Last week we took a look back at the 1989 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game. As a result, it only makes sense to this week look back at that game’s official sequel, Turtles in Time. Turtles in Time is almost fundamentally the same game. It’s a 4-player beat ’em up from Konami starring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Players take control of their preferred turtle and battle their way through stages populated by a seemingly endless supply of Foot Soldiers, only this time they’re trying to rescue the Statue of Liberty instead of April and Splinter (yeah, it’s a bit odd).
Being that Turtles in Time came out a couple years after the first arcade game it’s noticeably better looking. Konami didn’t just take the old assets and clean them up, but rather seemed to redesign the game from the ground up. The Turtles have new animations and even new moves, while the boss characters (aside from Shredder and Krang) are all new as well. It’s still a mostly left-to-right side-scroller though, and surprisingly Konami removed the multi-level features some stages in the previous game had and instead keep things on the same plane. There are two auto-scrolling levels to break things up and most of the settings are different as well. And that should be expected, since as the title implies this game features a time travel gimmick. It’s just a plot device as the players have no agency over the time travel, Shredder just pops in at the end of the third stage to say he’s banishing the player to a past time. You then battle through a prehistoric world, a pirate ship, an old west train stage, a futuristic street world (complete with hoverboards), and a moon base before returning to modern day New York. It’s a fun gimmick though as you get to fight Foot Soldiers in cowboy attire and some come riding in on dinosaurs. Pretty much the only aspect of this game that’s inferior to its predecessor is the lack of voice actors from the cartoon. Instead you get generic voices for the characters. The Turtles and Shredder are fine, but Krang sounds really stupid without the work of Pat Fraley.
The biggest change from the prior game is in how the Turtles control. They’re still limited to two action buttons: jump and attack, but now possess advanced moves as well. Pressing the two simultaneously will unleash a special attack unique to each character. This move is usually one that increases the range of the attack as Leonardo will spin in place with his swords, Donatello will vault forward, and so on. Holding down a direction will also cause the player character to run and from there the Turtle can either lower its shoulder for a ram attack or go into some handstands and even perform a sliding attack. It’s most often from these maneuvers that players can initiate an attack that sends the enemy flying at the screen. It’s mostly a neat gimmick, but it also functions a bit like a one-hit kill attack. The improved animations also not only make the game look better, but enable the Turtles to better fight off attacks from both the front and the rear as they no longer need to completely turn around in order to attack an enemy behind them and instead can deliver a little kick. Jump kicks are still effective and each Turtle can also perform a hovering jump attack in which they contort themselves into a funny looking cannonball like formation while “flapping” their weapons in an attacking motion.
For Turtles in Time, Konami returned the pizza power-up which simply restores health, but also introduced a new one. A red pizza box with a bomb on top of it is featured in a few levels and once collected causes the turtle to rapidly spin for a short duration. The character is free to move all around the screen and is invulnerable in this form. Players who replay the game over and over can learn where these are and when to grab them as often times the screen isn’t densely populated with enemies when you first see it. In one instance, a bunch of Foot Soldiers serve almost like a red herring and once dispatched the much stronger rock soldiers enter. Smart players know to save the pizza bomb for when they show up and not waste it on the fodder.
The Turtles may possess more maneuvers to utilize when fending off enemies, but the enemies are also improved as well. There are various new Foot Soldiers that wield a variety of weapons like bombs, spiked discs, and giant axes among other things. The rock soldiers are quite durable and some come packing machine guns or grenade launchers. Boss characters are also pretty stout and some are tough to stagger. You end up learning who you can just wail away at and who you need to back off from. It’s still a pretty tough game in an arcade setting, since it wants to eat quarters, but it feels a bit more fair than its predecessor. The final battle with Shredder is actually one of the easiest fights in the game as he can be staggered relatively easily. The cheapest one might be from the penultimate level which is manned by Krang. He pilots a spacecraft that has this bubble gun that fires from each side, only you can be in front of Krang away from those guns, but it will still connect. And like the first game, there’s also a double boss fight at the end of one stage, only this time it’s Tokka and Rahzar instead of Bebop and Rocksteady. They’re surprisingly manageable though as their main method of attack is a ramming attack in which they can inflict damage upon each other with if you get them lined up right.
