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Collecting Dust: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1 or 2; Which Is Better?!?

When I was 10 years old, few things in the world meant as much to me as my Nintendo Entertainment System, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. If I wasn’t playing Nintendo, I was watching the Ninja Turtles cartoon. When I was forced to go outside and play “like a normal kid”, I would lay in the grass and re-enact Nintendo games with my action figures. 

Normal kids did that, right?

The TMNT and the NES represent a major chunk of my prepubescent world. Sales figures would imply that, normal or not, I was not alone.

Try to remember how things were in 1990. At that time, there were just four major TMNT video game releases; 

The Arcade game

Fall Of The Foot Clan on GameBoy

…and the first two NES titles. Of course the arcade game was, and still is, the venerable favorite. And everyone liked the GameBoy one, though it was a bit simple and easy. But there were many passionate schoolyard debates over the first two NES games. 

Though the NES title was the first game released in the series, most kids played and fell in love with the arcade game first. So these kids felt burned when they discovered that the NES title was nothing like the arcade. If you were alive at the time, this was an understandable gripe. Sadly, these kids grew up holding a grudge that seems to have lasted to this day. Just ask James Rolfe. He certainly strikes me as the type. 

And now, thanks largely to him, a whole new generation of kids have learned to hate that game for reasons they were born too late to ever truly understand.

Well, I’ve recently acquired both cartridges, and I’ve been playing both of them a lot over the last few weeks. So why not put this to rest once and for all?!

Head-to-Head Which is better?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Arcade Game 


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989)

Don’t listen to the Angry Video Game Nerd on this one. The first TMNT game is a fantastic single-player 8-bit adventure game that still holds up to this day. 


The graphics are really good. The Turtles themselves are sleek and mean. Closer in design to the original comic book rather than the cartoon. The backgrounds are intricate and classy, and the sprites are highly detailed and well animated. Top notch all around.

Well, jumping is kinda floaty. But combat is tight and simple. You don’t have a lot of moves, but there’s enough so that you know it’s your fault when you get hit.


C’mon, now! TMNT has some of the greatest and most memorable music in the history of the NES. You’re probably humming the overworld theme as you read this. Or at least you could, because everyone knows that tune. A+! Ten out of ten! Flawless victory!



When it comes to 8-bit side-scrolling action and adventure, this game is second to none. Having the ability to switch between all four Turtles at anytime was a brilliant design choice that scratched an itch I didn’t even know I had back when I was a kid. It even affected the way I played with my TMNT action figures. I would draw each Turtle’s life bar on a piece of paper, and have them fight one at a time. Did anyone else do this as a kid? Did you ever get some paper and write out stats for your figures and never mind, I just realized I’m describing role-playing games. 

I’ve often seen this game compared to Zelda 2, and I think that’s somewhat fair. TMNT (5/12/89) came out almost a year and a half after Zelda 2 (1/14/87), so Konami had time to develop the ideas and gameplay concepts further. As a result, TMNT correctly pulls off a lot of things that Zelda 2 attempted, yet failed at. And it does so with that distinct, unmistakable Konami NES programming Jena se qua!

Now, I’m not saying it’s perfect. It does have it’s quirks and problems. The only real differences between the Turtles are the reach and the power of their weapons, and the distribution of these stats is wildly unbalanced. Donatello is overpowered, Leonardo is alright, and then poor Raphael and Michelangelo are practically useless weaklings.

Some people complain about the lack of characters from the cartoon, and how we instead got a bunch of weirdos invented by Konami. These Irate nitpickers need to understand that this game was in development when the show was barely into it’s second season. And the first season was only 5 episodes, anyway. The point is, there just weren’t a lot of villians to choose from yet. Konami had to fill in the blanks. If this bothers you, get over it.

A lot of people also bitch about the swimming level, but I don’t see what the big deal is. They hyperbolize that it’s impossible, but I never had a hard time with it, even as a kid. It’s the rest of the game that’s fucking hard! It’s the very embodiment of what’s known as “Nintendo Hard”. But It’s not impossible once you know what to do. Easy to learn, difficult to master; The very definition of a good game.


I friggin’ love this game! It’s just so much fun to play, and the nostalgia factor is immeasurably huge. I’ll put it this way; I’ve never seen Beau Bridges play the sequel…


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Arcade Game (1990)

Everyone loves the original arcade game. It’s an enormously fun quarter-muncher that we all remember fondly, and is still just as much fun to play today. The NES port is a respectable effort, and It’s especially fun with a friend (2-player simultaneous action was a major feature back then, ya know). But it’s got some issues…


The graphics here are a mixed bag. The backgrounds are decent for the most part, though I think a lot of the cityscapes lack detail. The bosses look fantastic, especially Krang! However, I think the Turtles themselves look kind of strange. They’re bigger than they were in the first one, but they’re poorly drawn, lack detail, and have a herky-jerky walk animation.


Control is great, and you get a couple more moves than you had in the first one. There’s a (useless) basic attack, a jump kick, and a special jump/slash you can do by pushing both A and B (more on that feature later).


While this game does have pretty great sfx and music, it doesn’t come anywhere near the greatness of the first game. Sorry, it just doesn’t.



While the first game was a side-scrolling quest, this one is a Final Fight-style “belt-scrolling” beat-em-up. A very different style of gameplay, indeed. If this game was as fully realized as the first, then this comparison would just boil down to personal preference. But I can’t help noticing the lack of that aforementioned Konami touch in this one. 

The programming here feels a bit sloppy and rushed. Hit detection is an unpredictable, frustrating mess. Your basic weapon attack is so weak, you have to perform special jump/slash attacks against every single goddamned foot soldier or else take constant damage. This little gameplay quirk gets old really fast, and almost breaks the game for me. In order to perform the special attack, you have to press A slightly before you press B. I kind of have to “roll” my thumb across the buttons to pull it off consistently, and doing this started to physically hurt my hand after a few stages. Not fun.

This port does a good job of keeping all the enemies from the arcade. There’s a robust variety, so it doesn’t feel  as repetitive as most belt-scrolling beat-em-ups of this type. Hell, there’s more enemy variety here than in most modern TMNT games! You even get two new stages that are exclusive to this version! Don’t get too excited, because rather than include other classic TMNT characters in these areas, Konami decided create their own villians. 


By the time they were working on TMNT 2, the cartoon had been on for a few seasons, and Konami had a lot more to pull from. But rather than getting a visit from Leatherhead or Rat King, we get a polar bear in a Fonzie jacket, and a Shogun zombie, which sounds a lot cooler than it actually is.

At least we got both human and fly versions of Baxter Stockman. That’s pretty rad.


Don’t get me wrong, TMNT 2 for the NES is far from bad, and I’m extremely nostalgic for this one, too. But since there’s MAME now, you’ve got to admit that it’s aging very poorly. 

But what about in 1990? Well, I may be in the minority, but I’ve always loved the first one a little bit more, both then and now. It’s just a better game overall.

Winner – 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 


Video Games Monthly

But that’s just my opinion. Which one do you prefer? Let me know in the comments.

Party on, dude!