Mario Katharsis: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I had four games to play in the early days of my NES ownership. I don’t remember if I got them all on the same fateful Christmas morning I got the system, or if I subtly asked my mom for more games later: “Hey mom, did you know there’s a Nintendo game based on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? I just thought you would maybe find that interesting. I find it interesting, for sure. That there’s a Nintendo game based on the turtles. Available now.”

Side note: Did anyone else have a horrible time finding the April O’Neil action figure? Shredder was a bit of a time, too, but man did we look everywhere for April. She was the one chick in the whole show! My little feminist heart was aching for some representation in my playtime. I didn’t end up finding one in a toy shop until I was twelve and all my other figures (plus the Turtle Van, I’m a professional) were shoved out of sight in a basement crawlspace. Damned if I didn’t buy it, though.

In any case, I was pretty excited to be combining video games with the heroes in a half shell, two things that were undeniably awesome. I enthusiastically opened the box, pulled out the cartridge, gave it a preemptive and unnecessary blow for luck, and loaded it into my Nintendo. What follows is a transcript of the the inner monologue of seven-year-old me.

Hey look a car thingy and oh god I’m a puddle of turtle mush.

Well, I suppose I’ll just go ahead and go down this manhole right here. Never mind that it’s the first thing I’ve seen since starting the game, I’m sure the game developers aren’t baiting me to play a time/health-wasting level, mostly because this is the third game I’ve ever played and there’s a picture of me next to the word “noob” in the dictionary! Or at least there would be if there was such a word as “noob” yet!

I can play as any of the four turtles?! *makes a tiny fist and pulls it downward at her side* YES! I want Mike because he’s totally radical!

Hmm. So Mike’s nunchucks are kind of weak. Aaaaaand I’m dead. Leonardo it is.

The exit from that level just puts you on the other side of that first stupid building? I could have just walked around? Why so cruel, Konami? Why so cruel?

I always found Bebop and Rocksteady sort of sad. Just some kids into the punk scene, looking for a family and ending up with Shredder and the Foot Clan. Seek out healthy support systems, kids!

Ok, now we’re getting somewhere. Bebop and Rocksteady are some guys who are important guys.

And I’ve just saved April! Wait. Aaah, good one game maker dudes! Way to “princess is in another castle” me!

And now for an excursion into this extremely low-ceilinged warehouse. What a crap ton of weird monsters that I’ve never seen in the show. Oh hey, that guy throws weapons that are impossible to block, and he goes into the fetal position like a jerk when you attack him. Fun!

Thank god there’s a pizza at the end, because I have been taking some damage; now I’ll just turn around and walk back. Great, all the enemies have respawned! Now I’m back at the entrance with less health than when I came in. Fun!

Meanwhile, in the next sewer…






Is this how we all beat this part or is this how we all beat this part?

So. Raphael is a walking, useless turd.

Donatello is legitimately great. Actually fun!

And we really rescue April this time—huzzah! On to Area 2.

Whoa, the map’s half the size of Area 1. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. This first building isn’t too bad at all: three floors, just a basic repeat of early enemies, tricky jump at the end, but nothing too serious.

Alright! Now we have to jump in the river. What a cake walk this water level will be, what with the playable characters being mutated aquatic reptiles!

Two minutes and twenty seconds to diffuse eight bombs, fair enough I guess.

Not so fast at the swimming, turns out.

Who’d have thought touching some squiggly seaweed would result in its noodly tendrils reaching ridiculously far out to entangle me in a watery death embrace? Certainly not this kid with a basic knowledge of biology.

And the pink plants are also electrified or something! Good thing there’s never too many at once!

I want to kill the world.

Difficult difficult lemon difficult.

I’m dead.


I’m dead.


I’m dead.

Game over. Start from the beginning.

*throws controller, performs first ragequit*


Mario Katharsis Rating: Lightning bolt right before the finish line with another player hot on your tail.

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  1. One of my early NES games as well. Years later, reading various articles that follow a similar pattern to this (as well an Angry Video Game nerd video), I am beyond comforted to know that I wasn’t the only kid who wanted to throw the controller through the TV screen during this level. Being young (and there being no internet on which to commiserate with fellow gamers), I had no way of knowing that others were struggling. As the years passed, I came to the realization that I’m just not all that good at video games, and chalked my experiences up to that. These days, I realize it wasn’t JUST my shortcomings, but, in fact, a horribly HORRIBLY designed game.

    The really sad thing is the amount of time I spent trying to get through.

  2. I remember this game being really hard. I think I only got to a dam level and that was about it.

    I dont recall ever getting anywhere near the Shredder. I just kind of gave up in the end too, after countless attempts at it.

  3. Beat it once. I used Game Genie, which I think I only ever used one other time to beat the train wreck of a game that was Snake’s Revenge.

    While not proud of using Game Genie, I was justified in doing so—I was able to venture a couple levels past the dam, even with out the genie, but the Technodrome level was the stuff of nightmares and made the dam level look tame by comparison.

    Let me know if anyone has beaten the game without the aide of cheats, because I have lived my entire life convinced that it is impossible.

  4. Oh, I got to Shredder. I was like 13, and thought I’d give it a go after years of not playing the thing. While I still found it ridiculously hard (especially when some dudes with jetpacks and lasers start to show up) it was nowhere near as soul-crushing as it was in my childhood.

    I actually remembered which sewers to avoid, where every pizza was and became an expert in turtle-switching at the right time. In doubt, just Donatello that shit, then put one of the useless guys on the line. Plus, at some point you can get almost infinite **whatevertheyare** (you know, those giant, boomerang-like things you can throw) and a shitload of boomerangs, which made things somewhat easier. That is, unless, you happened to accidentaly step on some shitty shuriken dropped by an enemy right in front of you with your infinite-weapon turtle, thus losing everything immediately, but hey, nobody said this game wasn’t annoying.

    Anyway, I got to Shredder with only two low-health turtles and lost after just a few seconds. I remember almost nothing of the battle, only that Shredder was a brownish turd that looked nothing like Shredder. After succeeding under overwhelming odds level after level, I didn’t even get to figure out what was going on. Saddest part is, a few years afterwards, while fooling around in a game-faq site I looked for a walkthrough to this game and turns out Shredder himself was a pushover. You just had to stand in the right place and boomerang the shit out of him without getting harmed, a-la-Rocksteady. Had I known that, I would certainly had finished this son of a bitch game and probably be married to a supermodel or something. Well, back to the bottle 🙂

  5. I remember staying up to ungodly hours of the night trying to beat this game with my friend. It took us HOURS, and when we finally did it, we high fived and sat back to watch what would SURELY be a sweet ass ending. You know, to offset our hours of suffering. We were then greeted by Splinter saying “Thanks dudes.” END CREDITS.

    Fuck you, Splinter. Seriously.

    Great stuff as always, Sara. “Turtles in Time”, FTW!

  6. “Turtles in Time” isn’t really hard by any means, but it’s still an awesome game. Me and my friends have been known to see how inebriated we can be and still get through it.

  7. Thanks for reading, everyone. I couldn’t ask for better companion pieces in the form of comments. I, too, take comfort that many others wanted to crush their NES controllers in their bare hands when playing this game.

    My NES is hooked up and still playable, so I just played this for the first time in years. Still drowned in the dam level.

  8. This is hilarious! So hard. I remember one time getting to Shredder and I died (after probably years of attempting to beat it), dying, and never playing it again.

    Great article.

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