With Konami having just announced the release of The Cowabunga Collection on consoles and PC – which collects 13 classic 8-bit and 16-bit TMNT games – there’s never been a better time to don your colourful mask, come out of your shell and check out the best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games ever made!
When the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic was first launched by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird in 1984, no one could possibly have predicted that the series would become such an enduring, multi-generational, multimedia franchise (I mean, just check out our list of the Best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys for more evidence of how popular the franchise is to this day!).
The concept of four martial arts-trained, weapon-wielding Turtles going up against legions of colourful bad guys has always made for excellent material to base video games on – and there have been countless titles released since the late 80s on a bewildering number of formats.
With at least one new game on the way for our mutated heroes (check out our New Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game article out for more on upcoming title ‘Shredder’s Revenge), which ones are worth playing – and which are worth leaving to fester in the sewer? Let’s take a look at the Best TMNT Games ever!
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Though made on a limited budget by 2D specialists WayForward Technologies, this Activision release does a great job adapting the 2012 Nickelodeon TMNT series as a satisfying and straightforward Metroidvania title.
The 2.5D visuals ape the CGI-style of the show well – with the show’s voice actors reprising their roles for the game too – and it’s a fun title to play for all ages.
It’s a bit of a forgotten title – and it’s the only game on our list that doesn’t appear on The Cowabunga Collection – but definitely deserves to be more widely known.
The very first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game arrived on the NES in 1989 and – due in part to it arriving at a time when Turtlemania had the world in the palm of its three-fingered hand – was an absolute commercial smash, selling 4 million units globally by the end of 1990.
Yet this side-scrolling platformer – which also featured overhead view gameplay between the main levels – was not for the faint of heart.
It was an incredibly challenging game and to this day, you’ll find people on social media commenting on how difficult it was – especially the underwater, time-limited bomb disposal stage that apparently still haunts the dreams of late 80s, early 90s gamers.
Despite this and the fact that it hasn’t aged particularly gracefully, the first NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is still fondly remembered – and it had some really smart gameplay elements, such as switching between Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael at will – or when a life is lost, which naturally reduces the selection of Turtles on offer (though they can be rescued in later stages of the game).
The skill of many a modern gamer was forged in the sewers beneath New York, thanks to this game!
Another side scrolling action game in which a lost life meant switching to a new Turtle, the first Game Boy TMNT title may have been a fairly basic hack and slash platformer, but it played beautifully and its chunky, cartoony visuals worked well on the Nintendo handheld’s monochrome screen.
With only five stages and the difficulty level pitched way below the NES TMNT game, Fall of the Foot Clan doesn’t take long to master – which was a refreshing contrast to the NES title at the time.
The five stages – each with a unique boss – could be tackled in any order, with the full ending only available if the player chose to begin on stage one.
Despite only having five levels, there were also hidden mini-games in each stage and some neat ideas – such as levels taking place on moving vehicles.
Fall of the Foot Clan is a highly playable, underrated TMNT title that still has a pick-up-and-play immediacy even today, despite being superseded by its sequels in terms of scope and gameplay elements.
Despite the slightly disingenuous, yet gorgeous, comic-book style cover – which features a Triceraton that doesn’t actually appear in the game itself – this title for the NES is an excellent scrolling beat ‘em up that is an excellent, original game in the scrolling beat ‘em up style so well employed by the arcade games (and the NES predecessor, which adapted the first arcade title as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game).
Featuring two player simultaneous play and a who’s who of the TMNT rogue’s gallery, including bosses from the cartoon, the toy range and even the then-current movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, this was a superb send off for the scrolling beat ‘em up adventures of the Turtles on the 8-bit console, before they moved onto the more capable 16-bit consoles (it wasn’t quite their swan song on the NES though – check out the entry for Tournament Fighters below!).
Oddly, this title – despite being an excellent game – didn’t make it to PAL territories at all, releasing only in Japan and the US. So many players didn’t get to experience what was arguably the best TMNT game on the NES at all!
Another excellent handheld Turtles game, Back from the Sewers improves and enhances the gameplay of Fall of the Foot Clan in every way.
The visuals get a great upgrade too, with some wonderful monochrome pixel art that really showed off what the humble Game Boy was capable of, even if colour wasn’t an option!
There’s a good deal of variety in the hack and slash platform levels here too – as well as some sections that feel more open in their design, much like a scrolling beat ‘em up – with the option of rescuing previously lost Turtles in bonus stages as well.
This one even features on our Best Gameboy Games list!
The third TMNT game on the Game Boy is also the most ambitious – though at first glance it looks like a further evolution of the hack and slash platforming style of the previous two handheld titles, Radical Rescue is actually an early example of ‘Metroidvania’-style gameplay.
