Category Archives: Video Games

The Game Boy Micro

img_1501I guess this is a great time for me to dust off some of my less common pieces of video game paraphernalia. Yesterday I talked about Popful Mail which I played on a Sega CDX, and today it’s the Game Boy Micro. My timing is also pretty good as the original Game Boy just turned 31 on April 21, 2020 which is still hard to believe. I consider myself a collector of various things, but one thing I’m not really a collector of is video games. I’m certainly a compiler as after years of regrettable trade-ins at GameStop when I was a poor college student I’ve basically vowed to never part with a game again unless I know I’ll never come to regret it. As a result, I have a lot of games hanging around my house with the vast majority coming from the 2000s. I have some older, classics, but not a ton. And some games I have could be considered rare or hard to find, but I have them because I wanted them at the time. I’ve never really bought a video game for the purpose of collecting. The closest I suppose I came to that was buying the collector’s edition of Arkham Asylum which came in a gigantic bat-shaped box. That thing is so big that I don’t even know what to do with it. It just sits in a closet.

I purchased a Game Boy Micro over ten years ago and at the time I bought it simply because I wanted to play some Game Boy Advance software on-the-go. I had traded in my original Game Boy Advance for a Game Boy Advance SP, which I in turn traded in for a Nintendo DS, that was then traded in for a Nintend DSi. That last trade-in was important because I lost the ability to play GBA software. Years later, I wanted to come back and rediscover the GBA. That handheld mostly existed for me during my college years and I really didn’t devote much of my time to it. I mostly played home consoles instead or busied myself with other distractions. As a working man though I had ample time to play portables during my commute to and from work so the time was right.

The Game Boy Micro is Nintendo’s third take on the Game Boy Advance. The original version had a horizontal layout similar to Sega’s Game Gear, but it ran on double A batteries and lacked any sort of backlight. It was still a great little system, just a flawed one. The SP addressed both issues while also reverting back to the traditional, more vertical, layout of the Game Boy but with the addition of a hinge in the center so the screen could fold down onto the unit. It was great to have a front-light and a rechargeable battery, though the choice to return to the old format was odd as the system was quite cramped. The shoulder buttons were tiny, little, nubs and I could never play my SP for much longer than 45 minutes.

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Nintendo mandates that all reviews of the Micro include a shot of it sitting in the reviewer’s hand.

When Nintendo announced the Nintendo DS in 2005, it was insistent that it was not the end of the Game Boy and as proof it offered up the Game Boy Micro. The Micro, as the name implies, was the smallest Game Boy yet. It’s roughly 2″ x 4″ with a thickness of less than an inch. It featured a backlit screen and rechargeable battery. The horizontal layout also had the added perk of making the system resemble a classic Nintendo Entertainment System/Famicom controller only with a screen in the center. The LCD screen is even tinier at roughly 1.69″ x 1.89″ making this perhaps the first Game Boy that truly could fit comfortably in your pocket. It’s so small that one has to wonder just how much smaller it could have been had it not needed to accommodate the comparably bulky GBA cartridges and instead had something similar to a DS or Switch card.

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Unfortunately, I do not have a Famicom controller for comparison so the classic NES controller will have to do.

When the Micro was first announced I though it looked kind of neat, but I wasn’t feeling compelled to ditch my SP for it. Plus if I was going to upgrade I would have just gone with a DS which was backwards compatible with the GBA. And since the Micro no longer supported legacy Game Boy software, it was placed in an odd spot where it basically only targeted those who had yet to get a GBA or Nintendo enthusiasts that would buy everything. The only other defining feature it had was the ability to swap out the faceplate for other ones. Perhaps Nintendo conceived of a vast third party network of custom faceplates in addition to its own, but from the start the Micro was never positioned very well.

I basically decided to get a Micro over another model of the GBA for the novelty of it. I did like the idea of a truly portable gaming device, but I also thought the system was just plain cute. And when I settled on one to buy, I even spent a little extra to get the special Famicom edition (released in December 2005) which was colored to mimic a Famicom controller. It came in a box emblazoned with classic Super Mario pixel art and the only drawback to going this route (aside from the added cost, which at the time was actually somewhat minimal) was it didn’t come with a tool to remove the faceplate as Nintendo didn’t think anyone would want to remove the Famicom faceplate. In fact, the faceplate on this model is supposedly non-removable, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s not that hard to get off for someone who is determined to do so.

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The Micro in front of a 3DS which is in front of a Sony PSP.

When I received my Micro I did play it quite a bit. I picked up Metroid Fusion, a game I had overlooked when first released, and also grabbed the Super Mario Bros. 3 port to go along with the other GBA software I still had. Playing these games on the Micro, I was taken by how quickly I got used to the small screen. It’s a bit shocking when first powered up to see just how small it is, but once absorbed in gameplay it basically goes away. The screen is said to be much better than the previous GBA screens, though it’s still not as vibrant as modern handhelds. Helping it is the mostly sprite-based art of GBA games with the small screen size reducing noticeable pixilation. The light is strong and can be adjusted manually as well, and I found the battery would last around five hours which was basically enough to get me through a week of commuting.

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Here’s the Micro beside big brother, the 3DS.

Obviously, a system this small does have some drawbacks. The Micro is so small that it’s arguably too small. I mentioned earlier I found the SP to be a bit tight and this unit isn’t much better. I find the layout minimizes the cramping issue slightly, but it gets rough when playing games that rely on the shoulder buttons. Metroid Fusion became particularly challenging after a half hour as the shoulder buttons are used in that game to angle Samus’ blaster. It’s not as easy to play as it probably would be if it were on the Super Nintendo or being played via the Gamecube’s GBA Player, but it was still an enjoyable experience. I beat the game, and would go on to play Metroid:  Zero Mission as well so it’s not like the Micro prevented me from enjoying Metroid. The only other game I ever had issue with was Final Fantasy VI, specifically performing some of Sabin’s moves as the small d-pad and hand fatigue might dissuade you from unleashing the dreaded Bum Rush attack! Games like A Link to the Past or Super Mario Bros. are comparatively simple, though some hand fatigue will still set in after lengthy sessions. Super Mario Bros. even alleviates some hand-cramping by allowing the R button to function as a second B button which is nice for running, though it takes getting used to if you’ve been playing Mario since the 80s and are accustomed holding B all of the time.

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It’s tiny, but it plays just fine.

The system itself has a rather nice feel to it. The stereo speakers aren’t going to wow you, as they didn’t on any other version of the GBA, but the overall weight feels good. The system is quite glossy making it actually far more attractive looking than a plastic Famicom controller. The format does mean there’s no way to protect the screen, but the system did come with a simple cloth carrying case which has always done the job for me. I wouldn’t recommend tossing it into a kid’s backpack or something, but slip that thing on and drop it in a pocket and you should manage just fine. It has a standard headphone jack, and since it’s quite old at this point it obviously lacks any sort of wireless hookup, but considering the Switch shunned Blue Tooth it probably wouldn’t feature that even if it were re-released today.

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I bought this “new,” but as you can see the box had a rough time getting to me.

If I were to sum up the Game Boy Micro in one word it would be “cute.” It’s meant to be a physically appealing gaming device even more so than a functional one. It doesn’t punt on functionality though and it’s a totally viable way to experience the Game Boy Advance library.  When I bought mine roughly a decade ago it was comparable in price to the Game Boy Advance SP with maybe 20 dollars or so separating the two. Since then it’s become more expensive and standard versions of the unit in clearly used condition now command more money than I paid for my limited edition version. As a result, I wouldn’t really recommend anyone buy a Micro if they’re simply looking to experience the GBA library of games. The SP is much more reasonable, or even an older DS. If you don’t mind spending the money though and you think the Micro is charming in pictures then you’ll probably be happy with your purchase. It’s a fun little device that will probably start a conversation if you pull it out in public and as the last official Game Boy it certainly holds a special place in the hearts of many Nintendo fans.


