When people talk about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games, they’re typically referring to the beat-em-up games that appeared in arcades in the 90s and their console counterparts. Probably the most well-known and highly-regarded of these is Turtles in Time, which was notable for being one of the first arcade ports to a home console that closely matched the original title and is likely most people’s main draw to the upcoming Cowabunga Collection. But throughout the decade of Turtle Power, developers were also creating games in other genres featuring the boys in green. Of these, perhaps the most inventive and unusual is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue.
Released for the Game Boy in 1993, Radical Rescue was the third Game Boy outing for the turtles. While the first two games were simple side-scrolling beat-em-up titles akin to those on the NES, the third game took a different approach. At the outset, all of the turtles except Michelangelo have been captured, and the player has to explore a vast, interconnected area, defeating bosses and recovering keys to rescue them. Each turtle has his own unique abilities — Michelangelo can spin his nunchaku to glide like Dixie Kong, Donatello can climb walls, and so on. These abilities open up further areas, meaning that, yes, this is a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Metroidvania game. On the Game Boy. In 1993.
Konami would, of course, go on to define the Metroidvania format with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in 1997, but Radical Rescue wasn’t their first foray into the genre. In 1987, they released The Goonies II, a sequel to the original movie-licensed title on the NES, which featured the same kind of exploratory gameplay.
Many Game Boy releases in the early 90s were simply subpar adaptations of popular console titles, hamstrung by the handheld’s capabilities. But at the same time, developers like Konami were releasing unique titles like Radical Rescue that couldn’t be played anywhere else. Perhaps expectations were lower for handheld releases at the time, so developers had more leeway in playing around with ideas.
Radical Rescue is certainly the most unusual TMNT game of the era, standing out not just because of its mechanics, but for its use of the source material. Whereas most turtles games relied on characters like Bebop, Rocksteady, and Krang, the bosses here include mutants that were rarely seen in other media, including the only media appearance of Scratch the cat, best known to fans of the franchise as the most sought-after and expensive figure in TMNT history. And because this was 90s Konami, the soundtrack is pretty great too. There’s the contractually-obligated adaptation of the TMNT theme, but plenty of original tracks by composer Akihiro Juichiya as well, who later went on to work on Magical TwinBee, Planet Laika, and Yoshi’s Crafted World.
If you missed TMNT III: Radical Rescue the first time around, then check it out when the Cowabunga Collection drops on August 30. The arcade titles might be the main appeal of the compilation, but Radical Rescue is a neat little Game Boy game that’s definitely still worth checking out today.