A few weeks ago, I kicked off a new series that looks at games that may possibly never see a full release again, starting with Konami’s wide range of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles titles. This week, I want to take a closer look at their first arcade game, as well as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) port that followed, and what they each brought to the table.
Released the same year as the original NES title sporting the same name, Konami’s 1989 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game quickly took the wind out of the sails of what was generally seen at the time as a successful video game adaptation of the green teens’ adventures. With a level of graphics and sound that were at least 16-bit, the quarter-muncher effectively looked and sounded like the hit cartoon show that had drawn countless kids around the world to the brand — it was almost like playing an episode of the cartoon, compared to the more abstract 8-bit renditions that had preceded it. While the NES game was good when there was nothing else to compare it to, this quickly became the TMNT experience kids wanted, and Konami was willing to cater to them by bringing the arcade experience home (albeit with some concessions).
Ignoring the obvious, that being the quality of the graphics and music (because the arcade machine wins hands down), this is what both versions brought to the respective table.
The biggest trump card for the arcade machine (or at least certain versions of it) was the ability to play as four players simultaneously. The Turtles are four brothers who fight as one, and the arcade version was able to play that up to the fullest as Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael put boots to the Foot Clan across eight stages. Along the way, there are bosses lifted straight from the cartoon show, including Rocksteady, Bebop, and even both at the same time! Topping it all off, the game features a fair bit of sound bytes as the characters deliver quips, one-liners, and banter to make it feel more like the animated series.
There was no way the NES could handle the arcade game as it was, so changes were made along the way to bringing it home in 1990. Only two Turtles could be used at a time, and there were no voice clips. The Bebop and Rocksteady boss battle in the parking garage stage was replaced with a returning Baxter Stockman, who had now been mutated into his fly form. If you’re not a fan of fly Baxter, there were some other compromises offered up that favored the home player: Specifically, two all-new stages filled with original enemies and two brand-new bosses, the space bounty hunters Tora and the Shogun.
Aside from that, the home version played a bit more simply than its arcade inspiration, being less combo-centric and with each foe having a pretty clear number of hits to take them out. The controls were more streamlined, allowing jump kicks and the two-button special attack to be pulled off with greater ease. This was good, as the game was still no slouch in the challenge category, especially as it only gave players a handful of continues (that could only be used if both players lost all their lives, if you were going 2-player) compared to the drop-in anytime gameplay of its quarter-munching counterpart.
So which game reigns supreme? For children of the 80’s, it’s got to be the arcade original, as that was the eye-opener that told us what we really wanted in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video game, and it still holds up next to the cartoon to this day. But at the time, we were happy to get anything of the sort that we could play at home, so the downgrades didn’t bother many. For hardcore fans of the Turtles, both versions are worth seeking out, just so you can experience all of the content.
Both are tough to find today, as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game never saw a re-release after it first hit the NES, while the arcade Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did see a release on Xbox Live Arcade, but has since been pulled. That said, there is a version of it as an unlockable in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Battle Nexus for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox, but the music has been changed and many of the sound clips taken out.
Oh, and if you think that comparing a home game to the arcade version is a shoe-in… well, you might be surprised. But we’ll touch on that another time.