Popful Mail (Sega CD)

popfulmailThe Sega CD was quite possibly Sega’s first real misstep when it came to hardware and add-on peripherals for its products. It’s hard to say if it truly was though, as I don’t know if the Sega CD returned a profit for Sega. The mere fact that the company released three versions of the add-on suggests it at least viewed it as important to the company, but even if it did financially benefit Sega it’s hard to imagine it really helped the company’s image. And that’s because the Sega CD was pretty expensive and also pretty terrible. Sure, there are fans out there for the Sega CD and its library of games, just as there are for the Virtual Boy, but for the most part the software for the Sega CD was mediocre or downright terrible. Fans likely remembered that when Sega tried to introduce another add-on to extend the life of the Genesis/Mega Drive in the form of the 32X, which basically all acknowledge as a true flop. Sega’s hardware sales following this era of game consoles was poor enough to see the company exit the hardware space in 2000 and pivot to a software only company.

When I made a post about the Sega CD in 2011, my intention at the time was to do more. That inaugural post concerned a recent purchase of mine:  the Sega CDX. The CDX was the third iteration of the device following the first two versions released by Sega for the Model 1 and Model 2 Genesis. The CDX was the company’s first, and only, attempt at releasing what is essentially a stand-alone Sega CD as it also functioned as a Genesis. It was expensive, like all things seemingly related to the Sega CD, and retailed for an eye-opening $399 at release. Which is actually a bargain compared with some of the other non-Sega versions of the product. Pioneer actually released the LaserActive which could support Sega CD games, among other things, but the total would run a consumer $1,600! Premium game consoles were obnoxiously priced in the 90s and it’s no wonder they basically all failed.

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If you’re going to play a Sega CD game might as well do it on a CRT television.

I only purchased the CDX because I had forgotten it even existed until stumbling upon some eBay listings at the time and because I was a bachelor with disposable income. I never had a Sega CD growing up, but loved my Genesis, and I had always wanted one. The CDX was quirky and cute and it was much smaller than most consoles and was actually marketed as a portable CD player as well (a task it can do, but not very well) because of its diminutive size. It was pretty cool, and I ended up finding one in great shape that was only missing the original box. I cared little about that though and set myself to playing Sonic CD pretty much right away. The problems came when Sonic CD was finished.

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Popful Mail stars a bounty hunter by the same name who is quite terrible at being a bounty hunter.

I wanted to play more Sega CD games, and had a few others as the CDX came bundled with additional software, but there really wasn’t a lot out there worth playing. Basically all of the truly great Sega CD titles saw release on other consoles. And I’m mostly referring to the Lunar series when I say great. After Lunar, there was a smattering of worthwhile software, the problem though was that most of that software consisted of Genesis ports with enhanced audio and slightly upgraded visuals. After that though is the unique, Sega CD exclusive, software of which most is poor. You have likely heard about Nightrap which became infamous because some felt it was a weird fetish game about peeping on young girls and watching them get murdered. The actual title is far less interesting and it’s terrible. So many Sega CD titles went this route though where it was essentially video with occasional button prompts. And if you have watched video lifted from a CD before then you know it’s rather ugly.

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The game is reasonably nice to look at and it runs smooth with few interruptions for loading.

There was one game though that I wanted to play and I actually secured a copy relatively close to the time I purchased my CDX and that game is Popful Mail: Magical Fantasy Adventure. I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to get to it, but Popful Mail is a game that caught my eye because it’s a hybrid game. The game is a Platformer/RPG and I arrange the classifications in that order for a reason. It’s definitely more in-line with a traditional platformer, but it does indeed toss in some RPG mechanics. In the game, you play as Mail, a spritely young anime babe with a small outfit and a big personality. You run through the various levels which are all interconnected smiting bad guys and collecting gold. Along the way you’ll be able to spend some of that gold upgrading Mail’s equipment while also meeting non-player characters, some of which will ask for Mail’s help in tracking down an item or defeating an enemy. It’s a bit similar to Link on the NES, though without a robust leveling system. It’s a Falcom game published by Working Designs, so the production values are there and the gameplay is solid making it a relatively safe bet for purchase.

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The golem will likely be the first boss many encounter some difficulty with. Trial and error is the name of the game here.

The game opens with our protagonist, Popful Mail, out attempting to secure a bounty. Mail is an elven bounty hunter who, according to the game’s manual, sucks at her job. When the bounty goes bust, she turns her attention to a new target:  Muttonhead. This absurdly named character is a wizard with a 2 million gold bounty on his head so naturally Mail is pretty interested. The intro is done in anime and for a Sega CD title it looks pretty nice and the voice acting is lively. When the game drops you into play you’ll find yourself in control of Mail. She moves rather fast and has a heavy feel to her when she jumps. It takes some time to get adjusted, but it lends itself well to a speedy style of play. Or it would, if enemies didn’t sometimes take repeated jabs from Mail’s sword to fall. Each enemy encountered will have a health bar displayed in the game’s HUD at the bottom of the screen. Mail’s info is there as well and while she has 100 health she’s not particularly durable. If you just try to barrel ahead you may find yourself dead in short order.

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As you make your way through the game more characters join in Mail’s quest to take down Muttonhead.

In order to navigate this dangerous world, Mail will need to make use of all of her skills, of which there aren’t many. Her sword is her main method of attack and she can attack while standing, crouching, or jumping. When crouching, Mail can pull up her shield which will completely protect her from projectile attacks. It’s important to get used to this as Mail will often be tasked with dispatching one enemy while an enemy behind it shoots at her. One of the barriers for newcomers is learning the quirks of the game. Popful Mail basically requires you to abuse the fact that when enemies are blinking after a hit the player won’t take damage from them. It’s a key to beating the first really tricky boss, the golem, as he slides across the screen and can’t be cleared with a leap. Mail instead needs to just whack him and let him pass by her unscathed. If your timing is off though, the duration of this blinking state won’t be long enough and Mail will take a beating. The biggest hindrance to Mail’s existence is her natural desire to go fast. The game positions Mail approximately two-thirds of the way across the screen so if the player is zooming along there isn’t much chance to react to a new enemy. When enemies are defeated most will drop a small sum of gold while healing items (like various fruits and herbs) are hard to come by. The player is at least free to save their game whenever they wish so the penalty for death isn’t too terrible if the player saves often. When loading a game, the player will typically spawn wherever they entered the screen they were on at death.

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While out and about, the player will also encounter other characters in need of some help.

The game takes place mostly in levels that are long and connected. There is also a brief overheard map to traverse at times that more resembles Super Mario World than Link. Mail will be tasked with exploring the many stages both horizontally and vertically. There are different paths to take some of which lead to treasure and some of which advance the plot. Mail will often encounter NPC’s that need help before the plot can advance, like freeing someone from captivity who will then open a way to continue onward. Sometimes Mail will find little towns where she can spend her gold on upgrades. Mail can upgrade her weapons and armor which in turn improve her underlying stats, though she can’t level-up. These upgrades seem to do little though. If you’re struggling with an area and think the solution is to backtrack and buy better equipment then you’ll probably be disappointed. The solution is often to simply “get good” and take advantage of those saves.

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Gaw is the last to join the fun, but he’s certainly the most unique.

