Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Arcade Beat 'em Up Mega Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was an arcade game by Konami that was one of the premiere beat 'em ups of the 1990s. It still holds up today, especially in the newer releases that have multiplayer support over the internet.

As is common in arcade games, the story is scant, but it does get the job done. The goal of the game is to save your friends from the Foot Clan, then track down the Technodrome to defeat Krang and Shredder. The Nintendo Entertainment System version also adds a segment where you have to shut down a weather machine that has been covering New York City with snow and ice. 

Alongside the Foot Clan ninjas, Shredder, and Krang, there are also popular villains from the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series, such as Bebop, Rocksteady, and Baxter Stockman. It also includes the lesser-known villain, Tragg the rock soldier. The Nintendo Entertainment System version of the game also includes two bounty hunters created specifically for the game, Shogun and Tora. 

Other than the fighting gameplay which feels responsive and easy to learn, the presentation is what makes this game unforgettable. It has fun character animations, both in the sprites of the turtles and those of the enemies. Two of my favorites are the animation played when one of the turtles falls down a sewer hole and those of the motorcycle-riding Foot Clan ninjas. The Nintendo Entertainment System Version has smaller sprites and simpler backgrounds, but it surprisingly includes most of the animations from the arcade version. The NES version also has two exclusive levels, the aforementioned snow-covered New York City and a level in a dojo. These levels, especially the dojo level, have some fun animations of their own including ninjas jumping up through the floor and the tiger painting that comes to life and fights the turtles. There is some slowdown,  flickering sprites, and only one type of enemy on screen at the same time in the NES version. However, it is really impressive how Konami managed to recognizably replicate the arcade version and add extra levels on such limited hardware. Digital Eclipse's emulation in the Cowabunga Collection is the best way to play the NES version, as it has options to remove most of the flicker and slowdown. 

The chiptune music is great, and it is fun that the catchy opening song is included in a sample that isn't compressed too badly. The voice samples, however, are more heavily compressed. This is fine for the electrocuting robots that channel the Daleks from Doctor Who by saying "do not resist us". The heavily compressed samples for the turtles such as "shell shocked", April's "save me", or Shredder's "tonight I dine on turtle soup" sound quite tinny and aren't as impressive as they once were. The NES version doesn't have any samples and does play a few different level songs as well as those from the NES exclusive levels, but the arcade game's music that is there has transferred quite well to the little grey toaster that could.

The arcade version has support for up to either two or four players playing simultaneously depending on the cabinet. The NES version only has support for up to two players playing simultaneously. The arcade version has unlimited continues. When I was a little girl, I went to an arcade with a pocket full of quarters. I probably paid a good ten dollars in order to get to the end. Like a lot of arcade games of the era, the ending is presented entirely through text. The text is fitting, however, and it has the same tone as the television series on which it was based. The NES version is harder, as continuing in the arcade version continues right where it left off while continuing in the NES version starts from the beginning of the current level. There are also only three continues in the NES version, although this can be changed to ten in the Cowabunga Collection. In the aforementioned collection, there is also a god option that makes the chosen turtle invincible and kills most enemies with one hit.

In addition to the arcade and NES versions, there were also versions for home computers such as Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, and DOS. There are a lot of limitations in these versions, and the controls feel a lot stiffer on each, so they aren't really worth playing. The arcade version, either in the arcade or via the emulated versions in the now unavailable Xbox 360 version or in the Cowabunga Collection, is the best way to play this game. The emulated versions have online play, so if you enjoy multiplayer games, these versions are the way to go.

If you are interested in playing the additional two levels in the NES version, the control is just as responsive as the arcade version, so could be worth playing if you aren't turned off by the limitations of the older hardware. The best way to play the NES version is with the settings that mostly eliminate the flicker and slowdown in the Cowabunga Collection.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game is a bonafide classic that manages to hold up well to modern tastes. The fun animations, great chiptune music, and excellent level design make this one a must-play for Teenage Mutant Turtle fans as well as those who are fans of arcade beat 'em ups. The arcade version is the best version to play, but the NES version is fun if you are interested in the two exclusive levels. The Cowabunga Collection is the best choice to play as it includes both the arcade and NES versions and it sports accurate emulation, online play, and the ability to reduce slowdown and flickering on the NES version.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

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