How Did You Idiots Get Caught?
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: Radical Rescue
As I have noted before over on my Castlevania site, The Inverted Dungeon, Konami has an obsession with Metroidvania games. Vampire Killer, Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, Konami Wai Wai World, Getsu Fuma Den, The Goonies and The Goonies II, not to mention practically every Castlevania game they've made since Castlevania: Symphony of the Night -- at this point Konami has made more Metro-id-style games than than Metroid creators, NintendoSince 1983 (with the release of the Famicom gaming system in Japan), Nintendo has proven to be a gaming company dedicated to finding what gamers want, even when the gamers don't know it themselves. From dual-screen systems, to motion controls, to convertible home console/portable consoles, Nintendo regularly proves that the weirdest innovation is exactly what the gaming community needs..
And we can add another game to that list as well: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue for the original Game Boy. Release in 1993, this was one of the last original games in the Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesOriginally dreamed up as a parody of Marvel's Daredevil comics (going so far as to basically reproduce to opening shots of that comic's hero gaining his powers), the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles not only launched a sudden boom of anthropomorphic fighting animal comics but have, themselves, starred in multiple comics series, TV shows, and movies. series based on the classic cartoons -- after this they made the Turtles in Time port, The Hyperstone Heist, and then just a bunch of Tournament Fighter games before letting the series cool for a while. And, frankly, this is just such an odd little title for the series, not just because it's the only true Metroidvania released in a series of brawlers and fighters, but because it's also, well... not very good.
Okay, I know this game has its supporters -- hell, my sibling Ambaaargh loves the crap out of it -- but it's really a pretty linear, not very interesting title. In the game you play as Michelangelo, the only turtle left at the sewer den after the rest of the gang (and, for some reason, Splinter) went off to fight Shredder (Mikey, meanwhile, was out getting pizzas). Left alone, Mikey has to go and save the other turtles from Shredder's clutches and save the day once more. And, at first blush, it's an interesting idea: you explore the big Foot Dungeon, saving your bros, each of which have a special ability, taking on bosses and getting stronger, until you finally defeat Shredder and save the day. On paper, it works.
It's in the details, though, that Radical Rescue falls apart for me. For starters there just isn't enough difference between the turtles. Yes, each of them has a special ability -- Mikey can hover with his nunchucks, Leo can slam his sword into the ground and drill through certain bricks, Raph can hide in his shell and roll around (ala Samus's Morph Ball), and Donnie can climb walls -- but outside one ability each of them bring to the table, they're all basically the same. None of them have special attacks, none of them have better reach of improved attack power. Aside from the cosmetic difference of their weapons, they're all the same.
I think this would have been a vastly more interesting, and fun, game if each of the turtles could have done more to differentiate themselves. Not just different stats for each of the turtles, but if each of them had their own health bar, too, that could have been useful -- yes, I get that Konami didn't want you locked out of an area because you didn't have a turtle, but that just would have required save points, ala Metroid, where you could replenish your team. Getting a t=Turtle could have been like picking up an extra Health Tank as well as more firepower, and that would have helped to make this game more manageable.
While I like the ideas of giving each of the turtles their own ability, I don't think the game does this right. The path through the dungeon really isn't that varied or interesting, more of a simple maze than anything to rival the depth of a Castlevania or Metroid game. Not that there's much reason to explore beyond just figuring out where in this convoluted mess you were supposed to go -- there are barely any collectibles (key cards for a handful of doors, plus a small set of health bar extensions) meaning the game is more of a maze just to be annoying than to give you any benefit. If the Turtles could have found abilities tucked away, or bonus health tanks (not just a single pizza you could carry around) that would have helped a lot.
Think about it like this: in the big brawlers that are part of the main series, each of the Turtles eventually gained special attacks they could do; spin moves, lunging strikes, and other great abilities. What if, in this game, the Turtles could each pull of their own special movies, like do the Hadoken command and Raph throws his sai, or triple tap the attack button and Donnie launches into a furious combo. That could have added depth, and aided in combat all over the game. This is a TMNT game so we're supposed to be here for the combat, and yet this game is just basically a one-move, sometimes jump-kick, platformer. It gets tedious after a while.
There's also the fact that the abilities of the four Turtles really aren't that necessary to overall exploration. As I noted, there isn't much to explore here, not really, which means that the abilities act as nothing more than key-blocks to prevent you from going too deep into the game. That only adds to the linear feel of the game since you're never going to get Raph before you've gotten Leo, never going to find Donnie until after you've saved Raph. A little more benefit to exploration, some send on non-linearity so you could unlock the various bros and reveal more of the dungeon in any order you saw fit could have been really cool. Instead of just having key cards scattered (linearly, of course) through the game, what if the game just had four laser-doors are the end -- to unlock them you'd need all four turtles, but you could unlock them in any order to gain access to the final area. That would have made exploration more interesting, and it would have put a certain emphasis on their abilities and the ways to use them, and use them in combination.
I also wonder about the actual abilities they gave the Turtles. Having Mikey air-hover with his nunchucks makes sense. Leo I can almost buy (although knowing the tensile strength of katanas I keep expecting his sword to break). But Raph isn't the kind of character to hide in his shell -- he's a ball of rage, not a ball of exploration -- so I think he'd be better off with the wall0climb ability, shoving his sais into the wall. Donnie, then, could use little bombs he built, as the tech genius of the group, to dig downwards. Leo, finally, makes more sense as the one that can fit into small spaces, maybe with a sick slide kick. It's like the creators didn't really think about the characters when they assigned the powers.
Additionally, the game is seriously frustrating. When I was a kid I never could get past the first boss, the prison-cat Scratch. Going back to this game now I eventually realized that each of the bosses telegraphs their moves so, if you know what you're doing, you could eventually learn everything the bosses could do and take them on better. But even then, their tells are minor and often feel like they come out a split second before you have to dodge anyway. Fighting the bosses is a lesson in frustration, a lesson I wanted nothing to do with as a kid. I hated this game, honestly, because it was so cheap and unfair (in my eyes).
Not that the difficulty gets any better in the late game. By the end sequence you have to fight all four bosses again, all in a row -- Scratch, Dirtbag, Triceraton, and Scale Tale, before taking on two full phases of Shredder. Fail in any of these and it's back to the last checkpoint to do it all over again. Something tells me very few kids ever bothered. I know if I'd even made it that far in the game back in the day I would have thrown my Game Boy in frustration. "Screw that!" I would have cried before going outside and giving up video games for good.
I like the idea behind Radical Rescue, I just hate its execution. The concept of slowly building your team of Turtles, of gaining further access to a dungeon as you gain more and more of the team, is a neat one and works well within the genre. But this game feels too rushed, too simple, and too linear to really work. It's not a great action game, but it's also not a great Metroidvania. It just sucks.