During Mail’s journey, she will eventually find some allies in her quest to stop Muttonhead. Tatto is the first ally Mail will add. He’s a wizard with a score to settle with our antagonist and he becomes available roughly an hour or so into the game. Eventually, Gaw will join the group as well. He’s a monstrous little bat creature that can’t fly, but he can jump higher than anyone else. The characters are largely distinguished in how they move. Mail is the fastest, but her jump is the worst. Gaw is the slowest, but he can jump the highest with Tatto settling somewhere in between. The other characters can also attack from a distance. Mail can as well if you supply her with daggers, but they’re costly. You’ll be able to augment Tatto’s abilities by buying new staves while Gaw can also improve his attacks by buying…a new tail? It’s odd, but it works well enough. Changing characters is done by accessing the menu and switching there. It would have been nice if selecting a character could have just been mapped to a button to cycle through, but it’s possible the game needs a little time to load the new sprite since this is a CD system. Each character also has his or her own health bar so unlocking a new character effectively doubles the available hit points. If one character falls though it’s game over, so you have to remember to switch them or heal if near death.

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If you’ve played a Working Designs game before then you should be familiar with the company’s brand of humor.

The game is not super long. The goal to unlock the best post credits content (basically just voice outtakes) is five hours. Most players will probably need six or seven on their first playthrough not accounting for deaths and reloads. The game is challenging, and it’s also arguably one of those games that starts harder before getting progressively easier as new characters and abilities are unlocked. It’s a mostly fun play, though it’s not going to “wow” most who play it. There’s not a ton of nuance in how to attack and Working Designs’ decision to make the enemies more resilient when localizing this wasn’t a great choice as things can get a bit tedious. Some enemy placements feel a bit cheap too as this is a game less about finesse and more fixated on trial and error. There’s a reason Falcom has continued with the Ys franchise and not the Popful Mail franchise all these years.

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Almost all of the dialogue in this game is voiced and there’s plenty of anime to help push the plot forward.

Being a CD game and one localized by Working Designs, it shouldn’t surprise many to know that what stands out most are the production values. The game is nice to look at, though visually it’s not really any more impressive than most Genesis titles. Character designs are kept simple and some of the boss characters are considerably larger than the player and are fun to take in. The voice acting is about as good as one could hope for in the early 90s as anime and video games didn’t exactly attract the best talent. Melissa Gulden, who voiced Mail, stands out as a bright spot for the game while some other performances can be a bit wooden. According to the manual, roughly 3 hours of voice work had to be compressed to fit onto the CD and it’s certainly noticeable when you hear it. That’s the reality of game development though back before DVD and high capacity media. The anime cut scenes are also compressed significantly, but it still looks all right.

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My own personal copy. I was fortunate to find one in terrific shape that even has this supplemental card and the foam insert.

I would say if you happen to be the owner of a Sega CD then Popful Mail is a worthwhile addition to your collection for the simple fact that it’s actually worth playing. The game was also released on the Super Famicom where it stands out less as that console is practically bursting with quality content. By far though, the biggest hindrance to playing Popful Mail in 2020 is cost. When I purchased this game in 2011 it wasn’t exactly cheap, but it wasn’t where it’s at today either. The Sega CD version for just the game is now routinely listed for hundreds of dollar. There are some sellers trying to get more than $500 for complete versions. Perhaps that makes me foolish for still clinging to my complete version. My copy is missing the mail-in survey card on the back of the manual, but I do have the “Attention!” card the game came with which tells owners how to properly format their console’s system memory for saving. Easily, the most economical way to play the game is to go after the alternate versions. They’re still not exactly cheap, but the Super Famicom version is far less expensive as is the PC Engine version. Even the Mega CD version is a lot cheaper, though it lacks that Working Designs polish (it’s also supposedly easier).

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Considering the game stars a buxom, anime, woman with no pants it probably comes as no surprise to learn there’s plenty of pervy art out there.

If Popful Mail were available to anyone who had a Sega CD and wanted the game then I’d say go for it. Since that isn’t the case though I can’t exactly recommend it. The price point has put this game into the territory of “For serious collectors only.” The Sega CD library is actually trending towards that. When I first purchased my CDX, the Sega CD wasn’t as sought after as it is today. It seems as people get older and get more interested in collecting retro games, everything has gradually gone up. It started with Nintendo games before spanning to the 16-bit games. As the actual good software disappears, collectors turn to other untapped libraries. And the Sega CD is desirable to collectors partly because the library isn’t massive compared with the Genesis or NES. It’s also more harrowing though as Sega CD hardware isn’t as reliable as cartridge-based hardware as those lasers are just ticking time bombs. If the Sega CD version of Popful Mail were to become available overnight on an E-shop it would be worth a look just to see what all the fuss is about. It’s a genre that’s been done much better, but the game is not without its charm.

 


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time (1991)

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The “hired birthday party turtle” look was certainly a bold presentation decision.

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.

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“Pizza power!”

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.

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The catalyst for this adventure.

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.

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This is the only way you’ll get to battle a Foot Soldier riding a dinosaur.

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.

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Krang and his damn bubble gun are super annoying.

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.

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The added battle with Shredder is a highlight of the SNES port.

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.

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Bebop and Rocksteady also get to join in on the fun on the SNES. You have to admire their commitment to the gimmick.

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.

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If you want to experience this game in 2020 just get the SNES version so you can experience those sweet, sweet, Mode7 visuals.

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.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989 Arcade)

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Faithful to the cartoon in every way except the cabinet art. It has since become charming on its own.

What began as a joke between aspiring comic book creators, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, eventually morphed into a multi-media juggernaut bestowing wealth and status upon the two. Along the way though, few predicted such big things out of a property titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The books sold well, but they were independently produced and in small numbers limiting how much money could be earned. Plus they were pretty violent and would never be considered suitable for a general audience. Eastman and Laird believed in it though, they just needed to convince those with the means to catapult their franchise to believe in it. Toy companies passed though, but eventually doll maker Playmates, needing to add a “boy’s toy” to its portfolio decided to take a chance. In order to help market the toys though, they needed something more suitable than the black and white, ultra-violent, comics that existed and a cartoon was born.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon was conceived basically as a means of promotion. A direct-to-syndication order was out of the question, and even a full season was apparently deemed too extravagant. Instead, a five episode mini-series was produced for air in 1987. The confidence in the property was still too low to even warrant a more traditional half-season order of 13 episodes. Five episodes was all it took though, and kids were hooked pretty quickly causing them to flock to stores and leave bare the TMNT section of the action figures aisle. A second season would be ordered, and apparently confidence was still a bit tepid as that was only 13 episodes. It wasn’t until the third season, which premiered in 1989, that the property received a direct-to-syndication massive order of episodes.

Because of the wavering, Turtle-mania basically had to wait until 1989 to really flourish. That’s when all of the merchandise started to arrive now that it was a proven hit. The first movie would arrive the following year, with the second close behind in 1991. 1989 was also the first year when video games started to arrive, and the no doubt biggest video game release of the year for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the arcade game of the same name.

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The Turtles made their arcade debut in 1989.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game gave fans a chance to basically play through an episode of the show. It was as true to the cartoon as any game would get and even featured voice talent from the show. The very first stage has Splinter sending the Turtles into a burning building to rescue April O’Neil and culminates in a showdown with Rocksteady and ends with Shredder making an appearance. The game throws a seemingly endless supply of Foot Soldiers at the Turtles and brings in more characters from the show such as Baxter Stockman (in human form), Bebop, Krang, among others and ends with a showdown against Shredder himself.

