Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time – Arcade, SNES

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…am I interrupting something?

As I’ve established in recent posts, I currently have about as much spare time as a 120-year-old end stage cancer patient; therefore, I’ve needed to stray from my usual RPG/Survival Horror predilections to find games I can finish in a short afternoon. Even better, though, why not cash in on the gaming industry’s Paris-Hilton-level of ambition and write about a game that didn’t bother to make any contributions to its genre, innovations for gaming, or changes to any previous games in general? Why not write about a game exactly like one I’ve already written about, thus raising this circle of laziness to college-student-on-pot-who-still-has-a-few-days-before-the-term-paper-deadline-to-get-started proportions!

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Shredder’s script here reads, “Prance with lightsaber.”

In my TMNT II: The Arcade Game post, I described how even though the original NES Ninja Turtle game was well-conceived, fun to play, and unique, the simple facts that a) it was not the arcade game and b) it had a jump in the third stage so difficult that it rendered the rest of the game inaccessible, made the game only slightly less disappointing than The Force Awakens. As such, Konami released it the following year on NES. But unable to allow their fan base to experience any more satisfaction than a eunuch in a brothel, they had to release an even better arcade game the following year. And by “better” I mean essentially identical to any other beat-em-up game released between 1987 and the Second Coming.

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The tactical advantage of being air-lifted in a meter off the ground by a pterodacty ready to die of exhaustion is somewhat underappreciated in the shadow of using medieval weaponry while you have access to the entire history of weaponry.

TMNT: Turtles in Time tells the story of a villain who we’re supposed to respect as a badass super-ninja, but who really has less a grip on reality than the Creation Science Museum. The Shredder has invented time travel, but rather than manipulating his knowledge of the future in a Biff-Tannen-style bid for fortunes that would humiliate Donald Trump, or even studying all the crucial battles in history in order to sweep through the past and conquer the entire world, he opts to enact a cockamamie vengeance on the Ninja Turtles under the assumption that he only loses to them time and time again because he’s never faced them from the back of a velociraptor on the deck of a pirate ship. I suppose we’re not supposed to ask how the Shredder formed an alliance with pterodactyls and fire-breathing deinonychuses, although I assume it wasn’t a hefty salary. Shredder seems to have spent so much on the time machine that his foot soldiers can’t afford anything more than medieval weaponry, even in the distant future. He could have probably evened out the odds against the turtles if he had sold the technodrome and bought an AK-47. Although if the Turtles have taught me anything, it’s that slicing the solid-steel barrel off of a gun with a sword leaves it as useless as a squirt gun filled with jello.

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Exploding mud. Taking a page from Goldeneye’s playbook here.

The game plays…literally like every other beat-em-up game to that point. You have an attack button and a jump button. Enemies come at you. Go get ‘em, tiger. To Turtles in Time’s credit, though, they did improve a handful of things. If you hit the attack button multiple times, the game will cycle through a short series of attacks, rather than repeating the same animation over and over like a buzzfeed gif with no caption. Occasionally, you’ll pick up a foot soldier and chuck them at the screen; I don’t exactly know how and the game only gives instructions when that knowledge won’t interfere with you putting more quarters in the machine. The game is, however, designed to do just that. Like any good arcade game, Turtles in Time puts you at a severe disadvantage. Bosses, in particular, have an excessive amount of health, and they don’t do that thing where they start flashing as they get weaker. It often left me wondering how many times I had to stab a guy in the head before he started showing signs of fatigue.

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Why do I feel like something obscene is going on here?

Beyond that, I really can’t say much about the game. You progress through levels. You drop in your entire college savings fund. You fight the monsters from the live-action Turtles movie as though Bebop and Rocksteady are the only henchmen in super hero history that are too delicate to survive routine pummelings. You eat pizza off the ground. A mud monster explodes. Michelangelo makes nun-chucks look like a weapon that wouldn’t constantly give its user accidental concussions. You chase around Kraang in his homoerotic Cho-Aniki bodysuit for a while. Then you fight Shredder.

I still think “Foot Clan” would be an awesome name for a band.

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Okay, I KNOW something obscene is happening here.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game – Arcade, NES

I have to run! I could never hope to defeat a lone ninja turtle severely weakened by a fight with Rocksteady! I'll have to wait until later!

I have to run! I could never hope to defeat a lone ninja turtle severely weakened by a fight with Rocksteady! I’ll have to wait until later!

