By ZZZ

In case you weren't already aware, TMNT was pretty big with American pre-teen boys in the late 1980's. It all started with a little known graphic novel called "Eastman and Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles". When the graphic novel was licensed for an animated series, TMNT quickly became one of the biggest cash cows in pop culture. There was the massively successful cartoon, a trio of surprisingly successful movies, and more merchandise than you could possibly fathom.

As opposed to the satirical nature of the graphic novel, the animated series was perhaps the most focus tested thing ever created by mankind. They skateboarded and surfed. They sustained themselves entirely on a diet of pizza. They said "cowabunga", "radical", "tubular", and "gnarly" like there was no tomorrow. They had three fingers, meaning they couldn't point without flipping the bird. They were mutated turtles. They were ninjas. Oh, and they were teenagers.

Somehow this madness became the biggest money maker in America. Every six year old boy out there watched the show, saw the movies, bought the VHS cassettes, dressed as a frickin' Ninja Turtle for Halloween, and maybe even owned an action figure, or Ninja Turtles PJ's, or some other crazy product manufactured to cash in on the phenomenon. They also taught an entire generation what a katana, bo, nunchuck, and sai were. So, if nothing else, we can all thank them for enhancing the general public's knowledge of ninja related foolishness.

But for all of the products that were produced and embarrassing childhood memories that were made, nothing - not even the animated series that launched the franchise into the stratosphere - made quite as much of an impact as the video games. Titles were produced in multiple genres, but it was the beat-em-ups that really became the blockbuster successes. And it all got off the ground with one very special game.

Characters

Leonardo
The informal leader of the group. He wields a pair of katana (as they insisted on calling his swords) and wears a blue mask. Usually the most balanced character.

Donatello
The scientist/inventor guy who makes all their crazy gadgets. Hauls a bo (because they couldn't just call it a staff) and wears a purple belt and temple hiding eye mask. His attacks are usually very long range.
Raphael
The loose cannon of the bunch. I say he really just has an attitude problem. Packs a couple of sai and sports a red belt and micro-mask. His attacks are usually pretty short range.
Michaelangelo
The goof off. He keeps two nunchucks on him at all times, and completely fails to fool anybody with his doesn't-hide-jack orange mask and belt combo. His attack range is roughly on par with Leonardo's.

The original inspiration for the TMNT games was, again, the cartoon series itself. So, here's a little bit of background on the show: All four of the Ninja Turtles originally started out as pet turtles of a ninja master living in the sewers of Manhattan (really). Then he was mutated into a giant human sized anthropomorphic rat, and them into anthropomorphic turtles (no, really). Then he taught them to be ninjas. Makes sense to me. They spend most of their time saving the world from some jackass with spiked plated armor named Shredder, his pal Krang - a talking brain with a face from Dimension X who's embedded into the abdomen of a very tall humanoid robot - and their army of ninja robots called the Foot Clan. These evil villains live in a giant Earth burrowing vehicle hidden beneath Manhattan called the Technodrome, which apparently doesn't bother city officials in the slightest.

Over the years, Konami has produced several beat-em-ups with the TMNT license. The first four were made between 1989 and 1992 and are all based around some variant of the same engine. These are not only the most successful games, but also the most historically and culturally significant, and the focus of this piece. After the cartoon was restarted/remade in the 2000's, the series was revived with a couple more games that are at least strongly inspired by, if not directly based on, the earlier titles.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade)

TMNT III: The Manhattan Project

TMNT: Turtles in Time (Arcade)

TMNT: The Hyperstone Heist

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II - The Arcade Game - Arcade / NES / PC DOS / Amiga / Atari ST / Commodore 64 / Amstrad / Spectrum / Playstation 2 / Xbox / Gamecube / Xbox 360 (1989)


American NES Cover

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade)

Most people seem to remember TMNT as having been way too simplistic and repetitive, but that's probably just because most people haven't played the arcade version in so long. So, if you're revisiting the game for the first time in ages then you might be surprised by just how much there is going on in it. While it's basically still a Golden Axe-style hack-n-slash kinda game when you get down to it, there's definitely more that you can do than just flail away at everything in sight. The game was designed with that in mind, of course, especially considering that you'll automatically execute a back attack if an enemy sneaks up on you, but in order to really do well, you'll need to do more than just button mash. Each Turtle has a strong attack where they jump and swing their weapon that'll take down any foot soldier. Everybody except Raphael that is - he'll somersault into a sliding kick instead. You've also got three different jumping attacks, which vary depending on how high you are when you push Attack.

