Top 100 Games of All-Time: #66

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project

Release Date: February 14, 1992

Platform Played On: NES

2018 Placement: #56 (-10)


What It Is:

In the 80s and 90s, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were all the rage. And after the success of the arcade game the TMNT game formula was basically cemented as “co-op brawler.” TMNT 3: The Manhattan Project was the first game to release after the Secret of the Ooze and while the game did include Tokka and Rahzar, there wasn’t any Go Ninja Go involved. Instead the plot revolved around Shredder making the entire Manhattan island float into the sky? For some reason? It’s a Turtle game plot don’t think too hard about it.

The game is a straightforward brawler where each Turtle is armed with their different weapons and a special attack that lowers your health each time you use it. Of course you can’t kill yourself by doing it, so the best option is always to spam your special attack when you’re at one health do to max damage. There isn’t too much complexity to this game and it has the same level of difficulty as any brawler of the NES era. But it is wrapped in a nice Turtle shell (heh heh) and includes some lesser known villains of the franchise like Groundchuck and Dirtbag as bosses, so that’s cool.

Why It’s Important To Me:

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were my jam growing up as a kid. From the movies to the cartoon show to a comic audiobook I listened to on cassette tape many times, I loved the four ninjas and their master Splinter. I never owned the original, balls-hard NES game and while I liked the Arcade Game, this one was the one that really spoke to me first out of all the Turtles games. I played this a bunch in my basement as a kid, dragging my friends into the co-op mode to beat up on Foot soldiers.

It’s also a Konami game (my first Konami game, actually) and had a variant on the Konami code to unlock a debug menu where you could give yourself more lives and continues, which is mostly why I actually played this one a bunch. (Modular difficulty in games is actually good, y’all!) But it also was the first game I can remember to have a sound test menu within its cheats, and so this game was the first one where I really got to enjoy a video game soundtrack. In fact, this game was probably the genesis of me wanting to have video game soundtracks to listen to outside of the actual games. I would sit in that debug menu and listen to music tracks without playing the game and it was fantastic. I can still hear Tatsujin in my head without any prompting.

My Strongest Memory:

Well, listening to the game’s music in the debug menu is probably my strongest, but I already talked about that one.

My favorite moment in the game itself, though, happens at the end of the fourth level. You’re in the Manhattan subway and the level music fades out and the boss intro fades in as Dirtbag comes riding in on a minecart. Except…the minecart doesn’t stop and Dirtbag does a little wiggle of frustration as he just rides past your Turtle. The boss music then just fades out and you’re left with a second or two of silence and your Turtle just stares at the camera…before the minecart comes back and Dirtbag jumps out to fight you for real.

It’s a remarkably dumb joke that always makes me laugh because it encapsulates TMNT humor. Just a quick gag that’s completely unexpected at that point in the game. The music fading in and out is what makes it for me. If you want to see it in action yourself, take a look here.

Why It’s #66:

This game isn’t going to win any Oscars for its story, and its gameplay is by the numbers brawling. But the Turtles will always spark a nostalgic joy in my mind and heart. While others grew up on Final Fight or Streets of Rage as their brawler of choice, I always landed on the Turtles because I liked them across all media. It has a bopping soundtrack and fun character bosses and is the first video game to use Super Shredder as the final boss, since it’s the first Turtle game to come after Secret of the Ooze. What isn’t there to love?