The game was created by Konami, who was awarded the license for all of the video games for this era. At this stage, Double Dragon had taken arcades by storm ushering in the era of the Beat-Em-Up genre of games. This genre, in which one or more players controlled a character who fended off wave after wave of enemies, became the preferred dumping ground for licensed software. Konami was arguably the leader in this development as it looked to the genre to support not just the Turtles, but also The Simpsons and X-Men. Konami’s take on the genre was far simpler when compared with rival Capcom or Sega. Rather than introduce complicated maneuvers to the action, Konami focused mostly on performance and presentation making sure their game resembled the source material while remaining accessible.

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Battling Bebop and Rocksteady with all four Turtles at the same time was something few thought was possible at the time.

Even by Konami standards, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a fairly simple gameplay experience. Players control one of the four Turtles with each one being mapped to a specific joystick on the four-player version of the arcade cabinet (the less popular two-player edition allowed players to select a character). Michelangelo was oddly assigned the color yellow instead of orange, a mistake Konami would double-down on with the sequel, Turtles in Time. Each Turtle could perform just two actions:  jump and attack. Players could combine them for a jump attack, but special super moves were years away. Players simply walked right for the most part and took down whatever came their way. A skateboarding level was tossed in to mix things up, though that just made the level auto-scroll instead of the usual deliberate pace. Still, little tricks like that work wonders on kids and most cited the skateboarding level as the highlight of the gameplay experience. Stages also introduced multi-level layouts and there were some interactive elements in the stages too. The only power-up was a pizza to restore health, a logical decision.

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The skateboarding level was just as mindless as the others, if not more so, but damn was it cool!

The music and visuals were where Konami really distinguished itself. The gameplay may be shallow, but there was enough glitz to sort of hide that. The Turtles looked and moved great and the boss characters were often bigger and a touch more elaborate. It felt like a real technological marvel to battle Rocksteady at the end of stage 1 followed by Bebop in the next stage, only to later take on both of them at the same time! The game was also murder on quarters as it was primarily designed to extract as much money as possible out of kids (or more appropriately, parents) and the game was pretty long to boot. Enemies are not staggered easily, or at all, forcing the players to either be deliberate or just charge in. The game is noticeably easier with 4 players, especially for the final boss who splits into three enemies. My most vivid memory of the game is playing it at a cousin’s birthday party at a roller-skating rink (yeah, dated). We made it to the Technodrome and were in the midst of battling Krang, the penultimate confrontation before Shredder arrives, when a kid who had been hanging around watching the whole time accidentally stepped on the power chord ending the game. My cousin, the birthday boy, was apoplectic while my aunt was probably relieved that she no longer had to feed us quarters. I was disappointed as I think it was the first time I even saw that much of the game, but I couldn’t help but feel bad for the kid who accidentally stepped on the thing.

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The NES port was woefully inferior, but it gave us Tora!

As was the case with any popular arcade game, Konami moved to release the title to home consoles. Since it arrived after Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES), it had to be re-titled as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II:  The Arcade Game. It was a severe downgrade as the sprites all had to be redone with less detail and fewer colors. The Turtles were just green and whatever color their mask was, while the boss characters often were limited to two or three colors as well. Konami tried to make up for this by adding additional stages, but you can’t put lipstick on a pig. It was also a lot easier so the game was actually beatable without a ton of quarters, but it was an immensely inferior experience.

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The Arcade1Up release bundles the game with its sequel, but it’ll cost ya. Plus the smaller scale makes playing as Leo and Raph more than a little awkward.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a huge thrill for arcade-goers and fans of the cartoon in 1989. It had the look, the sounds, and the swagger to get attention and mostly satisfy. In 2020, the nostalgia does make up for the diminished returns, but only so much. This is a simple and depth-free gameplay experience so it’s really only worth playing for the experience of seeing everything, before it runs out of steam. It makes it hard to recommend as an arcade cabinet for one’s home, whether you’re talking about buying an old cabinet or investing in Arcade1Up’s emulation machine as you’re not only devoting a considerable sum of money towards such a thing, but also the space it will occupy in your home or place of business. The NES port holds up even worse, and while I considered it a passable experience as a kid, I think I’d rather play any of the other TMNT NES games over it. The time to get one has mostly passed on it as in the late 90s one could have acquired a cabinet in decent shape for a reasonable sum as the nostalgia wasn’t quite there yet to drive up the price. Still, there are other ways to experience it and those might be worth a look for individuals wanting to take a stroll down memory lane or introduce a kid to the game. If you’re in the right headspace, you can have a bit of fun with this one, just don’t expect the fun to last very long.


WCW/nWo Revenge

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Released October 26, 1999

The late 90s was a great time to be a fan of pro wrestling and especially pro wrestling video games. World Championship Wrestling had been riding high with its New World Order stable, a collection of heels (bad guys) largely culled from the roster of competitor the World Wrestling Federation. It was a meta angle as it blurred the lines for fans between what was real and what was fake. When performers Scott Hall and Kevin Nash arrived for Monday Nitro it was unclear if they were still employed by the WWF. Of course they were not, but it was a surreal moment in wrestling history.

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If you saw this before your wrestling game you knew you were in for a good time.

1998 was the apex of the Monday Night Wars. WWF’s Raw is War had been on television for years before it was challenged by WCW’s Monday Nitro. Eager to be the king in the ratings war, WCW went all out to topple WWF by signing major stars away from the brand and occupying the same timeslot as Raw. Eventually, WCW added a third hour to its broadcast making it start a full hour before Raw. Fans would tune into Nitro at 8 EST, and if the product was good enough they might just hang around until 11 ignoring Raw all together. This was the era before DVR and on demand viewing so wrestling fans had to make a choice each week and stick with it, or tape one of the programs.

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The intro to this game is some bonkers stuff.

1997 was the nadir for WWF. The stars Vince McMahon was able to hang onto and invest in were failing him. Shawn Michaels had injuries and substance abuse problems which kept him off television for long stretches. He also didn’t get along with Vince’s chosen top guy, Brett Hart. So paranoid was McMahon that he would lose Hart to WCW like he had so many others that he signed him to a massive 20 year deal. Vince then had to back out of the deal, either because he couldn’t afford it or felt he had made a mistake, leading to the infamous Montreal Screwjob and another WCW defection.

Basically saving WWF was the unexpected rise of Stone Cold Steve Austin. Cast aside by WCW, Austin took his talents to Extreme Championship Wrestling where he did enough on the mic to get WWF’s attention. He initially was wasted on the roster as The Ringmaster, but when times got dark and things desperate, WWF basically turned to its talent and told them to “go to work.” Having creative freedom allowed performers to show off their real talents. Some got over, some did not, but certainly the biggest benefactor was Austin. Unfortunately, his ascension was put on pause when an accident at Summerslam 97 caused him to miss time with a serious neck injury. By early 1998 though, Austin was the new champ and WWF was back in the ratings lead.

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Late 90s wrestling was all about sex appeal, even in polygons.

WCW’s counter to the rise of Austin was another fresh face. Bill Goldberg somewhat looked the part of Stone Cold:  black trunks, black boots, goatee, though his character was quite different. Goldberg was a no nonsense battering ram who took down all challengers usually in less than 2 minutes. He basically had two moves, but they were two moves that looked pretty nice on TV. Crowds went nuts for him, and so desperate was WCW to maintain its hold on the ratings crown that it pit Goldberg vs Hollywood Hogan on cable television for the World Heavyweight Championship rather than using that match to sell a Pay-Per-View.