Since I plan to write about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II – The Arcade Game, I’d like to start in the most logical place: porn. See, I enjoy porn as much as the next guy, but sometimes it feels just a little superficial. And really, who among you can’t say you’ve ever longed for moving, well-written art with an insightful message…and naked people? Well, about a year ago I sat flipping through cosplay pictures when I encountered the blog of an attractive girl ready to burst out of her yellow jumpsuit at the slightest hint of a deep breath. She had some interesting posts, and clearly spent a lot of time at comic conventions seeking out others with well-built costumes. No pun intended. And after about two or three pages of this, she posted a picture of herself, sans costume. See, April O’Neil loves the Ninja Turtles so much that she adopted the cartoon reporter’s name for her own porn stage name. (Go ahead, before your eyes combust: NSFW Just come back and finish my article!) Oddly enough, I found I enjoy thinking, “Wow, some of these people I watch might actually share similar interests with me!” And now her videos somehow seem better.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, explains my stance on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II – The Arcade Game. As I’ve written before, games in the beat-em-up genre really don’t have enough differences to really merit separate reviews for any of them. You choose a character, the game starts, enemies attack, you beat-em-up, then move to the next area of the stage, of which the game usually has five or six. Since developers design arcade games to gobble quarters like a bukkake actress, you usually face difficulty somewhere between “theoretical quantum physics” (on the low end) and “pulling the store sticker off the book/movie/game you just bought without leaving any residue” (on the high). Sure, some of them give you the option of a special attack button, or the novelty of mocking Michael Jackson’s pedophilia hobby, but basically–like porn–these games only offer you different appearances for the same thing. But also like porn, Ninja Turtles makes everything better.

What practical application could this vehicle have? Even assuming NYC didn't purchase this with tax dollars, someone had to have built it and then marketed it to super villains.

What practical application could this vehicle have? Even assuming NYC didn’t purchase this with tax dollars, someone had to have built it and then marketed it to super villains.

In 1989, Konami published two Turtles games–one for the arcade and one for the NES. You might remember the NES game either from the box art that featured Raphael posing with three of his clones, or from the crushing disappointment everyone experienced when they brought the game home and found out they still had to save up their quarters to play the game they actually wanted. While this may have caused two or three…million…people to overlook an excellent–yet difficult–game, I’ve written about that elsewhere. Konami had the more noteworthy reaction to this, realizing people might actually want to play certain games under conditions other than standing up in crowded hovels of jet-engine level noise with a queue of angry kids behind you waiting to play and three beside you trying to mooch the remainders of your dwindling pile of quarters away from you. Roughly a year later, Konami presented Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II – The Arcade Game on store shelves as if they had planned on doing that all along.

Pizza Hut bought advertising space in video games long before Barack Obama made it cool.

Pizza Hut bought advertising space in video games long before Barack Obama made it cool.

While I have to hand it to Konami for faithfully adapting the Ninja Turtles cartoon, I also have to applaud them for scaling down an arcade game to an 8-bit system without Michael Bay-ing the quality (yes, you heard me. A coin-eating, side-scrolling beat-em-up game with virtually no plot has more class than any Michael Bay movie I’ve ever seen). I played through both the MAME and the NES editions before writing. Generally, playing an arcade game for free has all the thrill and excitement of shooting craps for sock lint and twigs, so I didn’t exactly expect to need an industrial solvent to unglue myself from MAME. However, I want to say that the NES game stands on its own as the finest gem that ever crawled from the sewers of New York City. Despite scaled-down graphics, most stages remain unchanged except for a few areas (including one complete additional stage), two or three boss battles, and shameless product placement on the part of Pizza Hut. Play control remains smooth, giving the player two whole attacks!–the characters’ weapon, plus a flying ninja kick harder to aim than a bucket of pachinko balls.

Raph needs to double-check his sights before his next jump.

Raph needs to double-check his sights before his next jump.

Character design, unfortunately, doesn’t distinguish between individual turtles, though. Although I understand this design for an arcade game. In the original NES game, I tended to use Leonardo and Donatello. Why wouldn’t I go for the turtle with the pair of sharpened blades, or the guy with a two-meter reach? I imagine late-comers to the arcade cabinet wouldn’t have appreciated the others saddling them with Raphael, the ninja trained in the art of hitting people with a blunt metal rod from a distance just far enough away that the enemy can uncross his eyes. So they shrunk down Don’s staff, blunted Leo’s blades, and added a good deal of oomph to Michaelangelo and Raphael. But if the turtles seem oddly underpowered, fear not. To a limited extent, the player can interact with the environment, hitting conspicuous objects into enemies. Granted, we may have preferred a Special Attack option, but with only two buttons, I guess we’ll take what they offer us–apparently a world where chucking a traffic cone at a trained warrior hurts twice as much as stabbing him with a sword.

