Ah, here it is! One of my very favorite arcade games of all-time: the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
I wish I could remember the exact circumstances of when I saw it for the first time. I think it was only a brief glimpse at some mini-golf arcade, but it instantly captured my imagination. It looked just like the cartoon series! It even used the same theme song! I don’t think I ever saw a licensed video game that was so faithful to its source material before.
The game, itself, is a fairly straightforwards beat’em-up. You play as any of the four Ninja Turtles, and you hack and slash everything that gets in your way. This includes mostly multicolored Foot Soldiers, but also other enemies from the original 1987 show, including Bebop, Rocksteady, Baxter Stockman, Krang, and of course The Shredder.
It really was the presentation that made it fun, however. Not just in the graphics and sound, but also in the overall style. Part of the fun was the multiple ways enemies would appear on screen, bursting through doors, jumping out windows, driving by on motorcycles, and flying in on helicopters, among others. It always kept you on your toes, and made the game more exciting. Several humorous voice samples also played during the game that not only made it feel like the characters were interacting with each other, but they were accompanied by dialog balloons that harkened back to the franchise’s comic book roots.
Of course, it was at its most fun playing with other people. There was nothing like getting a full-on four-player game going and letting the carnage unfold. It got really crazy as the game would dump a lot more enemies on the screen if there were at least three players. It was perfectly suited to the social nature that arcades used to have.
For me, it was like an addiction. Every time I saw the arcade game anywhere, I was compelled to drop a quarter into it, and keep dropping quarters until I beat the Shredder and saw the credits. I finished the arcade game several times back in the day.
An NES port eventually came along, retitled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (since there was another TMNT game published for the system before that). While it was lacking the presentation and frenetic pace of the arcade game, it did have all of the stages, sometimes in extended forms, as well as two new stages. The arcade game was also ported to several home computers. It later appeared as an unlockable in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Battle Nexus on the GameCube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox, but with much of the audio replaced. Another slightly modified version was also available on Xbox Live Arcade, but has since been removed from the service.
The original arcade game was followed up with two sequels. One was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project for the NES, and the other was the true arcade sequel, Turtles in Time, later ported to the SNES as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV.
For such a straightforward game, it’s strange that it’s been so difficult for more recent TMNT games to recapture that original magic. Is it simple nostalgia? Was there some secret formula? Or was it just the right game at the right time? Whatever it is, it holds up nearly 25 years later, and it’s still a blast to play through.
That’s… Turtle Power!!!