(This article is based on our let’s play of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game for the NES. To watch this episode, please click this link)
I love the Ninja Turtles. The 1987 cartoon series was an integral part of my upbringing, and I had to consume every bit of merchandise that I came across. From action figures, to posters, 2 great movies (and another movie that, at best, existed), and of course video games. I could probably write an entire article just about the influence that TMNT has had not only on me, but my generation as a whole. I briefly touched on it in last week’s article (which is honestly part of why I decided we should play this game this week); not only were they hugely influential in the importation/localization of Super Sentai, but there are an absurd amount of cartoon shows and video games featuring anthropomorphic animals beating the crap out of each other that can trace their lineage to this franchise: Biker Mice from Mars, Street Sharks, Barnyard Commandos, C.O.W.Boys of Moo Mesa, SWAT Kats, just to name a few. Even our very own Skirmish Frogs can be said to have seen influence from this mega-phenomenon.
I talked briefly in the episode about just how much this franchise means to me, but it bears expansion (and a bit of a rehash, just in case you don’t have 20 minutes to commit to youtube. Hey, I understand, I’m not here to judge). Like most people my age, I first heard about the Ninja Turtles through the cartoon show. I learned later in life about the comic series, which was initially created as a parody of sorts of the superhero comics at the time, which had started the trend into being dark and overly serious. The real kicker is the very tongue-in-cheek (unofficial) tie in to the origin of Marvel’s Daredevil. Yes, the industrial accident that caused Matt Murdock to go blind also turned 4 pet store turtles into crime-fighting, pizza-gobbling turtle-men. This concept was just crazy enough to catch the attention Playmates Toys, who was looking to get into the action figure market. Naturally they needed a cartoon to grab the attention of impressionable kids, and thus a marketing juggernaut was born. They did their job well, because their claws were sufficiently sunk into my brother and me, so we HAD to get the toys and we HAD to get the video games. Being such a huge, in demand franchise, they were pretty hard to come across, but my dad spent many nights searching for the whole set. Finally he came across them, excitedly called my mom in what can only be described as a “EUREKA” moment, and the rest, as they say, was history.
The World’s Most Fearsome Fighting Team
I’ve already gone on entirely too long about the history of the Ninja Turtles, and barely even mentioned the video games. The first in the series, titled simple “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” was vastly different from the game we played today. This is definitely the more famous Ninja Turtles NES game. Better critics than I have covered this game six ways from Sunday, so I won’t spend too much time on it. Suffice it to say it was incredibly difficult, and rather confusing in places, but that didn’t stop it from being a commercial success.
In 1989, a sequel (of sorts) was released in arcades. This time it was much different, taking the form of a side-scrolling brawler. A year later it was ported to the NES as “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game.” The arcade counterpart, while definitely a lot more straight-forward, was still pretty challenging (Remember, it’s an arcade game. They’re designed to gobble through allowances). I actually played both versions as a kid, a pretty rare occurrence for me, and the arcade version is definitely the superior version. This was a pretty common occurrence for games ported to home consoles. Early consoles just didn’t have the same horsepower as arcade machines, mostly because they needed to stay small to be able to fit easily fit into the average person’s home. Arcade boards were pretty huge early on, but this allowed for them to have brilliant graphics and music and voice samples that don’t sound like digitized garbage. That’s just one of the few things that makes the arcade port better, but it also supported up to 4 players, while the home console version only supported 2.
Bear in mind this doesn’t make it a bad game, just marginally inferior. As far as arcade ports go, this is definitely a top choice. The controls are super precise, and obviously there’s some great music. Konami really knew what they were doing with the NES sound chips. I like it so much I listened to it while I was writing this article! It’s freakin’ jammin’, man. Beyond that, there’s a really great enemy variety. I went on a bit of a rant in last week’s article about enemy variety, and this game definitely gets it right. Yes, they still look generally the same, but in the first stage alone we saw at least 4 different enemies and had to foster different strategies to take them all down. Some required strategic jumping, some required mashing attack until they submit, and some require dodging in and out. Power Rangers, while still a fun game, just required you to go ham. I wish we had gotten to see more of this game, because I know that as you go there are more difficult and varied enemies, but unfortunately the game got the best of us.
Tonight I Dine on Turtle Soup
Being that this game is an arcade port, it does make sense that it is so difficult. I just wish that there had been the ability to turn down the difficulty. Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m a big weenie and can’t handle a little challenge. But later Turtles games gave you the option to adjust the difficulty. Of course, they admonish you for playing it on easy mode, and you don’t get the “true” ending, but I still like being able to turn things down, especially because it helps hold the interest of VG Kid if she feels like she can keep up with me. It’s a minor gripe, but it’s still worth mentioning. There are codes, of course, that allow you to skip levels and add a bunch of extra lives, which definitely would have helped us get farther, but if you’re gonna cheat, why even bother?
Guys, this game looks like butt. Don’t get me wrong, the sprite work is fantastic. The backgrounds, while not super dynamic, still show some decent variety. In fact, on the surface, it looks really cool! But, like the judges on Face Off say to so many contestants (do you guys watch Face Off? It’s awesome. If you like practical effects and creature design, I recommend checking it out), the paint job absolutely ruins it. The colors are so flat, and everything looks like it has a brown film over it. It’s worlds apart from the gorgeous, cartoony zaniness that you see in the arcade version. To reiterate, the models and backgrounds look fantastic, but I was just really brought down by how bland it looks. Unfortunately, that does have a lot to do with the hardware, as the NES is only able to display a limited color pallet at any one time. It’s capable of doing a reasonable range of colors, but each sprite is limited to 12 colors of the possible 54, so you end up with stuff that really takes out the punch.
The Ninja Turtles were a hugely influential part of my childhood. The fact that they came into existence when video games were experiencing a renaissance is a blessing and a curse. We were given some fantastic titles that only served to foster our over-active imaginations and spur us to create our own adventures. It also prompted the creativity of some cartoon producers as well. Let’s be clear: there were tons of imitators to the crime-fighting, talking man-animals formula, but I never explicitly pointed to any of them being bad. We got some great cartoons and video games out of this era of entertainment, and for that I’m eternally grateful. There are definitely lesser TMNT games, and there are definitely greater TMNT games. As for this one, it sits pretty high on the pantheon, and definitely a game I recommend checking out if you have the opportunity.
Thanks for reading, everyone, and until next time: Keep playing!