Musings on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan
Video games are an artistic medium. When they are at their best, they can deeply move you. This can be from the beauty of the graphics or the story they are conveying. But just because a game isn’t a masterpiece, a big seller, or even particularly good, doesn’t mean it can’t be a landmark experience in your life. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) is living proof of this.
If you were born at any time during the Eighties, you probably have vivid memories of the Ninja Turtles. My brother and I had a bunch of TMNT toys. We watched the cartoon regularly and our VHS copy of the movie frequently (the one that opens up with the Pizza Hut commercial involving the baseball field).
I vividly remember going to my cousins’ house, getting ready to play Ninja Turtles, and then being told that I had to be April because there were five of us there and I was the youngest, and therefore had drawn the short straw by default. Luckily, I somehow managed to talk them into letting me be Master Splinter. But I digress.
In the late eighties and early nineties, the Ninja Turtles were basically everywhere. They had movies, lunch boxes, toys, the cartoon, backpacks, clothes, picture books and of course, video games. While there are countless TMNT games, the one that is most strongly embedded in my memory, is Fall of the Foot Clan.
This monochrome offering straddled the line between action-platformer and beat-em-up. You could play as any of the four turtles through five stages. You could beat up Foot Ninja, eat pizza and avoid obstacles until you battled a boss at the end of the stage. The controls were simple: one button jumps and the other button attacks. When you’re standing or walking, you hit things with your weapon. When you’re jumping, you can kick. And when you’re ducking, you throw shuriken. Not terribly complicated.
In retrospect, this is not a long game, nor is it a difficult one. However, my brother and I were very young when we first got this game. This meant that we were both really bad at video games. While this is a condition that hasn’t changed all that much since, we were even worse back then. Without understanding this small detail, the rest of what I have to write will not make all that much sense.
One of the stranger things about this game, despite it having a clear linear setup, is that it has a stage select available to the player by default. While other games also have stage selects available, for such a short game this almost feels like something the developers were going to remove but then just didn’t have time, like a debug menu or something. So, right from the get-go, you could select any of the stages to play:
The Streets. You travel between the streets and sewers of New York City, battling members of the Foot Clan until you get to the anthropomorphic rhino, Rocksteady.
The Sewers. You go through this industrial sewer filled with crushers, pits, and (surprise) ninjas until you get to the ray-gun armed boar-man, Bebop.
The Highway. You leap from truck-top to truck-top, battling ninjas until you encounter human-fly hybrid, Baxter Stockman (who for some reason breathes fireballs in this game).
The River. Travel along a river bed and into a cave while being attacked by fish and even more ninjas until you encounter Shredder.
The Technodrome. Journey through this technological terror, fighting robots, ninjas and avoiding lasers until you finally do battle with the alien, Krang.
Interspersed between these stages were short cutscenes (which were really more splash images) that advanced what little plot the game had. They basically amounted to, “Oh no, the Foot Clan is getting away with April, we’d better chase them to the next level!” Obviously, nothing too groundbreaking.
But this brings us back to the stage select. Because we were bad at video games, my brother and I could only beat certain stages. See, my brother could beat most of them but for some reason had trouble getting through the Technodrome, and couldn’t even get to Krang. I could beat Stages 1 and 3 (Rocksteady and Stockman were chumps). I couldn’t get through Stage 2 for some strange reason. Stage 4 I could get through the majority of the level.
Except, I would always lose in the end because as a kid I was petrified of Shredder.
I soon discovered I could beat the stages that my brother couldn’t. So I brought the Game Boy over to him, jumped straight into the Technodrome Stage. And I let him watch me cruise straight through the level. After this, we’re greeted by a short scene of the Turtles untying April from a chair (even though we’re in a giant fortress made of alien technologies, clearly the best form of imprisonment is still some rope and a chair), and then the game jumps back to the title screen.
My brother, being the older and wiser of the two of us, tells me to start at Stage 1. So I start the game up again and beat the snot out of Rocksteady. At this point, he tells me to pass him the Game Boy. I am more than happy to do that because I was terrible at the Sewer Stage. After he beats Bebop, he hands the game back to me to beat stage 3 before he takes control again to beat stage 4.
Instead of handing the game back to me, he plays through the first half of the Technodrome stage. When he gets to the second half, he passes the game back to me and tells me to finish up. I get through the second half and proceed to banish Krang back to Dimension X. We are greeted by the same scene of the Turtles untying April from the chair.
But then we’re greeted by something else.
Another short cutscene starts playing, the Turtles are jumping out of the Technodrome and the Technodrome sinking into the abyss. This was followed by a text crawl Epilogue and the ending credits.
This was a really cool moment for me as a kid. I had no idea there would be something more to the ending by playing through the entire game. This is something I would have probably learned in time but because my brother and I worked together to beat this game, we were able to find this out much sooner than we otherwise would have been able to. This was definitely an early moment that taught me that video games are experiences that are better when shared.
It is now more than two decades later. My brother and I live in different parts of the country, living our own lives. But whenever either of us picks up a new video game, we immediately contact each other to share our digital adventures. All because of one little monochrome game about turtles.