The side-scrolling beat-em-up is such an old formula that game designers hardly use it any more, but now I realize that we are totally missing out. The GBA version of TMNT is definitely the best version, beating out the high-resolution Xbox 360 game and utterly trouncing the pitiful releases on its handheld brothers PSP and DS. How did the lowly GBA smash its competition? Simplicity, my friends. And yet, hidden within the understated veneer of side-scrolling brutality, there are lots of features — and lots of fun — to discover in TMNT.
You’re the Best Around
Back in 1989, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles starred in an arcade game that was arguably the best Turtles title ever. At least, that was true until the GBA version of TMNT came out earlier this week. It’s ironic that the best Turtles game lost its throne to another game that does almost the exact same thing, but with a few extra doodads thrown in. TMNT on GBA is nothing more than your basic beat ’em-up game, just like its arcade predecessor, but from the lovingly-crafted sprites to the surprisingly rich fighting system it never fails to satisfy.
First off, each and every piece of art in TMNT looks fantastic and is perfectly suited to the GBA’s 16-bit style. The animation is fluid yet detailed and although it’s somewhat mired by the antiquated capabilities of the GBA itself, the look of the game as a whole is simply stunning and serves as a reminder of the talent that it takes to infuse a handful of pixels with genuine emotion. But excellent and evocative graphics are not the end-all-be-all of any game, so it’s fortunate that TMNT has some expansive gameplay bonuses as well.
As shocking as it may sound, the combat in the GBA version of TMNT is even deeper than it is in any of the other versions. On the surface, it’s a mash-the-attack-button affair, but after a few minutes of play I began to see little contextual nuances that provided a wealth of variety. When you press the B button, your Turtle will attack and if you press it a whole bunch, those attacks string together getting progressively more damaging. If, however, some jerk rolls up behind you while you are in the middle of the pummeling, you can unleash a backward kick that will send the interloper sailing across the screen. You can also kick dudes in front of you by holding down on the control pad while pressing the B button, but the real gravy comes from holding up on the control pad while pressing B, because your Turtle will execute a pop-up attack that will launch your foe into the air. While enemies are in the air, you can juggle them to your heart’s content (at least, you can until they’re dead). There are even two different aerial attacks that you can perform by jumping into the air and pressing either A or B.
The depth doesn’t stop with the combat though, and in between levels you have access to a variety of activities. You can spend a little time practicing your combos on the heavy bag in the Turtles’ sewer headquarters, or you can head above ground to go shopping for extra lives, health or experience. The shopping aspect seems reminiscent of the Nintendo classic River City Ransom. In fact, a great deal of TMNT resembles the old-school greats of yore. There’s just a ton of stuff to do in this game, even though there aren’t that many levels to fight through.
The bottom line is that TMNT is an excellent game through and through. Even if you had a bunch of options on the GBA (which, sadly, you don’t), it would still probably be your best bet for squeezing the last ounce of enjoyment out of the tired little guy. The good news is that it will play on your Nintendo DS, and that is great because both the DS and PSP versions of TMNT are utterly awful, so unlike PSP owners, at least you have the choice. Take it from someone that has spent his entire week playing TMNT games on every platform, this one is without question the best.