That Time A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Game Was Literally Unbeatable

That Time A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Game Was Literally Unbeatable

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES was infamous for being super hard. For many, the game unbeatable. On the PC, though, that was actually true! The PC port of TMNT — the DOS one, specifically — was weird for a few reasons: the sound was terrible, it didn’t look as good and playing with a keyboard sucked. Worse, the programmers modified one of the levels, shifted the geometry over and made a key jump impossible.

As a result, you literally could not beat the game without cheating!

Yes, that actually happened.

That Time A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Game Was Literally Unbeatable

These days, if a game has a game-breaking glitch, patches can be issued. That wasn’t the case in 1989, when TMNT was released. If the game didn’t work, the game didn’t work. So far as I can tell, the game was never fixed.

To get a better sense of what changed, here’s a comparison:

That Time A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Game Was Literally Unbeatable

Image Credit: Lazy Game Reviews The only way to progress in the game is to cheat or glitch! Seriously.

Video Credit: TheRabidOgre

If it’s possible to make that jump with clever timing, nobody seems to figured out how to do it. I can’t find any video evidence, and it prompted the long running website Scary Crayon to make a declaration:

Actually, scratch that. This game isn’t just hard to beat — it’s impossible. Seriously. Back when I used to play this game on the old 286, I never even got to Rocksteady, let alone the dreaded underwater level. But now that I’ve been able to cheat (pressing Q, W, E, R, T, Y, U, and P at the same time will render you invincible, or you can hack the game exe to similar effect using the DOS debug utility), I’ve been able to get all the way to the last building that you can reach via the Turtle Van before making your way to the building where you face Mechaturtle on the roof. […] So, expert gamers of the world, you want a challenge? Beat this game without cheating.

I have terrible memories of this game. As a kid, TMNT and Ghostbusters were my life, which meant I was playing every game based on them that came out, good or bad. (Luckily, there were actually a handful of very good TMNT games!) This game, despite selling a ton of copies, wasn’t one of them.


  • I remember this very well. I remember getting to the actual underwater level without glitching or cheating. From there however, I never beat the game. I either always got lost, stuck or dead. The game was too damn hard. Then when the port of the 4 Player arcade version came out I never looked back and just played that instead

  • Man I loved that game but I spent hours trying to figure it out before I stumbled upon the glitch. After that I ended up hex editing the code to make the game go completely crazy. Back then you could manipulate a large amount of code and it would have weird effects on the game but it’d still be playable. Can’t do that kind of thing so easily now days.

  • i wasted so much time trying to figure out how to get past that jump as a kid. I thought I was just being bad at the game.

  • I had/have the NES version and still don’t understand why so much hate was heaped upon this game.
    I liked it, I still do like it, I acknowledge there are one or two bits that are unfairly harsh (that jump in the nes version above was troublesome, the corridor leading to shredder was either disgustingly hard or laughably easy, falling though the spikes on the airport level to get to I think the mega mouser also had a level of unfairness due to the way the turtles float with inertia when they fall).
    ….but I can still go back to it and still play it and still enjoy it

  • I remember this game as well and I have the same question now that I did back then. Why the flip can’t turtles swim.

    • Yeah, me too. Especially when they obviously can a couple of levels later at the dam with the electrified seaweed.

      I think the answer is that they’re not actually turtles. Even pre-mutation they’re often drawn with feet, not flippers, so they’re clearly just lying tortoises.

  • Never completed on PC, I still remember the game for how difficult it was. No reason to return for nostalgia sake either …

  • I had this game on the NES. I loved Ninja Turtles and the arcade game but I can still remember being bitterly disappointed by this. 🙁

  • Did this game have an above ground top down view of the streets and then you could enter levels by going into the sewers or was that a different game?

  • You can literally beat the game – you punch your fists against the disk and that is literally beating it. I think the phrase you meant was “literally unwinnable”.

    • You’re arguing grammatical semantics with a Kotaku headline. You’re literally beating your head against a wall.

      • Well I think it’s about understanding the meaning of the word – not about interpretation. The word “literally” forbids interpretation. But yeah…

  • Would be good if you could reach out to the developers of the port to find out why they made those changes.

  • I finished this game! So this game had me stumped. Until I made the jump across the water.
    So I played this game for days / weeks trying to find an alternative way of getting across the water.
    This is how I did it. So you could save the game. I saved the game at the start of the water. I then printed out the save file in a text editor. I then jumped and saved the file again. Then printed out the save file again and compared the two print outs to find where the location was changed in the file. Once I found it (which was 2 characters) I just started to charge them into different combinations until I changed my location forward. Took me a few hours but move the location until I move the turtle forward until I was forward and extra few cm then I made it across. I did this in the early 90s and was about 11 or 12 when I did this 🙂

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