So your movesets were pretty large for 1989, but the level design was absolutely without peer in the genre at the time. If you're expecting empty left-to-right backgrounds that do nothing more than frame the ass beating, then you're not gonna find them. Instead, you'll be getting bowled over by huge steel balls roaring down stairwells, fried by laser beams, mowed down by strafing gun turrets, and falling down open manholes. In one auto-scrolling stage you even get to ride a rocket powered skateboard. You also get to make parts of the terrain into weapons, sending road construction cones and parking meters sailing into foes, busting open fire hydrants, blowing up barrels of gasoline, and even swatting tires or manhole covers right back at the Foot soldiers that threw them at you. Toss in some really creative hazard placement and stage arrangements and you've got a pretty happening game. It also has an extremely memorable string of final bosses, where you face off against multiple clones of Shredder, who wield guns that can turn you back into a regular turtle, instantly costing you one of your lives.

But where the game really stands out is in its co-op play. Virtually nobody in 1989 had played a four player beat-em-up game before, and that's exactly what TMNT brought to the table. Nothing that came before it could quite compare to gathering around the cabinet at an arcade with three of your buddies and barreling through a game of TMNT. Just having four people going in game at once was novel enough as it was, but spending that time with three other people - possibly strangers - was what really made playing the game at the arcades so special. That made TMNT the hottest game out there that year after Final Fight, and every freaking place that had any arcade games absolutely had to have this one. For those of you who got to give this a go back in the day, it's a safe bet that you long ago lost count of your total quarters spent and combined havoc wreaked. The rest of you, well, you've been deprived.

Back in the day, every hit arcade game was followed by a period of "waiting for it to come to Nintendo". And no title released in the 1980's - save for maybe Final Fight - was met with more anticipation than this. And when it finally did hit home a year later, damn, was the pay-off glorious! Obviously sensing the immense pre-release demand for the title, Konami even bothered to put "The Arcade Game" right there in the name of the thing. And they called it "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II", because there was already that horribly frustrating NES of the same name. Curiously, it's known simply as "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" in Japan, since the original Famicom game was titled "Gekikame Ninja Den" in the east, which translates roughly to "Fighting Turtle Ninja Story". Due to the negative connotation of the word "ninja" in Europe, the characters were renamed "Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles" in all media, including the video games.

Anyway, it didn't matter that it was missing two of the jumping attacks, or that the back attack was gone too, or that everybody's strong attack was the same, or that much of the animation had been removed completely. All that mattered was that it was freaking TMNT in your freaking living room! Nobody even cared that it was for just two players. All that it needed to be was an as-accurate-as-was-possible version of the arcade game with everything important intact. That's exactly what it was, and that was all that mattered.

Of course, when compared to the original, the fighting doesn't quite stack up. There are no combos, for starters. When you hit an enemy, they fly backward, stunned. But for a split second, they're invincible, so you can't hit them again. As a result, you end up resorting to a lot of hit and run tactics. A small few other changes were made to the NES port of the game. The designers also created two levels exclusively for this version - a snowy stage and a ninja themed level. They also removed the boss fight where you take on both Rocksteady and Bebop at once, and replaced it with a mutated version of Baxter the Fly, created especially for the NES port. Several more enemies were created for this version, with most of them appearing in the exclusive stages, like the foot soldiers wielding gigantic spears. Somebody else who must have sensed the anticipation for the game is Pizza Hut, because they paid for product placement in the damn thing, resulting in a Pizza Hut sign making an appearance in the background of each stage. Original copies of the game also included a coupon for a free Personal Pan Pizza.

There were a number of PC ports as well. The Atari ST, Amiga and PC DOS versions may look pretty good, but they play and control worse than the NES versions, and are lacking any of their special features. The DOS version doesn't even have any music beyond the intro! The C64, Amstrad, and Spectrum versions obviously aren't much better either.

There was also a port of this game hidden in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Battle Nexus, the 3D action game developed by Konami for the Playstation 2, Xbox, and Gamecube. It tied into the revival of the franchise around 2003, but Konami's titles were never as good as their 8 and 16-bit titles. The original arcade game is unlockable only after playing through a considerable chunk of the title, which was painful enough. But those who put forth the effort were undoubtedly disappointed by the end result. The game itself is playable, although a bit on the choppy side, but they completely and totally wrecked the soundtrack. Apparently Konami only had the rights for the new series, but not the original cartoon - and since nearly all of the music in game used some kind of variation of the theme song, all of it had to go. The problem is, outside of the theme, there's only one song played throughout the entire game, and it's awful. Most of the voice clips are gone, and, inexplicably, so are some of the sound effects. It's a bad show all around.

