battles with Krang (ripped directly from Turtles in Time) and a Hyperstone-powered Super Shredder (also from in Time). Strangely, there is no Bebop present at all in this game! It was very unusual for any 1987 animated series TMNT games to not include BOTH Bebop AND Rocksteady. Weird!
Be prepared to fight a lot of that cartoon’s robotic Foot Soldiers. A LOT of Foot Soldiers, each being cleverly color-coded, so you know which one is about to launch which attack. Strangely, red-clad Foot seem to be the default, with standard punches and jump kicks. The usually-standard purple Foot can also throw shuriken (thosee two colors are switched in several other TMNT beat-em-up games). Blue Foot have swords, yellow ones have bows and arrows, etc., etc. In addition to the standard Foot ninja, the Stone Warriors (or Rock Soldiers) from Dimension X are also present, complete with extra health that makes them harder to kill. A handful of other enemies make brief appearances, such as the xenomorph-like creatures from episode The Case of the Killer Pizzas, and the aforementioned Mousers, but that’s basically it. Just endless hordes of robotic Foot ninja and some other assorted alien creatures.
The Genesis wasn’t as powerful a machine as the SNES, but everything is still instantly recognizable as what it’s supposed to be, so whatever. But Sega’s 16-bit console had a sound processor that was more akin to a heavy metal band than the SNES’s symphonic sounds. While both have their strengths, I think the hard-rockin’ sound on the Genesis works better for a lot of this music.
It’s unfortunate that it’s basically impossible to talk about Hyperstone Heist without comparing it to Turtles in Time. This game is great, and if you were one of the kids that only had a Genesis, you’d have no real complaints about owning this cart. Most of the elements of the SNES version are present, just mixed up a bit to give a slightly different experience.
It may not be the greatest beat-em-up game of all time, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist a damn good one. If you like the Turtles and haven’t played this game, or maybe just haven’t played in a while, I definitely suggest checking it out.