...can you repay me like the porn star would?

…can you repay me like the porn star would?

What traces of a story I found roughly reprise the plot of the original NES game–perhaps because Konami developed the games along side each other. The turtles begin atop a building–where you may expect to find sewer-dwelling creatures–with Splinter. Splinter points at a burning building and astutely observes “Fire!” Our half-shelled heroes miraculously divine the correct interpretation from this–that Shredder has kidnapped April (the character, not the porn star) and that they need to chase Bebop and Rocksteady and some other villains from the cartoon to get her back. Halfway through the game you rescue her, but keep going (because…why not?) until you rescue Splinter.

Wow, you know what would really help right now? If someone with jonin ninja skills--or at least sharp teeth like a rat--could break free of that string holding him and give me a fucking hand!

Wow, you know what would really help right now? If someone with jonin ninja skills–or at least sharp teeth like a rat–could break free of that string holding him and give me a fucking hand!

Wait, Splinter? Didn’t we just see him on the rooftop? Did Shredder kidnap April and start that fire just to lure the turtles away from the rat sensei? And if the turtles didn’t need so much as a ransom note, they must have just assumed Shredder intended to…oh, just take my quarters already! I can forgive the lame plot. I can even forgive April for playing into the damsel-in-distress cliche. After all, a reporter doesn’t need ninja powers to do her job. She just has to act charming, know where to find interesting scenes, and look good on camera. Much like a porn star. But how in the hell does Splinter keep getting kidnapped? Every time the Foot Clan comes knocking, the legendary ninja master somehow doesn’t have so much as the skill to squeeze the last of the toothpaste from the tube, much less an ounce of stealth or offensive technique. Maybe, Splinter, you could put up slightly more resistance than Princess Peach? Just once in a while? Show us your moves? Meh. Whatever. National Geographic just told me that elephants can experience symptoms similar to PTSD. Maybe rats can get Stockholm Syndrome.

...help me?

…help me?

I fear I may have hit the bottom of the septic tank for things to say about this game. Pretty shallow for a beat-em-up game, but of course if you dig deeper and get to know your characters, maybe you’ll start seeing it as a master piece of Ninja Turtle Theatre. Unlike porn, people don’t really flock to these games because of their inherent value, so it pretty much demands that you and your game have common interests. So check it out if you like the Ninja Turtles.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989) – NES

Did it bother anyone else that they were ALL Raphael?

Did it bother anyone else that they were ALL Raphael?

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rose to fame in the late 80s, attaining the height of their popularity in the early 90s.  Together with the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, adjectives thrived during this time. The kids–myself included–just couldn’t get enough color-themed monster-fighting super-heroes, yet the forces of consumerism, which conquered both good and evil, happily tried to give us just that.  In 1989, a new cabinet started appearing in arcades.  Just another beat-em-up game at heart, to find the true beauty of Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles, you only had to dive skin-deep. (Hey, kids are allowed to be shallow!)

The popularity of the Turtles arcade game sent many people into stores to pick up the NES Ninja Turtle game released the very same year. Many rushed home after hounding their parents for this game, ripped open the box, shoved the cartridge into their NES, bent their connector pins ever so minutely toward total system shutdown and hit the start button…

…only to be miserably disappointed by the game they found.

While the internet raves about the 1989 NES game’s good reception and commercial success, I can’t help but wonder if it would have the same reputation if people hadn’t thought they could own a copy of the arcade game.  Everyone I remember who enjoyed TMNT video games had fonder memories of the beat-em-up than the NES game.  But memory doesn’t record like a camera, I know, and as my mother proves every time she tells people how I’d wet my pants playing video games because I refused to pause for bathroom breaks, sometimes people can completely fabricate memories.  Now if I only had evidence of this disappointment…say, a port of the arcade game to home systems immediately after the first game’s release…or even future games returning to the beat-em-up genre…

I have to respect a villain who does his own fighting...but Shredder was kind of a pushover after the rest of the game.

