It only took Konami one year to go from an average Turtles entry point to this awesome second installment subtitled Back From the Sewers. I replayed this a year ago and while doing it again to collect screenshots for this article, I forgot how great this actually is, and what a quantum leap in presentation, gameplay, and sound this is, compared to Fall of the Foot Clan! Where to even begin?
Perhaps it’s best to start with the bad parts of Turtles II on the Game Boy. One, like many other GB games, it’s still short and very linear, barely half an hour longer than its predecessor. There are two acts more than in Fall of the Foot Clan, and the stages themselves feel a bit longer thanks to more variation, but you’re still done in one and a half hours. Second, its difficulty can be a bit obnoxious at times. There is a “Settings” submenu accessible through the title screen that lets players select one out of three difficulties, but on easy, some screens are literally empty, while I still wasn’t able to bust colleagues out of jail (we’ll get to that), and hard is, well, (too) hard.
On to the good parts then, and there are plenty. As soon as you boot up the cartridge, you’re not just bluntly served the title screen—no, a true animated video-esque (they tried their best, it’s the Game Boy, remember?) intro sets the stage and gets the vibes going, which eventually (and literally) morphs into the title screen logo. Woah.
This game has Turtles vibes on it almost everywhere, from beginning to the very end. Just like the latest entry, Shredder’s Revenge, one of the primary reasons for this to click so well is the music. It’s simply incredible. Konami knows how to get that 8-bit soundtrack going—the Castlevania GB entries were also stellar in terms of music. For instance, even in-between stages, when something unsettling occurred, such as a bomb that darkened the mood and increased suspension, the music changes as well. This might sound as self-evident in 2022, but in 1991, and especially for a tiny BG cartridge, it’s mind-blowing.
The amount of care and attention put into Turtles II is staggering—at least, again, compared to its predecessor. Back then, you simply walked from left to right, killed as many ninja’s as possible along the way, and eventually dealt with Shredder in the end. Little variation. Fast forward two years:
- There are elevator fight scenes where you can move in four directions instead of simply forward/backward.
- Half-way through some stages, the tension level changes due to “story events”.
- If you’re incapacitated, that character is jailed, and you can’t select that one the next stage. However, you do have a chance at breaking him free.
- More enemy and unique background variety compared to Turtles I. Ninja’s also attack from unusual angles, carry bombs, quick boomerangs, come in sliding, …
- The construction stage could be called non-linear with a bit of imagination.
- Silly jokes like flattened Turtles when hit by a huge rock are put in.
The sprites of the Turtles are still more or less the same as in Turtles I, where you’ll again have to rely on your hearing to discern the weapon style, since the graphical swoosh differences between Leonardo’s katanas and Raphael’s sais is minimal. That said, Konami’s artists clearly went all out. Some scenes in Fall of the Foot Clan were very bland and even just a plain white background, while in Back from the Sewers, the illusion of depth is immediately apparent. Just take a look at the above “who put the lights out?” screenshot. Too bad you can’t enter alleys like that.
Yet, in the end, as impressive as the graphics and sound are in this Turtles iteration, its straightforward gameplay quickly went stale. The game is great to pick up and play once in a while, yet I can’t recommend recurrent gaming sessions like I would replay Shredder’s Revenge again (and again and again).
Turtles II is clearly one of the better Game Boy beat ‘em ups of the early nineties. However! It is not the best Turtle entry on the machine. We haven’t yet taken a look at the third installment.
To be continued…