That was basically WCW’s last hurrah. After that it was mostly all downhill, but arriving at retail during Goldberg-mania was WCW/nWo Revenge. The sequel to WCW vs nWo – World Tour, Revenge was a much anticipated wrestling simulation for the Nintendo 64. The video game landscape had become just as competitive as the television one and WCW was the clear front-runner, until 1999, much like the shows. THQ was the license holder for WCW and while the games it produced for Sony’s PlayStation were pretty lackluster, the N64 games were much celebrated. By comparison, Acclaim had held the WWF license for the better part of a decade and was struggling to remain relevant. The games of the 16 bit era had been okay, but were extremely similar to each other and had grown quite stale. Acclaim would try to revamp its process with WWF Warzone, but most felt that WWF had the inferior game when compared with WCW.

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This was the video game debut for Goldberg, who has looked better.

THQ turned to the AKI Corporation and Asmik Ace Entertainment for development of its N64 WCW games. AKI would come up with a tremendously accessible system that it would use for its flagship Virtual Pro Wrestling series in Japan and adapt it for WCW games in the US. The approach to a match was fairly simple. Players controlled their chosen wrestler with the controller’s d-pad, as opposed to the analog stick, and had two primary modes of attack:  strikes and grapples. Both were context-sensitive in that pressing the strike button resulted in a quick strike, while holding it down resulted in a slower, but stronger, attack. With the grapple, wrestlers would enter the classic tie-up position. Whoever initiated the grapple would then select a move. Pressing either the grapple or strike button resulted in a move, as would pressing one in conjunction with a direction on the D-pad allowing for each wrestler to have a wealth of available maneuvers. Reversals were possible with the R button and a key to mastering the game’s CPU. The C-buttons were used for running, opponent selection, and entering/exiting the ring or ascending a turnbuckle. It was easy to learn and pick-up and proved quite addicting.

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AKI really injected some personality into the game giving wrestlers like Scott Hall their signature finishing maneuvers instead of something more generic.

World Tour, released in 1997, was a blast, but its clear shortcoming was the lack of bells and whistles. Revenge largely sought to rectify this with a refreshed roster and an injection of personality. The new arenas were modeled after the actual television arenas and looked pretty good, all things considered. AKI was also able to add-in all of the major championships including minor titles like the Cruiserweight belt and Television title. There was a lengthy intro added to the game, and the whole presentation just screamed WCW.

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The visuals get the job done in that you mostly know who is who just by looking at them, but they’ve certainly aged.

Visually, the game also looks better. Wrestlers are easy to distinguish from one another and if you were at all familiar with the television roster then you knew who each character was. Though it should be pointed out, this was never a great looking game even in 1998. It was functional, as the characters are quite blocky and the faces a bit weird. There was at least a difference in height between the really tall and the not quite as tall, though the cruiserweights in general look a bit too large compared with most. Technological limitations also prevented the game from including entrance music so everyone just enters to a generic theme. Entrances are also largely limited to the talent just doing their taunt on the way to the ring and upon entering. Some enter with a manager or valet, which is a nice a touch. There’s a stable system in place too so there’s nWo red and white as well as Raven’s Flock. Affiliated wrestlers will sometimes receive help from a comrade during a match too without the penalty of a disqualification.

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Allies will sometimes rush to the aid of a buddy, which can get a bit annoying when it happens every match in your opponent’s favor.

In the ring, everyone basically moves at the same speed and with the same weight. Super heavyweights can’t ascend a turnbuckle, but nothing will stop other wrestlers from suplexing them. The whole goal of a match is to ware your opponent down and get the crowd on your side. Once your spirit meter fills you’ll gain access to a Special status for a brief moment of time allowing you to unleash your wrestler’s signature move, or steal your opponent’s. Usually there’s enough time to hit your move twice, unless your wrestler has a long animation for it. Sometimes just hitting this special move is enough to score a pinfall, but most of the time just one won’t do unless your opponent is on the ground and twitching. Repeated blows to the head will also bust your opponent open, no weapons needed, which is a nice badge of honor. Taking the action outside the ring opens up the possibility to yank weapons out of the crowd. They’re not nearly as effective as they would be on TV, but it’s still fun to assault your opponent with a chair or baseball bat.

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Some guys even start matches with weapons. Lucky for them, there’s no DQ.

The in-ring action is all around solid, but does show its age. Collision detection was always a problem for this game. It’s not terrible, but there are moments where characters will partially pass through each other and you’ll have to time your attacks to avoid invulnerable animations your opponent may be in. There are no running grapples, and submission moves aren’t particularly effective making guys like Brett Hart and Chris Jericho a little less fun to use. And as simple and effective this gameplay is, it can be argued it’s not particularly realistic when compared with the televised product. How many matches consist of dozens of collar and elbow tie-ups leading to moves? None, really.

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Match types aren’t very robust and are limited to singles, tag team, battle royal, and handicap matches.

As far as game modes and match types go, Revenge definitely feels lacking and it always has. World Tour wasn’t robust either, and it’s a shame Revenge didn’t really do anything to rectify that. You basically have your choice of Championship and Exhibition modes. In Championship, you select the title you want to go after and then battle through 9 grapplers and become champion. It’s fine, but can get a little annoying as the CPU often gets outside assistance which lengthens the matches without making them really much harder. The order and grapplers faced are also a bit random as I encountered Sting in the US Title hunt when one would assume he’d be in the World Heavyweight Championship ranks. The opponents get harder as you go along, though what makes an opponent harder than the next is largely just how successful they are at reversing moves. This is something that always annoyed me with AKI games as it’s not something you have any control over, you just have to answer with reversals as well and hope to get lucky that your moves will stop being reversed.

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You can go after basically all of the major titles, but you have to win the minor belts first before the bigger ones open up.

In the exhibition mode, you have the option to compete in single and tag matches and there’s also an option for Special matches. These are just the battle royal and handicap matches. Battle royals are fine and most fun with four human players in a local setting. You can select as many as 40 entrants, but are limited to just 4 in the ring at once. Handicap is just two on one or three on one, if you like a challenge. When it comes to match types, it’s more about what’s missing. It’s kind of weird to have the ability to do a battle royal, but not a triple threat. Cage matches were also becoming a common match type in games so there being none in this game was a disappointment. And on TV, hardcore elements were all the rage so a lack of things like tables was always disappointing, though at this point in time ladder matches had yet to become a thing in games. This game also came before Create-A-Wrestler was a standard feature, but you can at least edit the attires of the existing guys.

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In terms of visuals, the arenas hold up better than expected.

WCW/nWo Revenge is a superior game to its predecessor. It was also better than WWF Warzone even if that game had more match types. It also had a shorter shelf life though since it’s a game that really relies on the gameplay alone. And it’s a good thing that an individual match against the CPU or a friend is quite fun, but there does come a time when you decide you can only topple a champ so many times. Back in 98, it was fun to try and keep up with the TV product so when Kevin Nash beat Goldberg at Starrcade 98 you could go into the game and battle your way with Nash to the title. Of course, game development being what it is, there were plenty of missing wrestlers. In 98, the biggest omissions were Ric Flair and The Warrior. It’s still weird to have a WCW game without Flair, though from a 2020 perspective I can’t say I miss Warrior since his WCW run was terrible. It’s a harder play through now since it’s missing so much of what modern games have. There’s still a lot of nostalgic fun in coming back to this old, flawed, yet beloved gameplay system. And if your nostalgia for wrestling in 1998 is slanted towards WCW, then this is the game for you.

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Over 20 years later, this game is still the best celebration of WCW you’re going to find in video game form.

