Conceptually speaking, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the Nintendo Entertainment System isn't all that different from Contra, Castlevania, or any of Konami's other 8-bit action games. In fact, a good portion of the sound effects and music in TMNT were lifted directly from Contra. For each of the game's five chapters, you wander around a top-view map, figuring out which doors and manholes connect to the areas you need to clear. Then you jump and hack your way through the enemies in those side-scrolling areas using the turtles at your disposal. You only control one turtle at a time, but you can swap them from the pause menu, which effectively gives you four lives to get through each chapter. Unfortunately, unlike Contra or Castlevania, the team that put TMNT together did a sloppy job. The stages aren't so much challenging as they are unfair, the action feels unpolished, and the game as a whole doesn't make good use of the TMNT license.
Half of the game's stages lead to dead ends or turn out to be optional paths that make you fight your way through dozens of respawning enemies for nothing more than a slice of pizza. Some stages seem like they were designed purely to suck away lives. The dam section at the end of the first chapter is so thick with electric seaweed that it's almost impossible to finish the area without losing at least two turtles. Enemies reappear if you make the screen scroll too far, which means if you fall down from a platform and have to make your way through a room again, you'll also have to fight through all of the same enemies again. Because jumps are airy and difficult to control, this happens frequently. Without a doubt, the game's most frustrating aspect is how enemies always appear right in front of you when you're jumping between platforms. More often than not, you won't hit the attack button fast enough and will end up knocked backward into the pit you just jumped over. Additionally, only one of the four turtles is any good. Mike and Leo can't get past enemies situated atop ladders without taking damage. Raphael's sai have such dinky range that he can barely reach enemies right next to him. Donatello is the turtle to use because his bo staff can pass through floors and nail enemies almost three lengths away. Of course, considering how impossible some stages are, you won't be controlling Donatello very long before you're stuck with one of the other three turtles.
On top of everything else, the game doesn't provide a strong tie-in to the TMNT franchise. While the music is upbeat, none of it bears any resemblance to the themes you may remember from the original cartoon series, which had already been airing for a year prior to the game's initial release. All of the dialogue that appears in speech bubbles and text displays is generic and fails to reflect the attitudes of the characters. April's comments are just as deadpan as Splinter's are, for example. The turtles look fine and the bosses at the end of each chapter are such familiar characters as Bebop, Rocksteady, a giant Mouser, the Technodrome, and Shredder. However, the majority of regular enemies are robots and bizarre creatures that look nothing like the Foot ninja, Krang's robots, or Baxter Stockman's creations. The mutant frogs, fire monsters, and big-eyed spiders you constantly encounter look out of place and would be more appropriate for a game like Castlevania. If you actually manage to get through all five chapters and beat the game, you'll also witness a plot twist that contradicts the TMNT story to such an extent that it'll make your head spin.
Considering how bad the game is, it's insane that Konami is charging 600 Wii points ($6) instead of the 500 points that NES games typically cost on the Virtual Console. It's even more of a mystery as to why Konami chose to make this stinker available for the Wii's Virtual Console rather than either of the later TMNT beat-'em-ups that most people have fond memories of playing.