The very first Game Boy was big, blocky, and beautiful. Other electronic handhelds played only one game, with dodgy controls to boot. By contrast, Nintendo advertised their new, multi-game handheld as ‘power that fits in the palm of your hand.’ That was a bit of a hyperbole, however – you needed a pretty wide palm.
You also needed four AA batteries in order to make it work, and those suckers drained quickly. You would be in the middle of a gaming binge, when out of the corner of your eye, the red battery light went dim, and the visuals began to fade. You prayed that you could make it to the next checkpoint before the damn thing went belly-up.
So what games made my parents buy new batteries every month? For two years, it was actually one game: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan released in 1990. I beat it many times, and each time, I discovered something new to appreciate – for a tiny, 8-bit game, it packed a lot of punches – and kicks, and shurikens.
The game’s plot was standard Turtle-fare – April was kidnapped, and the Turtles had to save her by first destroying Shredder, and then destroying Krang and the Technodrome. As with all great games, however, it wasn’t about the story – it was about the way the story was told.
Visually, Fall of the Foot Clan had an easy-to read, friendly visual style. It was clearly a by-product of the animated series, sharing its character designs, its sense of humor, and its fluidity. Just look at this shot from the first boss battle, and admire the small details.
There are a few things I admire in this shot. First, Rocksteady looks perfect – he’s an exact rendition of his classic action figure, complete with military fatigues and night vision goggles. What really, gets me, however, is how the designers used the technological limitations of the Game Boy to their advantage. For example, the absence of lines on the extreme right of the shot creates the illusion of sunrays, shining through the sewer grate. The designers used grayscale on the pipes and background to create the illusion of depth. And, if you look closely, there are signs of rust and wear on the pipes - there are even rust drips underneath the pipes. Clearly, love went into this game’s creation.
There were five different stages - each one had its own, specific flavor and concluded with a unique boss fight. Stage 1 was the New York City streets and sewers, and ended with Rocksteady. Stage 2 was an abandoned factory, and ended with Bebop. Stage 3 took place on moving truck convoy, and ended with Baxter Stockman. Stage 4 was the wetlands outside the city limits, and ended with Shredder. And Stage 5 was the Technodrome, and ended with Krang.
At the beginning of the game, the player was given a stage select screen – the first time I played the game, I attempted Stage 5 and immediately got my ass handed to me. The game had a steep, but fair learning curve, so it was best to start at the beginning. Besides, you had to complete all five stages to see the best ending.
Your turtle had three attacks. Pressing B would use the turtle’s melee ninja weapon. Ducking and pressing B would make the turtle throw a shuriken - a long range, but weaker weapon. And lastly, jumping and pressing B would activate the most powerful move – a jump kick, perfect for mid-air Foot Soldiers and one-hit kills.
There were a lot of secrets in this game, and Nintendo Power did a fantastic job of locating all the bonus, mini-game areas. Some were hidden behind oil drums, and others were hidden behind pipes. The Bonus Games were surprisingly fun – two of them were deductive brainteasers, and the third was a target practice game. Win the bonus games, and Master Splinter would refill your life bar. You could also use the famous Konami Code (U, U, D, D, L, R, L, R, B, A), which refilled your life meter once per game.
The Mousers were the biggest drain on your life. They could be found all over the Technodrome, and they tried their utmost to scare the shit out of you. They jumped out of the ground, seemingly out of nowhere, and if they got their metal jaws on you, they would deplete your turtle’s energy until you could shake them loose.
The developers of this game loved to shock. You would be walking through a stage, minding your own business, when suddenly, a huge, spiked vehicle or a massive motorcycle would appear out of nowhere, and try to run you down. The most stressful part of the game, however, was the Shredder boss fight at the end of Stage 4.
Shredder had an enchanted katana sword, and every time he swung it, he would disappear and then reappear directly behind you. You had less than a second to react before he chopped you to bits. Shredder also had no stun state when you hit him, and thus, you could not combo him – you had to stick and move the entire time.
The only complaint someone could possibly have about Fall of the Foot Clan is that it was too short – even if you took your sweet time, it was possible to beat the entire game in under thirty minutes. No matter, however – less was more. There wasn’t a weak moment in the entire game, and every stage (and boss fight) was different – Fall of the Foot Clan never outstayed its welcome, and left its audience wanting more, These days, a game is considered ‘short’ if it is less than ten hours long, but there’s also something to be said for quality over quantity.