If your nostalgia is for WWF though, then you’re probably playing either WrestleMania 2000 or No Mercy. Not long after Revenge was released, THQ’s agreement with WCW came to an end and WWF pounced. It was a crazy time as Acclaim still had a game in development in WWF Attitude. That game would arrive on the PlayStation in July 1999 with the N64 version following in August. Just a few months later came the AKI developed WrestleMania 2000 giving Attitude an incredibly short run of just two months as the newest WWF sim on the N64. WWF basically cannibalized one game in favor of another, but that’s how popular these AKI games were. It’s something we’re not likely to ever see again. Hopefully AEW can land a killer licensing agreement with someone so we have more options for wrestling games. For now, we’ll always have 1998-2000.


Catching up with MVP Baseball 2005

MVP_Baseball_2005_CoverartWe’ve had a warm winter up here in New England. That’s been especially true of late as Spring has really been in the air, even though it’s technically still weeks away. Whenever the weather starts to warm and the air has that damp taste to it, I start to think of baseball. Open windows, lemonade, Wiffle Ball out in the yard, and Spring Training on TV. Or rather, that would be true if not for the fact that we’re all basically self-quarantining this year thanks to the COVID19 virus, but I digress. This time of year makes me especially nostalgic for my college years when I had time to consume baseball in ridiculous quantities. I’d watch Baseball Tonight on ESPN religiously and look forward to the annual publication of the Baseball Prospectus handbook. As a fan of the Boston Red Sox, it was an especially good time to be a baseball junkie as the team finally captured World Series glory during that period. I had grown up a fan of the team watching the likes of Roger Clemens, John Valentin, and Mo Vaughn, among others always wondering what it would be like to see the team actually win something, but never really expecting it to happen.

It was during this period that I also spent many, many, hours with baseball video games. I had played some games on the my Nintendo Entertainment System when I was a kid, but the first baseball video game I fell in love with was the inaugural World Series Baseball for the Sega Genesis. I actually took the time to play through an entire season in that game more than once. The menus and interface were rather clunky, but the game itself was a blast to play. Back then, it was still a novelty just to have the actual Major League Baseball Player’s Association license alongside the actual MLB license. Many games had one or the other so you either had real teams with no-name players or real players on generic teams. After the 16-bit era ended, I drifted away from sports gaming. Falling in love with fighters, RPGs, and the occasional platformer meant I just didn’t have time. Perhaps getting a bit burnt out on some of those games is what brought me back when the PlayStation 2 era took off.

I bounced around from franchise to franchise initially when it came time to find a baseball game to enjoy. The first I came to love was 3DO’s High Heat. The gameplay was simple, but really fun, and it was the first title where I encountered a Guess Pitch gimmick as well as what has come to be known as Zone Hitting. Guess Pitch allowed you to predict what pitch was coming, guessing right meant a boost to performance while guessing wrong meant a penalty should you swing. Zone Hitting was an alternative to the cursor approach of World Series Baseball. With a cursor, you moved a reticle around the strike zone to try and guess where the pitch would arrive. You could try to adjust on the fly as well, though on the Genesis the response time made that difficult. With analog controls, it was easier, but it was never a mechanic I liked. Zone Hitting simplifies the cursor mechanic by breaking the strike zone down into nine zones or areas:  upper left, upper middle, upper right, middle left, middle-middle, middle right, bottom left, bottom middle, and bottom right. With a right-handed batter at the plate, pushing up and to the left (10 o’clock or so) meant your batter would try to hit a pitch that was up and in. It was a similar philosophy to cursor hitting, but required less precision. It made it much easier to adjust on the fly to a pitch and felt like a more realistic approach to the game.

High Heat was a lot of fun, but it really lacked the bells and whistles of other games. I would move onto the newer iteration of World Series Baseball put out by Sega and 2k which had the ESPN license as well. The 2003 version was the first time I played a baseball game that let you pitch with a camera placed behind the pitcher, like a television broadcast. I sunk many, many, hours into that game even though I never felt like I truly loved it. I wanted something more, and EA had an answer.

EA had been the market leader in the 32 bit era with its Triple Play franchise. That one was allowed to grow stagnant though and was in need of a serious overhaul. The PS2 edition was not well received, causing EA to make the drastic decision to axe the franchise in favor of a new one:  MVP Baseball. MVP immediately caught my attention due to the inclusion of a pitch meter. Borrowing the popular mechanic often seen in golf sims, the pitch meter was a way to add more player involvement to baseball. Basically every baseball game up to that point left the precision of where a pitch ends up to the A.I. of the pitcher being used. The meter puts some of that back in the hands of the player as they push a face button on the controller corresponding with the pitch they want to start the meter and hold it down to increase velocity. As the meter fills it turns from blue to red. Letting go brings the meter swinging back the other direction where another timed press needs to be initiated to stop the meter in a green zone. Depending on the effectiveness of the pitcher, the effectiveness of the selected pitch type, amount of velocity, and the pitcher’s level of fatigue, determines how large this green area is. This helps to separate the good pitchers from the poor ones, but also means players who are really good at using the meter can get the most out of the back of their bullpen.

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The standard view of the game. EA was quite proud of the picture-in-picture base-running at the time.

The first version of MVP Baseball was a bit rough around the edges. I passed on it, but I did so with the intent of buying the next version assuming EA ironed out the kinks. And they did, for the most part, as MVP Baseball 2004 ended up being my chosen game that summer. It was great, and the only blemish was the dreaded lefty glitch. Left-handed hitters had their power squashed to the point where the only way to usually hit a home run was to hold up and in on the analog stick and sit dead red. Come the following year though, that glitch was rectified and it was no longer exceedingly difficult to launch bombs with a hitter like David Ortiz. In addition to that, the game also had a robust Owner Mode added to go along with the popular Dynasty Mode from the prior year. Single-A affiliates were added to both modes giving players access to a deep minor league system. Additional mini games sweetened the deal and many fans seemed to agree that MVP Baseball had become the premiere baseball video game of its time.

Unfortunately, that was the last iteration of MVP Baseball as a Major League franchise. A few months before release, EA shocked the sports gaming world by locking up the exclusive video game rights to the National Football League. This put an end to the 2k franchise NFL 2k and set off a mini arms race for league rights. 2k responded by locking up the exclusive third party rights to Major League Baseball. This meant the end for both of my preferred sports franchises, and I was devastated. A college edition of MVP followed, but it just wasn’t the same for me. The only silver lining is that 2k’s deal did not prevent first-party publishers from licensing MLB for their games opening the door for Sony San Diego’s MLB The Show which has become the new standard in baseball sims. 2k’s World Series Baseball deteriorated into mediocrity eventually leading to the cancellation of the franchise. As far as I know, nothing is preventing EA from getting back into the baseball business, but baseball games aren’t as hot as football so apparently nothing has convinced the publisher to do just that.

As I have with the last edition of NFL 2k, I’ve found myself compelled to revisit the greatness that is MVP Baseball 2005. I’ve never been as compelled to return to it as I was with the NFL product, but I think that has a lot to do with the quality of The Show. The Show was never shy about taking from MVP what worked making the early versions of it feel like a clone of sorts. It eventually found its own identity, and I’m quite confident in stating that modern versions of that franchise are superior to MVP Baseball 2005, something I also had to begrudgingly admit when it comes to modern Madden vs NFL 2k5. Still, that doesn’t mean MVP has been rendered irrelevant. There’s a reason a dedicated modding community has continued to exist for the PC version keeping the game as up to date as any other. Since I have a PS2 copy, I can’t take advantage of such things, but that’s fine by me as part of the joy of playing this is seeing the old rosters largely populated by players who have since retired.