Thankfully, a better port hit the Xbox 360 as part of the Xbox Live arcade in 2007. Konami had lost the rights to the TMNT license, which had passed to Ubisoft. They created their own games to tie in with the CG animated theatrical movie, but decided to band together with Konami to bring it to the downloadable service. Like most of Konami's other releases, it was ported by Digital Eclipse. It's mostly an excellent port, other than the filtered and blurry visuals typical of emulated games on HD consoles, but unlike the version in Battle Nexus, it runs perfectly and has all of the original voices and music. It's not without some minor issues - the original character selection screen has been replaced with a new one, as part of the frontend, which uses assets from the TMNT movie. The art style is completely different and it looks really odd. Additionally, the ending has been cut short, and some of the achievements are ridiculously hard. However, to curb credit feeding, each player is given twenty credits to make it all the way through. It's tough, but possible.

MP3s Download here

Let's Start (Arcade)
Fire! (Arcade)
Fire! (NES)
Fight! (Arcade)
Downtown

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)

Comparison Screenshots

Arcade

NES

PC DOS

Amiga

Commodore 64

Amstrad CPC

Arcade

NES

Teenage Mutant Ninja (Hero) Turtles - Turtles in Time / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV - Turtles in Time - Arcade / SNES Xbox 360 / Playstation 3 (1991)


American Cover

Japanese Cover

TMNT: Turtles in Time (Arcade)

TMNT was such a huge success that a sequel was inevitable. At the same time, there was also really no chance of recreating its success. And, not surprisingly, Turtles in Time wasn't nearly as big of a hit. It wasn't met with even close to the same level of hype, nor was there anywhere near as much demand for a home console port. While still successful, it wasn't really a reason for many people to visit the arcades, and it completely failed to draw most people's attention away from Street Fighter II or The Simpsons that year. But even though it never secured a place in an entire generation's childhood like the original did, it still stands up pretty well to its predecessor. And in some ways, it's arguably an even better game.

It's easy enough to deduce from the name of the game that Turtles in Time has a time traveling theme. In the middle of the game, while en route to get the Statue of Liberty back from Krang and Shredder, you get zapped back to prehistoric times, where you take on some Foot Soldiers - apparently, also transported back in time - and a couple of small dinosaurs. Then it's off to a pirate ship stage, before taking a trip to the old west - both levels have more of Shredder's out of place henchmen. Finally you head to the future in a high-tech city that looks like the intro stage from Mega Man X. But that's just 40% of the levels, with the rest taking place in a variety of modern day settings. It also would have been nice if the time traveling had been better utilized within those stages (like for more dinosaurs in the prehistoric level, more non-Foot soldiers in general, or even some era specific scenery interaction), but it does make for some pretty interesting settings.

That's not to say that the stages aren't still pretty good. You do get to ride a surfboard in one level, and a hoverboard through another. And there's an especially clever part in one stage where stepping on loose floorboards will make them spring up and smack you in the face (like when Foghorn Leghorn or Sideshow Bob steps on a rake.) At the same time, the actual fighting has been stepped up a notch. The fighting engine is pretty much the same as in the first game, so you'll feel right at home busting heads, assuming that you're already familiar with the original. And you can still do everything that you could in that game, too. Plus each Turtle has their own strong attack, a trio of dashing maneuvers, and can attack multiple times in the air. One of the coolest movies is the ability to pick up a Foot Soldier and toss them straight into the screen, complete with awesome scaling effects.

However, not everything has improved. You can still bust up bit of the terrain here or there, but ever so slightly less of it. And the hazards aren't quite as plentiful. You rarely get to whack manhole covers and other projectiles back at your foes, either. But it's only part of the problem that the stages feel comparatively empty. They also just lack that extra something that the original had going for it. To give an example, there's one point in TMNT where you're in a sewer and you have to pass a spiked gate that slams open and shut. To further complicate things, it's guarded by a couple of Shredder's lackeys. You can actually bypass the gate entirely by just stepping off of the platform and walking through the water, but if you do then the game will lob missiles at you, making that even harder. And that's not an isolated example, either. There's a few of those kinds of scenarios in the first title, but barely any of it here. The same goes for the placement of the hazards, with just about everything being right out in the open, rather than coming out of nowhere and surprising you like they often could in the prequel. It's still an awesome game though, with fantastic graphics and an excellent soundtrack, including the vocal theme "Pizza Power" during the attract mode.

