The release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge last month made my inner child very happy. That child still remembers fondly the old TNMT (typing Teenage Mutant… is getting old) Game Boy games, and although I never owned the first one back then, I reckoned I’d start there: Konami’s 1990 release and first attempt to draw some ninja shells in a petite resolution devoid of color. How will these Turtles now be recognized? By their weapon, of course!
Fall of the Foot Clan isn’t the first Turtles game on a Nintendo system, the 1989 NES version preceded it. The Game Boy games aren’t the most popular Turtles versions either, but some of them are really, really good—we’ll eventually get to them. This one isn’t. It does deserve credit to some degree. The Game Boy was very new, Konami also fucked up the first Castlevania handheld game, so let’s assume they had quite a bit of trouble mastering the development for the system. Here, the Turtles and enemies have nice big sprites, and some backgrounds are detailed adequately enough for such an early release.
Perhaps it’s precisely because of those fairly large sprites, but the game is far from a smooth beat ‘em up. It looks like Konami interpreted “turtles” too literally; at one point I had the feeling that I was crawling just to reach the end of a stage. Furthermore, ghosting issues persist to haunt the player (ha!)—I think the Foot Clan employed these techniques by accident, but it’s funnily enough something that could match a sneaky ninja trying to backstab the do-gooders.
What are the key characteristics of a beat ‘em up? Smooth running from left to right: che—erhm, fail. Lots of beating, check? That’ll depend. Enemies jump at you from all angles: they appear to the left and to the right of you, jump at you from below or from above. But in the end, it feels more like a rhythm game: if you change directions on the right time and press
A to attack, a short kapow signifies all enemies that have been neatly lined up exploded into a small dust cloud. Only in the very last stage, stage 5, the pesky robots with electric leashes take two hits to kill.
There isn’t a lot of variation either. Later (handheld) Turtle games involve elevator fights, avoiding stuff coming out of windows, the iconic sewer pitfall, and so forth. In the first iteration, it’s ninja’s, robots (the pesky flying ones and the even peskier hungry ones), falling bricks (that can be destroyed?), and an awful lot of rolling barrels to avoid. No skateboard or airboard chase scenes, no vehicles, no local link multiplayer.
Each stage—there are five of them—has a first part (for instance, the what I presume are New York streets, the riverside/swamps? Not sure?) and a second part, which is almost always in the sewers. The musical score changes accordingly, which by the way is quite good; a lot better than the gameplay. At the end of that section, you’ll encounter one of the iconic Turtle bosses: Bebop, Rocksteady, Shredder, and so forth. Shredder is the boss of stage 4, and he doesn’t do a whole lot except swing a silly looking sword and disappear to change positions. If it’s life points you’re going to lose, it’ll be because you were overwhelmed before approaching the boss.
In-between stages, Fall of the Foot Clan does its best to tell a story using stills, such as the Technodrome image in the screenshot above. You’ll have to imagine it moving and making excruciatingly loud noises. Again, for being 1990, it’s a commendable effort that could have been left out.
There’s no password or save system, but instead, you can select which stage you’d like to tackle with a Ninja Turtle of your choice—given that he’s not been “captured” (died) before. Unfortunately, the stages are very short. Being
128 K, the game ROM is twice the size of Super Mario Land, but that’s still very small and just using one memory bank. Given the relatively impressive sprite size and detail, the game can’t really be faulted for that. Still, you’ll help The Foot Clan fall faster than an average dinner.
In 2022, TNMT: Fall of the Foot Clan is an interesting curiosity that played a role towards handheld Turtle mastery, but it was the first of three entries, and it’s also the least interesting to go back to. The cart is pretty cheap, so if you’re so inclined, feel free to check it out, or wait for the TNMT: The Cowabunga Collection instead.