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Most of the players look all right, some are certainly better than others. Most have this same “dead eye” look Manny has.

EA has always been great at adding a layer of polish to the presentation of its games and MVP carries on that tradition. A fun video intro gets the game rolling along with an introduction from a real life player, coach, or fans letting you know “If it’s in the game, it’s in the game,” a slogan heard many times back then. Boston’s Manny Ramirez was the cover athlete for this edition I guess owing to him being named World Series MVP the prior season. Since this is the game that comes fresh off that legendary title, it makes it quite easy for me to find affection for it, even if the 2005 Red Sox weren’t a particularly fun bunch.

I’m playing this game on a PlayStation 3 hooked up to a modern television. I feel this should be mentioned because out of all of the sports genres, baseball games have benefitted the most from high definition. It makes the batter/pitcher interface a lot easier to see for my aging eyes, so going to a more grainy presentation like this takes some adjustment. MVP added a new mechanic for the 2005 edition that color codes pitches as they’re being delivered. The best and most difficult pitchers hide the ball during their wind-up making it tough to see what’s coming until the ball has left their hand. No color means a fastball variant, while red indicates a breaking ball, green a change-up, and purple for sinking pitches. This makes up for the game’s resolution being too low to properly show rotation on the ball. And since pitchers change speeds often, it doesn’t make things that much easier. A pitcher that throws both a curveball and a slider, for instance, has an advantage over one that just has one breaking ball as there is still a reaction element at play as both are colored red. I find the older I get the worse I am at reacting to a good fastball, so in replaying this one I find I like to wait for a change-up and only sit on heat if it’s something I know I can handle.

kevinmillar

Meet Bizarro Kevin Millar.

The graphics in 2005 when the game launched were pretty good, but obviously are a bit lacking today. For the most part, the superstars look the way they should. I think the game does better with the players who have extensive facial hair as it allows them to cover-up a jawline. On the Sox, Jason Varitek and David Wells look particularly good, while Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke hardly resemble their real-life self at all. This was also an era where there were still scab players in the Majors from the 94 strike season who were never allowed entry into the MLBPA as a result. That means a guy like Kevin Millar is replaced by a fake player who does not resemble the real world version in the slightest. Barry Bonds also famously opted out of the licensing agreement apparently thinking he could land his own game or something (he never did) so he’s also been replaced by a fake guy. Some animations are also better than others. Certain swings look great and others do not. Surprisingly, Manny Ramirez’s swing is a bit iffy even though he was the cover athlete. I think that’s partly the result of too much scrutiny being put on him because he’s the cover athlete to make his swing unique and “special” when it really didn’t need much.

hittingminigame

The mini games were a lot of fun in 2005 and they still are today.

I found the mini games were a good place to start in coming back to this title. The pitching mini game is pretty addicting as it turns pitching into a block puzzle game. You have a time limit and need to accrue a certain amount of points to move onto the next round. To do so, you toss pitches at the strike zone which has been filled with colored bricks which correspond to a given pitch in the pitcher’s arsenal. Simply breaking a brick with a pitch will net you some points, but to really drive up the score you have to stack like-colored bricks to create a large swath of that color and then bust them all up with a single pitch. The hitting mini game has you select a hitter and a pitcher (just for their delivery animation, their arsenal of pitches isn’t affected as all will be able to throw everything) to swing at ten pitches. Before each pitch is thrown, the game tells you what it wants you to do with the pitch and gives a general idea of where the pitch will be. Usually, it will want you to either hit a fly ball or grounder, and it will want it to one of the three fields:  left, center, right. Hit both goals and you get a bunch of points plus a point for each foot the ball travels, hit just one and you get a smaller goal or if you miss the goal all together you can still salvage some points via the foot bonus. Miss and go the complete opposite way and you’ll incur a penalty. A foul ball always results in a score of zero. In the field are also obstacles and opportunities for more points. Hit a tractor cutting the grass for an extra 1,000 points, while strike one of the discarded automobiles beyond the outfield fence will also net a small bonus. There’s a vortex that will spit the ball back at home plate as well as ramps which will either reward or penalize the hitter by either speeding up the ball or deadening it. Both games are quite fun, but I found the hitting one to be especially addicting. It’s great to play with a slugger, but I think my favorite hitter to use may be Ichiro since his bat control is amazing.

The other modes, and the ones I used to spend most of my time, are Dynasty and Owner Mode. Dynasty is your typical season or franchise mode. You select a team and basically take over the duties of a general manager. You build the team using the funds dictated by the owner and oversee development of the minor leagues as well. You’re free to play the games, sim them, or manage them. Manager Mode is pretty entertaining and allows you to make a managerial decision for each plate appearance in a game. It’s a quick way to resolve a game while also giving you some involvement. The Show has implemented such, but takes it too far by actually putting you in the game for every pitch which just makes it drag and defeats the purpose.

Owner Mode was new for the 2005 game and it’s basically a more robust version of Dynasty, but with a few added quirks. For starters, you begin the mode by building a new stadium. It’s kind of neat, but really limited. It also feels a bit sacrilegious to select the Chicago Cubs only to not play in Wrigley. This is mostly done though to force you to start from scratch as the way to make money in this mode is by selling tickets and other items related to the ballpark. You need to amass a lot of money to add more seats and concessions if you want to afford the best players. This actually makes selecting a big money power house like Boston or New York really challenging as you’ll struggle to make payments early on. You may even need to jettison some of those expensive veterans just to scrape by.

Owner Mode is pretty neat for what it is, but it’s almost too involved for my taste. I much prefer to be a virtual GM and leave the mundane stuff like ball park maintenance to someone else so Dynasty Mode is where I’m at. And Dynasty Mode is quite good at what it wants to do, but it does come up short compared with modern titles. For one, the interface was never great. Some of the menus are clunky and I miss the feedback of The Show’s trading screen which let you know if a proposed trade was likely to be accepted or not. It feels like a guessing game and since you don’t even know what an A.I. controlled team is after you have little to go on. The same is true for negotiating contracts with players. On my virtual Red Sox team, Bronson Arroyo was unhappy because he was only making 300k. He wanted 2 years at 3M, but I countered with 3 years and that apparently pissed him off. I then upped my offer to 3.5M per year, and he just got angrier. You would think a guy would love a 1,000% pay increase and job security, but I guess not?

05redsox

It is quite a trip to look at these old rosters populated almost exclusively by players who are now retired.

The Player Morale feature is perhaps the most annoying. Players are basically controlled by how often they play relative to the role dictated by their contract, how well they’re playing, and by how much money they’re making. What’s really annoying is that the default roles are way off. Every starting pitcher on the Red Sox, for example, is classified as an MLB Ace. This means they expect to be in the #1 starter position on the depth chart, but obviously there can be only one. Curt Schilling is rightly classified as an ace as that was his status at the time, but even Tim Wakefield has that distinction as does Wade Miley who in the real world had signed a small deal with Boston because he was coming off a major injury. Similarly, guys in the lineup who were added to be platoon players (i.e. they only start when the pitching matchup favors them due to the handedness of the pitcher) like Jay Payton are rated as “MLB Every Day” so they expect to start every day. When players are not deployed in their specified role, you can try and sign them to a new deal to better reflect it, but good luck there. The only other options are to either trade them, release them, or demote them. Somewhat thankfully, the game does not have a realistic system for sending players to the minors so anyone can be sent down. In the real world, a veteran can’t be demoted without consent forcing you to release them.