On the surface, the SNES port - released a year later in 1992 - is almost perfect. It looks and plays almost identically, although there are a number of minor changes. Most of the voices have been removed, and the Pizza Power theme is obviously gone, although an instrumental version is still present during the end credits. Some small background details have been omitted, and the animation isn't quite as smooth. This is mostly noticeable in the attack where you toss a foot soldier into the screen, which only a few frames in the SNES version, as opposed to smooth scaling in the arcade version. The strong attacks have been modified so that they cost a bit of health, a la Final Fight. In the arcade version, you would begin dashing if you walked forward for a few second. In the SNES version, you can enable a "manual" dash feature, so you can run with a push of a button. The grab techniques are easier to use, and you can now slam a foot soldier several times, wiping out everything around you. The scoring system has been changed a bit too, so you get extra points for the various grab manuevers.

There are a number of minor changes in the levels too. In the arcade game, the third stage ends up with an image of Shredder appearing out of nowhere, casting our turtles through time. On the other hand, in the SNES version, there's a brand new section that takes place in the technodrome, before you meet Shredder and are tossed into the prehistoric stage. Here, there's also a completely new boss battle where you see the battlefield from the point of view of Shredder, and need to toss foot soldiers at the screen to hurt him. The boss at the end of the prehistoric level in the arcade version, Concrete Man, has also been replaced with Slash the evil turtle. Toka and Razar, those mutants from the second TMNT movie, were the bosses of the pirate ship level in the arcade version. In the SNES version, they've been moved to the Technodrome level, and Bebop and Rocksteady take their place.

In the prehistoric level in the arcade version, the lights go out when you're in a cave, forcing you to fight in the dark. The cave is still in the SNES version, but it stays lit the entire time. The level in the futuristic city has been changed to a fake 3D level with some crazy Mode-7 effects. The bosses also have health meters, which they lack in the arcade version. It also has a time trial mode and a vs. mode - in the latter of the two the beat-em-up gameplay doesn't translate all that well to a 1-on-1 context, but it's still worth trying out. There are also multiple endings depending on which difficulty level you beat it on. Konami changed the name of the SNES game to "TMNT IV", because the NES game was part II, and there had already been a NES game called TMNT III by the time that it was ported. However, in Japan, there's no number at all.

Like the original arcade game, TMNT: Turtles in Time was included as an unlockable bonus in one of Konami's 3D titles, TMNT 3: Mutant Nightmare. For the most part, it suffers the same issues as the port of the first game, as the action is still kinda choppy. The music and voices have also been changed, but it's much better than before - most of the voices have been replaced with samples from the new show, and the newly composed music, while not up to par with the real soundtrack, is actually listenable, and there's a unique song for each stage. It's certainly far from ideal, but it's a step up.

After the success of the TMNT arcade game on XBox Live, it seemed logical that Turtles in Time would be soon to follow. Instead of a mere emulation, Ubisoft tried to do one better and completely remake it with high definition visuals and 3D graphics. This version is called TMNT Turtles in Time: Reshelled, available as a downloadable game for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. These are based off the more recent cartoon instead of the original 80s version. Although they look pretty decent, the coloring and lighting is quite a bit darker than the arcade or SNES versions. It would've been nice if the original arcade game was included, but unfortunately it isn't, so if you don't like the new graphics, you're out of luck.

The levels and basic mechanics are based off the arcade version, so it doesn't feature the 3D Shredder battle nor the 3D future levels. There's no run button, and special attacks can be executed without losing life. The major change is that you can attack also attack on a vertical level instead of just a horizontal level, like most beat-em-ups, which does give this version a more modern feel. It allows for four player action and online play, and the easiest mode gives tons of lives.

Overall, it's not a bad remake at all, although the lack of the SNES extras make this feel a bit stripped down. But the biggest downer is the soundtrack. Apparently UbiSoft couldn't get the rights to the original music, so they redid all of it. You can hear some motifs from the old music, and while the replacements aren't nearly as made as the ones found in Konami's PS2/GC/Xbox ports, they're still pretty underwhelming.

MP3s Download here

Pizza Power (Arcade)
Turtle Swing (Arcade)
Boss (Arcade)
Alleycat Blues (Arcade)
Alleycat Blues (SNES)
Sewers Surfin (Arcade)
Reshelled - Main Menu (Xbox 360)

TMNT: Turtles in Time (Arcade)

TMNT: Turtles in Time (Arcade)

TMNT: Turtles in Time (Arcade)

TMNT: Turtles in Time (Arcade)

TMNT: Turtles in Time (Arcade)

TMNT: Turtles in Time (Arcade)

TMNT: Turtles in Time (Arcade)

TMNT: Turtles in Time (SNES)

TMNT IV: Turtles in Time (SNES)

TMNT Re-Shelled (Xbox 360)

TMNT Re-Shelled (Xbox 360)

TMNT Re-Shelled (Xbox 360)

Comparison Screenshots

Arcade

SNES

Xbox 360

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