I have a strange love / hate relationship with Konami.
He’s the creator of some of my favorite franchises, such as Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill, but in recent years he’s been more known for fueling the Japanese gaming market with Pachinko machines rather than releasing actual video games.
During the NES and SNES eras, however, it made stellar titles with some of the biggest licenses in the world. No license was arguably greater at this time than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Renamed Hero Turtles here in the UK, the four brothers trained in martial arts by a giant rat were absolutely huge, having started their lives as an underground comic before making a cartoon sensation in 1987 and a box office hit. -office of a film in 1990.
Released a few months after the film in the USA and 1991 in Europe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall Of The Foot Clan represents the franchise‘s first foray into Nintendo’s Game Boy handheld console. Konami had done wonders for the franchise so far, having released Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES in 1989 – a good game, despite the hate it receives – and an absolutely stellar arcade machine the same year. Fall of the Foot Clan was one of the first titles I owned on Game Boy, aside from the pack-in title Tetris, and while it holds a special place in my heart, it pains me to admit that it’s not the strongest entry in the franchise.
As you would expect from the 8-bit era, Fall of the Foot Clan is a side scrolling fighter with platform elements. You jump with B and attack with A, but luckily you can swap them out before you start (unless you’re a pagan). But, as much as I enjoy this title, I can’t deny that it suffers from the simplicity of its time. It’s a lot of fun, no doubt, but only lasts about 20 minutes – nowhere near enough for even a vacation car ride. Even the plot is simple enough for the Ninja Turtles franchise, to the point that you can break it down into three keywords: “April”, “Kidnapped” and “Shredder”.
So April has been kidnapped by Shredder, and it’s up to you to save the “lovely reporter” (their words). Like the NES game and the arcade game before it, you start by choosing your turtle from the four brothers, and if a turtle dies, you have to continue with the three brothers. They each have the weapons you’d expect: Leonardo with the katanas, Raphael wields his double sais, Michelangelo has a pair of nunchakus, and Donatello has a big old staff. Each turtle also has an unlimited number of shuriken that you can cast if you crouch down and attack, which is a good idea.
Honestly, though, I can’t argue that it really makes a difference who you choose. They all use the same sprite with just the weapon swapped out, and due to the Game Boy’s four-tone palette, they’re not even differentiated by color, which makes your choice even less important. If there are any differences between the characters, like a turtle jumping higher or one that is stronger, you will have completed the game before you know it.
The back of the box proclaims that the game has five levels that you’ve never seen before, although I can promise you you did. The first level takes you through the sewers which, like the turtles live in the damn sewers, are likely present in every title based on the franchise. It could also be the longest level in the game, being divided into five separate sections. Guess it’s lucky that Game Boy games never had “first level demos” because once you played the first level you unfortunately saw 90% of what the game has to. to offer. Once you reach the end, you face off against the first boss in the cool reggae beats of Rocksteady. He has a gun that shoots one shot at a time. You jump his shot and hit him five times. Honestly, if you can’t make it to level two, you have no reason to be here.
Let’s go to level two, then, and it’s the sewers again (I just want to reiterate at this point the box says “five levels never seen before”, and yet here we are). In the following stages, the turtle of your choice crosses the roofs of the trucks in a traffic jam (which is good), in a ravine and finally in the showdown at the Technodrome. Throughout the game, you will fight recognizable enemies such as infantrymen, Mouser robots, and Roadkill Rodneys. But you’ll also fight a bunch of new mystifiers, including “Torpedo Timmy” (a shark / torpedo hybrid clearly spoofing Bullet Bill from Super Mario Bros.), faces on fire for no apparent reason, bats, fish and, uh, donuts (“frosting is murder,” the manual says, explaining absolutely nothing).
Besides Rocksteady, stage bosses include Bebop, Baxter Stockman in his full fly form, Shredder, and, of course, Krang. Krang is a bit weak for a final boss, as it’s easy to stay in one spot and stun him. He’s actually an easier fight than Shredder before him, as Shredder is blessed with both a sword and the magical ability to turn around. Shredder ends up being the only real challenge in the game, and although a lot of people have complained about the difficulty of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES, the reverse is true here. Most enemies, whether their existence is understandable or not, drop in one or two hits, but your turtle can take eight. There are also health bonuses that can be collected in the form of (you guessed it) pizza. A single slice can fill two of your health blocks, and an entire pizza will completely fill the meter. It probably would have been a better experience if these had been removed, but I guess if you’re making a Ninja Turtles game you just need to add pepperoni somewhere.
If you’re still struggling, there are bonus games hidden throughout the levels that provide a full health recharge if you win. These come in three flavors: the first allows you to guess what number between 0 and 999 Splinter is thinking about. You have 10 attempts and when you guess a number Splinter will say either “larger” or “smaller”. I don’t think he knows which side he’s supposed to be on because the way to win is to go smaller when he says bigger and vice versa. The second bonus stage is a weirdly civilized duel against Krang, where you have to remove shuriken from three rows. You can remove as many as you want from a row, but in order to win you need to make sure that there is only one left. The third is a simple shooting gallery, where you have to move a cursor to shoot bullets that fly across the screen. Looks like it’s from a different game, but while the bonus stages all look like simple carnival games, they’re a highlight and help to mix up the platform.
Graphically, the low resolution of the Game Boy screen is well optimized here, especially for a first title on a portable console. The sprites are large and detailed, and while the turtles all look the same, the rest of the cast is instantly recognizable. Fall of the Foot Clan is clearly based primarily on the 1987 cartoon, featuring this show’s art style, villain roster, and even theme song, although the art box features a scene from the Archie Comics adaptation of the debut film – the cross-media franchise at its finest. Just like SEGA’s Master System and Game Gear, Nintendo’s NES and Game Boy would often have the same games ported to each other. I would have preferred that the NES game could go straight to the Game Boy instead of Fall of the Foot Clan being designed separately, but maybe the Game Boy couldn’t handle it.
Konami then released two Game Boy sequels featuring TTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Return from the Sewers in 1991, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue in 1993. He continued to make Ninja Turtles games throughout the 16-bit era and beyond, but eventually lost (or, more likely, just stopped caring) the rights to produce Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games before the release of the fourth film in 2007 – that honor goes to Ubisoft. With Tribute Games’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge Expected this year for PC and consoles, it looks like the Ninja Turtle fight scroll will be back in fashion soon.
You served us well back then, Konami. Fall of the Foot Clan, despite its flaws and which we don’t really talk about anymore, is still better than another Pachinko machine.