Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Sample, Nintendo Entertainment System)
Competing with giant new releases like Mega Man II, Ninja Gaiden, and Tetris, not to mention the debut of the Game Boy, who would have thought that the one of the best-selling video games of 1989 would have starred four wise-cracking sewer turtles?
And yet, when the sales numbers came in, the bandanna-wearing, banana-cream-topping-pizza-eating teens managed to push an astounding four million copies of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles into Nintendo Entertainment Systems. The popularity of their recent coin-op machine at the arcades, coupled with the hype fueled by Nintendo Power‘s crowning Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles “Game of the Year,” made the Turtles’ first Nintendo outing a must-have for both turtle fans and video gamers alike.
A small cameo appearance in a certain 1989 Hollywood movie probably didn’t hurt, either.
“Nintendo fans are going to be as disappointed as everyone else. Now, what do I know about Nintendo? Very little. But I know this: I once got to the second level of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and so, in the movie, when they talk about, ‘Hey, I got to the third level,’ and they show the screen, even dummy like me, I know enough that they only got to the first level. So any kid is going to say, ‘This movie doesn’t know what it’s talking about! That’s not the third level of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!'” -Roger Ebert reviewing The Wizard
These heroes in green drove up such demand that retailers couldn’t keep them stocked on store shelves for the holidays, causing parents to scramble for months to find a game pak to place under the tree in time for Christmas.
Based only loosely on the 1987 cartoon, developer and publisher Konami didn’t seem as concerned with faithfully adapting the show into a video game, and instead, created a side-scrolling action-adventure world of its own bizarre making—an even crazier New York City where a Hudson River dam is threatened by submerged ticking time bombs, and Greenwich Village is transformed into a labyrinth of mazes, teeming not with rich yuppie hipsters, but ceiling creatures called Roof Leapers (to be fair, it’s a hard distinction to make), bare-chested lumberjacks, and self-engulfing pyromaniacs straight out of a Pink Floyd album cover.
We’re just two lost souls swimming in a turtle bowl, year after year.
Just as much liberty was taken with the game’s story. According to the instruction manual, Shredder’s hideout is in the Bronx (Uptown, baby, Uptown!), and he kidnaps April in order to brainwash her into joining The Foot. Since when did the Irish Channel 6 news reporter find the time to learn the art of ninjutsu? The Irish fight any way but artfully.
Splinter has to check up on Oscar to see if he’s been using the drink coasters.
Let’s not forget the incredible plot device of Shredder’s “Life Transformer Gun” that can somehow turn Splinter human. Come again?
Now, if you expected a game about a kid’s show to have a kid’s difficulty level, then get ready to clench your teeth and put on a sequin dress for the ride of your life. Unforgiving platforming jumps, infinitely respawning enemies, fucking flying robotmen, that goddamn damned dam level—this game separated the boys and girls from the men and women, and smacked players around until they forsaken God and toughened up, or else retreated to the safer ground of DuckTales.
In December 2010, a seller on eBay named Julia M. Hylton listed three Nintendo Entertainment System game prototypes, one of which was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It was advertised that the cartridges came from a retired Nintendo employee, but as I have stressed before on this site, I am always wary of unsubstantiated provenance claims, and so took this with a grain of salt at first.
Upon further investigation, I discovered that the seller works for a limited liability company that is located in Kent, Washington, which specializes in estate liquidations. Nintendo of America is headquartered in Redmond, Washington, and the distance between Kent and Redmond is roughly 20 miles.
The other two prototypes being auctioned were convincing Super Mario Bros. 2 and Duck Hunt/Super Mario Bros./World Class Track Meet samples. First-party Nintendo pre-release software is very rare, as Nintendo has always been very protective of its game properties, so seeing these other two titles made me begin to believe the seller’s story. (For the record, Super Mario Bros. 2 went for $470, and the multi-game, $338—although I have a funny feeling that the winning bidders on both had much higher bids in reserve.)
Why not go for the other two games? I didn’t have the luxury to throw down a thousand Washingtons on Nintendo prototypes, especially not at that time of the year. If I give my family recycled Christmas cards with newspaper clippings for free Egg McMuffins again, I’m afraid I won’t be invited back next year to the holiday festivities—and now that I have time to remember all of the stress and fights during last Christmas, I wish I had tried for Mario!
Regardless of my dysfunctional family, this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is on an official Nintendo development board (NES-SKEPROM-01).
After the auction ended, I contacted the seller for more information regarding the source, and all I could find out about the mystery employee is that he worked for Nintendo of America from 1987 until 2007, and he now consults with video game publishers on launching new titles. Although the seller said that she didn’t “in theory” have any problem telling me his name, she won’t because she doesn’t want to get him into any trouble.
This former Nintendo person had no moral qualms about selling his employment souvenirs anonymously with a third-party company on eBay, however.
I continued to press the seller for a name, but all of my further inquiries have gone unanswered. To be fair, I should say that she was nice in the messages that she did send me; it seems the problem is that this employee is not at all interested in revealing his identity, as she claims that he doesn’t want what he calls “gamer geeks” bothering him.
Ronnie’s Turn-Ons: Free Office Supplies. Turn-Offs: Gamer Geeks.
The only possible clue to his identity lies on the back of the cartridge where the name “Ronnie” is crudely scrawled in faded black magic marker.
After dumping this “prototype” and comparing it to the North American released game, the data is exactly the same. It’s no wonder why he wants to remain in hiding.