I have to respect a villain who does his own fighting…but Shredder was kind of a pushover after the rest of the game.

Still, I’d like to get at–in a roundabout way–the fact that the 1989 NES version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles actually surpasses the arcade game in a few ways…several ways…most…eh…well, let me ask you this; have you ever seen the 1978 animated “Lord of the Rings,” then compared it to Peter Jackson’s films? For the arcade release, Konami simply slapped a green, amphibious skin on the same game that’s been released over and over for what by now has got to be close to 25 years.  But the NES release blended side-scrolling action with a top-down sort of explorable map, while include an underwater swimming stage and a character select screen that let you switch between any turtle at any time.

Splinter looks really creepy in 8-bits

Splinter looks really creepy in 8-bits

I recently dug out the 1990 live-action film, which made me wonder…well, two things actually.  One, who sat down and thought “You know who’d make a good Donatello? Corey Feldman!” What, did Woody Allen and George Burns turn down the role?  And two, why does Hollywood feel the need to burn away everything popular with a series and then misinterpret the premise?  That’s like saying, “You know what people love? Strippers! So let’s record two hours of grandpa Fred prepping for and receiving his colonoscopy and call it the same thing! He is naked, after all!” People enjoy playing the Ninja Turtles game because they didn’t do that.  They released a game because people watched the TV show, and when they bought the game it resembled the show.  You fight Bebop and Rocksteady in the first level, save April, get a message from Shredder saying that he kidnapped Splinter, and then you chase him in the turtle van, then the blimp, and assault the Technodrome.

Stupid Mario never thought of this, did he?

Stupid Mario never thought of this, did he?

You get to do a lot of ninja-ey stuff like spin flips, grapple from building to building, and throw shurikens.  Furthermore, the game employed animated cut scenes between levels, which have now become a standard tool in creating down time while maintaining interest in the game.  When I looked up the release date, it shocked me how long ago they made this game, since it seemed well-developed even for a NES era game.

As opposed to the other guy who wears cheese graters on his shoulders?

As opposed to the other guy who wears cheese graters on his shoulders?

TMNT takes a few cues from Castlevania, including the detailed backgrounds, the secondary weapons, the enemy life display, and the brutal, unmerciful, harsh unforgivingness of the difficulty.  Whereas Simon Belmont leapt through the ledges of Dracula’s castle with the agility and control of a horse-drawn golf cart, the turtles all feel remarkably easy to control.  However, at times, dozens of enemies could criss-cross their way across the screen, and navigating safely around them reminded me of searching for a place to stand on the train during rush hour in Seoul (you’ve seen the videos of attendants pushing crowds of people into the metro? I’ve been in that crowd).  I discovered that not all turtles are equal.  Donatello’s staff has reach, but rather than handicap him in strength, he deals twice as much damage as any of the other characters.  Meanwhile, Raphael and his sai provided a useful target any time I couldn’t avoid taking damage, since his attack pretty much required me to get close enough to the enemy to pull his beard and tell him what I wanted for Christmas.

Theoretically, you could finish Castlevania with nothing but patience.  You may have to replay certain parts, but you had unlimited continues and only had to restart the level each time.  TMNT isn’t quite as generous.  It offers you two continues, and since each level involves a map full of explorable stages, getting knocked back to the start feels like more of a blow.  I wanted to write about the game though, but needed to get through to the end, so I ended up using save states.  I’d say though that it feels more manageable than Castlevania–except for two rooms of instant-death spikes and one long hall full of powerful enemies just before Shredder, it feels like a little practice would help reach more of the game just on the regular lives and continues.

This room! ....ARRGHH!

This room! ….ARRGHH!

Except for the afforementioned rooms of spikes, platforming elements remain mostly absent, so the player can concentrate on his ninjutsu.  Falling into holes or water won’t kill you, but it will wipe you back to the beginning of the stage (one tricky jump kept me from finishing level 3 for YEARS).

Despite unrelenting difficulty cutting off access to the later levels without hours of practice, TMNT does a lot of the right things to tempt the player into coming back for more.  Although it had the misfortune of not being the arcade game, it’s worth attention, as it provides countless replayable hours of Corey-free entertainment.

(Coming up soon, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.  Most of the games I’ve written about so far have been those I’ve played in the past.  Soon I’d like to move onto those that are completely new to me.  I’m thinking of going through either a Sega or SNES RPG next.  Any thoughts?)