An unexpected highlight of this game is its soundtrack. Instead of opening with the cartoon theme, the game begins with “Pizza Power” from the Coming Out of Their Shells tour, a mostly terrible stage show that did at least give us one catchy track. The rest of the soundtrack was composed by Mutsuhiko Izumi and it’s awesome. The various level themes from this game still pop into my head from time to time at random. The same boss theme is utilized for each boss encounter, but it’s excellent so you’re not likely to get sick of it. I guess no one should be surprised as Konami routinely releases games with strong soundtracks.
Like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Turtles in Time received a home port for the Super Nintendo. Since the final NES Turtles game was titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, the SNES version of Turtles in Time was titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time. Unlike the previous arcade game, the SNES experience is arguably better than the arcade. The game looks almost the same with only a slight downgrade for some of the boss characters and some animations removed. A lot of the voice samples were removed as well, but they still kept most of the speech from the Turtles themselves. The only clear negative is that lack of 4-player options even with a SNES multi-tap. The special moves each Turtle possesses also costs some health to utilize, as they did in TMNT III, and the game is adjustable in how many lives the players begin with: 3, 5, or 7. Players can also earn more lives by accruing points as every 200 points earns a one-up. To make it even easier to accumulate points, the auto-scrolling levels were re-branded as Bonus Stages. You can still die in these, but enemies basically take one hit to kill so you can really rack up the points. The futuristic scrolling level, Neon Night Riders, was also altered to position the camera at the back of the Turtles to give it a different flavor (and show off those sweet Mode7 graphics) before returning to the side view for the boss fight.
In addition to the gameplay tweaks, the SNES version also adds new bosses and stages. A Technodrome level is added in-between the third and fourth stage which is a welcomed addition as it was pretty strange to go through the arcade version without a Technodrome level. It ends with the boss fight with Tokka and Rahzar, and they even have new attacks: a freeze blast for Tokka and fire attack for Rahzar as well as a team-up maneuver. Following that, the players go into an elevator area that ends with a showdown against Shredder. The encounter is perhaps the most memorable in the entire game as Shredder is positioned in the foreground and to damage him you have to throw Foot Soldiers at him via the screen-toss maneuver. In addition to those boss fights, the end of the third stage had the pizza monsters (who are reduced to just regular enemies in the stage) replaced with the Rat King, Slash replaces the cement monster in “Prehistoric Turtlesaurus,” while Bebop and Rocksteady (in pirate attire) replace the original Tokka and Rahzar encounter. And lastly, the end fight with Shredder basically has Shredder re-skinned with a Super Shredder look. He still functions the same, though instead of generic energy wave attacks he can shoot a fire attack that covers the floor, an ice attack that he aims at an angle (basically a jump attack counter), and a mutagen blast that looks like a green hadoken fireball and temporarily turns the Turtles into ordinary turtles.
Because the SNES port is so good, Turtles in Time is a far easier game to return to than its predecessor in 2020. You could go out and find an old arcade cabinet, or buy the Arcade1Up one, but it’s a far better deal to just grab the SNES version. It doesn’t look quite as nice due to the removal of some animations, and since the game didn’t utilize the cartoon voice actors you won’t miss the speach it removed, but the added levels and boss encounters more than makes up for any missing animation. It’s also far more manageable as I think this is the first game I ever beat on Hard Mode. There’s even an option to change the skin of each character making the Turtles resemble the original Playmates action figures. There was a remake of this game released in 2008 titled Turtles in Time Re-Shelled for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It’s a remake of the arcade version and it was done on the cheap. It has 3D visuals, but they aren’t particularly impressive. About the only benefit the game featured was online play, but I don’t know if you can even take advantage of that anymore. There was also a port of the arcade version of this game stashed away on the 2005 PlayStation 2/Gamecube/Xbox title Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: Mutant Nightmare. The game is based on the 2003 franchise and isn’t very good, but the arcade port contained as a bonus feature is playable. It’s a bit choppy looking and lacks the original soundtrack though. And since it’s an arcade port, it doesn’t have the added features of the SNES game. The player characters are also mapped to the controller ports, like an arcade game, so you would need the PS2 multi-tap if you had that version and wanted to play as Michelangelo or Raphael.
If you grew up in the 80s and 90s on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles then Turtles in Time is still a good time in 2020. It’s much better than the other Konami brawlers and is better than most of the TMNT games that followed. No version for the Sega Genesis was made, but that console did receive The Hyperstone Heist, which re-used the assets from this game and is a comparable experience, though not quite as good. Because I find the SNES version superior to the arcade one, it’s really the only one I recommend today. If you happen to come across the arcade version though, you’ll probably still have a good time. As long as you don’t have to use actual quarters.