When younger gamers return to the NES games their older siblings or parents grew up with, they undoubtedly feel as if they are out of their element. It was the Wild West in those days, without well established genres and conventions guiding the way. There were more licensed games, and each one felt like a unique stab at adapting the material rather than a total conversion of some standard character action game from long ago. Such was the case with the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which was developed by Konami’s Ultra Games imprint at the same time as the more famous arcade beat ’em up.
The original TMNT had ambition as it tried its hand at platforming and navigating a world map, but suffered from stiff controls and respawning enemies that amped up the difficulty far past reasonable levels. Even if a player was up to the challenge of cheesing through bosses with Donatello’s long staff, they were rewarded with one of the most notorious levels in any NES game. The Turtles were tasked with disarming underwater bombs, and you’d think that their status as underwater creatures would make that a breeze. Instead, the task of swimming through electrified coral became a frustrating challenge that stopped many players dead in their tracks. The action was completely different in this stage, and it felt like it was ripped out of an entirely different and even more cruel game. If Konami had some sort of time traveling device, that game might well have been That Dam Level.
In the post Super Meat Boy world that we live in, TMNT‘s water section has transformed from a nonsensical left turn in a bad licensed game into a challenge for retro gamers to brag about. So it makes sense that French developer noiarc has taken the task to expand that basic idea into a gauntlet of seven levels where touching any obstacle causes pain and suffering. The first level is modeled after the original, and then as you progress you get more unique obstacles like flame wheels that somehow work underwater.
In addition to its Greenlight page, That Dam Level has already been released on itch.io for $3.49, so I was able to play a bit into the first stage. The game has an excellent chiptune soundtrack produced by Visager that really sells the nostalgic tone the game is going for. I can only say that I’ve seen the first level, but the music there reminds me of the last level of early Castlevanias, with repeating high-pitched tones that adds to the tension of the difficult gameplay. As for getting through the level, I can’t say that I progressed very far, but that’s really on me. The controls are tight and faithful to the source material, and I always felt that I was the one who was ramming my head into the electric gates and purple spikes.
For an idea so simple, the itch version of That Dam Level is fully featured to say the least. When you start a new game, you can pick from one of five difficulty modes, ranking from Mod3rn Gam3 all the way to Damnation. It features a tutorial stage to get people accustomed to the unique floaty controls that will get you through each level. It also has a speedrun mode that I’m sure will see some action at some AGDQ event in the future, as well as a challenge stage just in case you happen to be the type of gameplay wizard who can actually complete the campaign.
The one thing I found most amusing while playing That Dam Level is the realization that this game is basically just Flappy Bird with more depth. That game was a bit of a flash in the pan, with some who were downright fascinated by its controls and perceived difficulty even as the more hardcore among us wrote it off as a mobile novelty. It’s all a matter of perception, but I wonder if that hardcore crowd would have had the same reaction had Konami recognized what they were sitting on and released a similar game at the time. Either way, it just goes to show that despite the massive leaps in technology, gamers of all stripes are still fascinated by the same types of challenge, be they eight-bit or animated in Flash.
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