Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has aged surprisingly well. What I remember as vicious, capricious, pernicious, and a poor substitute for the arcade game (which was delicious) is actually a varied, compelling adventure; there’s not been anything else quite like it. As well as any other game it captured the feeling of going underground. Unlike your traditional adventure games (Metroid, Zelda) that ask you to traverse a whole world, the action here is broken into stages; there’s little backtracking and just enough resource management — switching between turtles, stockpiling special weapons — that you can feel like you’re working toward the climax without having the tension periodically deflated so you can go grab some item. Though often unfair, there’s also the odd windfall — contributing to the feeling that the designers didn’t totally know what they were doing, that the game can be taken advantage of, that the savvy player can take the gameworld physics and bend it to his own purposes.
TMNT2 deserves credit for being one of the first and one of the only cooperative two-player games on the system, and for being a credible port of such a singular arcade game, but it comes off today as a series of sight gags that wear off after a playthrough or two.
And I always thought the third game was a throwaway sequel, a NES-only cash-in, when the sheer number and variety of enemies catapult it past the somewhat rote second game. It makes a huge difference being able to throw enemies behind you, your weapons twirling, enemies now on all sides, your special attack held in reserve for just the right moment.