Featuring a large, interconnected fortress instead of separate, linear levels, Radical Rescue casts players as Michelangelo at the beginning of the game, with the goal of rescuing your brothers (and kidnap-prone reporter April O’Neil), with each of the Turtles becoming playable once they’re rescued. Radical Rescus is an ambitious, playable and satisfying game that really stands the test of time.
Perhaps looking to ride the wave of Street Fighter II fever that had gripped both arcade and home console players worldwide, Konami released one-on-one fighting game Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters in 1993, with a unique version for each of the consoles it appeared on.
Though the NES version – which ended up being Konami’s final NES game overall in the US and PAL regions – suffers from the limitations of the hardware and the number of buttons limiting the scope of the gameplay, it’s an admirable attempt to give NES players one last taste of Turtle Power, with visuals that really push the capabilities of Nintendo’s aging hardware.
The Genesis/Mega Drive version is a little darker than the SNES version visually and also struggled – like the NES incarnation of the game – with the controls; only the three-button controller was supported, which is a bit of a disappointment. Still, the music in this version is probably the strongest of all three console titles.
Finally, the SNES version is unquestionably the best, with the wider number of buttons on the SNES controller being utilised perfectly – along with beautifully colourful visuals. This one features on our Best SNES Fighting Games list too!
All three versions have a different cast of playable characters and even their own unique story mode too. So this is a rare title where it’s worth picking up each console version, as you’ll get something different from each one!
Though sharing a lot of DNA with the TMNT arcade games – with animation, music and even some stages re-used – this title for the 16-bit Sega console actually features an original story and longer levels (despite having fewer levels overall than the SNES title, Turtles in Time, which more closely adapted the second Konami arcade title).
The Hyperstone Heist really did feel like the arcade game coming home in the early 90s – and, especially considering the fact that it was Konami’s first ever Genesis title, it’s impressive that it’s one of the finest games on the console (featuring on our Best Sega Mega Drive games list and, as you would probably expect, our Best Sega Genesis games list too!), let alone one of the very Best TMNT Games ever made.
Though not quite as iconic or important as the first arcade game (see below!), this coin-op sequel to the 1989 phenomenon takes players into familiar territory when the game begins – featuring a New York City level to kick off the proceedings – before the nemesis of the Turtles, the evil Shredder, sends our heroes through a time warp, thus kicking off an adventure that takes them through history and even into the future.
Though it refines and improves several elements of the previous game, the basic gameplay is largely unchanged; story and setting aside, it very much sticks to the adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’
With the first game being a near perfect example of a four player, side-scrolling beat ‘em up that still holds up today, this sequel is also held in high regard as another beloved classic.
It was ported to the SNES as TMNT IV: Turtles in Time (continuing the numbering set by the NES games before it), with some changes made necessary in the move from the arcade to a home console – and even featured new stages and enemy types too. The SNES version even features on our Best Beat ‘Em Up Games list and Best SNES Games list too!
Turtles in Time was also released in updated form as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time Re-Shelled in 2009, for PS3 and Xbox 360.
his was timed to coincide with the 25th Anniversary of the Turtles – with this version adding 3D visuals, new music and even original game modes, though the pixel art of the original game still stands as the most timeless and iconic style to this day.
Konami’s licensed multiplayer arcade beat ‘em ups were – and are – still legendary, iconic games; The Simpsons, X-Men and the lesser-known Bucky O’Hare are just three examples of the titles they released during this early 90s golden age.
Yet this run started with the phenomenal Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game in 1989 – which got every single element of the property it was based on just right. The beautiful cabinet artwork, the four player simultaneous gameplay, the wonderfully colourful, cartoony visuals and even the usage of the cartoon’s intro in pixel art form as the game’s attract sequence. All this – and the superb, scrolling beat ‘em up style was just absolutely perfect for TMNT fans – and it also features on our very own Best Arcade Games list too!
The game was a critical and commercial hit, becoming the highest-grossing arcade title of 1990 – being so popular that Konami were unable to keep up with the demand and led to them outsourcing production to a third party manufacturer.
It was ported to the NES as TMNT II: The Arcade Game (which even featured additional levels and makes it to our Best NES Games list), numerous home computers and even brought to Xbox Live Arcade in 2007 as TMNT 1989 Classic Arcade (which is sadly no longer available to download).
In 2019, Arcade 1Up released a replica of this timeless game as part of their series of home arcade cabinets – so now you can truly bring the four player arcade experience home.
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Jason – who lives in the UK – has had a lifelong interest in video games, which all started when he discovered Space Invaders in the early 80s. The first game he ever completed was Wonder Boy in Monster Land on the Sega Master System – which remains one of his proudest gaming achievements. Jason is a passionate writer – and has been writing about gaming since the late 90s. He currently runs pop culture blog midlifegamergeek.com, which he updates on a daily basis (and has written more than 700 articles on the blog alone!).
Outside of video games, Jason is a keen tabletop gamer, film buff and comic book fan.