Another unrealistic aspect in the game concerns minor league players. Twenty years ago, the MLB PA was really hesitant to allow actual money in its games and accurate contracts. They felt it did them no favors to have fans be able to easily see how much money they were making. That was loosening by the time MVP 05 came out, but perhaps it’s why the contract system isn’t perfect. In the real world, a player needs to accrue six seasons worth of service time to qualify for free agency which makes it very easy to hang onto up and coming players. In MVP, they just have a contract that must be dealt with like any other so you could actually lose that star shortstop on your Triple A team before he even sets foot in the Majors. It’s annoying, but it was the standard then. One thing the game does do well though is give you opportunities to improve these prospects via the mini games. During Spring Training, you can put your best prospects through those games which earns them a permanent boost to their underlying stats. My biggest complaint with The Show is that prospect development sucks with most just staying the same. In this game, your can’t miss prospect will likely blossom into a true star if you keep at it. The other unrealistic aspect of Dynasty Mode lies in the offseason. That’s when the draft takes place, even though that actually happens during the season in the real world. It’s not a big deal, but worth pointing out. The offseason is also condensed into 6 weeks for free agency in which you make an offer, sim to next week, and go from there. You’ll be able to track the best offer made to each player and adjust accordingly, or they’ll sign. This is where the player role actually adds to the experience as you may not want to pay someone to be your ace pitcher, for instance, but perhaps you can offer more money. Every player has a desired contract length, amount, and role so it allows for some variety in the negotiations.

mvpminors

A fairly robust Minor League system makes player development a lot fun, but also introduces more cumbersome rosters to manage.

Dynasty Mode is fine for what it is, but none of it really matters if the actual game doesn’t hold up. I’m happy to say that while it certainly has aged, the game is still fun to play. First of all, it moves much faster than modern games which is very much appreciated. I’m used to a game taking over an hour, but I find most of these ones take about 35-40 minutes. The pitch meter takes getting used to, but it’s still a strong mechanic. Hitting is a little less enjoyable. MVP uses zone hitting, referred to as the Pure Swing System, though with the added quirk that pushing up on the stick is done to hit a fly ball while down is meant to influence a grounder. It’s an odd mechanic, but the game largely seems to work best with the old “see the ball, hit the ball” belief and just put the stick where the ball is. If the pitcher throws a down and in fastball, just put the stick down and in. You may still elevate the ball. That’s something that seems more true of the 05 game than the 04 one, but I don’t know if anything was actually changed.

The shortcomings of the game itself are largely technological, but the clunky menus do still present a minor obstacle. Outside of games, managing your various rosters is a chore. They’re slow and not well organized and I wish players had numerical ratings instead of these meters for comparison. In game they’re only marginally better. If you try to access every thing via the Pause menu, you’ll find them slow and lacking in options. For example, you can’t access your bullpen while your team is hitting, so if you forgot to get someone warming before the previous half inning ended then you’re stuck with your current pitcher. That is, unless you realize you can access your bullpen from the Quick Menu achieved by holding down R2 at anytime. The Quick Menu is convenient, but it’s silly that certain functions are only accessible via it. Like many sports games, you’ll also encounter a glitch here and there. I’ve recently run into two such glitches. On one, the A.I. controlled outfielder threw wild into the infield following a flyball out. The ball sailed past the catcher and then just sat on the grass. No one would go get it. Thankfully, I had a runner on second so I had him run around the bases and score which moved things along. It was disappointing though as I was in a one-run game at the time and that was a cheap way to double my lead. Another glitch occurred when my third basemen caught a little pop-up. I don’t know why, but it was scored a hit even though the ump said “Out.” I even checked the replay to make sure it wasn’t a high chopper or something or to see if my player dropped the ball, but no such thing occurred. Thankfully, I got the next batter to hit into a double play.

By far though, the biggest weakness I found with MVP 05 was the artificial intelligence of opposing managers. Even though each game in Dynasty Mode has an impact rating, opposing managers treat every game the same. If you’re in an elimination game and get out to an early lead against the starter, don’t expect him to be pulled. And if he is, you can bet the mop-up man is coming in and he’s going to pitch multiple innings no matter what. He might even do that multiple days in row! You can’t see how much stamina the opposing pitcher has unless you’re in manage mode, but the A.I. managers have no qualms about throwing a guy who is spent. It makes the Playoffs feel less special than they should. I also find the difficulty hard to manage. Simply put, playing on “Pro” or medium difficulty results in a game that’s way too easy. I routinely win games 8-1 or 5-0 on that setting. Bump it up to hard and the inverse becomes the norm. I also found it really hard to strike guys out. Back in the day, I was good enough at the game to hold my own on the hardest setting, so maybe just playing a hundred hours would solve this problem, but I no longer have that kind of free time to devote to a sports game.

The other presentation aspects of the game are less important to me, but worth mentioning. Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow provide the commentary and at the time it was considered really good, but now sounds really limited. Sometimes they give away plays right off the bat which is annoying like when you’re trying to run down a lazy fly and Kuiper calls it a hit while still in the air. The licensed music is basically a mixed bag, you might like it, you probably won’t. It gets repetitive, though I was surprised at how nostalgic it made me feel. Granted, those feelings didn’t last all that long.

I’ve said a lot of words about MVP Baseball 2005 and I could keep going. There’s a lot to dissect with sports titles like this because there are so many nuances to the gameplay, too many to cover them all. Some of those nuances matter more to certain players, but ultimately I think the gameplay here is still fun and a good representative of what the actual game of baseball was like in 2005. I wish the A.I. was better and the contact system more realistic, but if I want that I have modern titles to look to. The real question is will someone who never played this game who has heard how great it was for 15 years be impressed if they pick it up today? It depends on their perspective. If they weren’t playing games 15 years ago, then they probably won’t, but if they’re at least modestly familiar with baseball games of yesterday then they just might be blown away. Anyone who spends enough time with it will probably find something to like, even if it’s just the mini games or the oddly addicting Manager Mode. In short, the game holds up as one of the best baseball titles ever made.


NECA TMNT Loot Crate Wild Speculation Post!

mirage_shredder_crateIt was announced earlier this week that a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles branded Loot Crate was incoming later this year. NECA, or NECA’s parent company to be more exact, rescued Loot Crate from bankruptcy last year and has been aiming to revamp the subscription service by incorporating NECA product into the boxes. If you’re not familiar with the scheme (some would argue scam), Loot Crate is basically a blind box service. Each box usually retails for about $50 and the only thing the buyer knows is what the general theme of the box will be. They’re almost always advertised as being a greater value than what they’re charging, which is a ludicrous statement, and instead they’re full of junk that would be a hard sell on its own. That’s likely why the service went bankrupt, but NECA appears at least committed to making this thing worthwhile.

There was a series of essentially trial Loot Crates with the NECA branding. One such crate was the Spirit of Splinter set. It came with a variant of the Splinter action figure from NECA’s TMNT movie line that was colored blue to resemble the character from the scene in the woods where he appeared as a ghost, or spirit, to encourage his adoptive children. The crate was $50, so if you’re in it for the figure it’s not the greatest value since NECA figures retail for around half that amount. It also had a shirt, patch, pin, and a Foot bandana based on the same from the film. It’s not an awful set, but I wasn’t really into the figure so I passed. Since the property is hot though, the resale value appears relatively high on eBay so anyone who did purchase it could probably turn it into a small profit, if they so desired.

spirit_splinter

If you wanted a blue Splinter you missed your opportunity.

That Splinter set apparently was successful enough to warrant a new round of crates. Announced Wednesday, a trio of TMNT crates are set to arrive this year with the first one arriving sometime in June. The featured action figure for that set is a first appearance Mirage Shredder. This is only the second time this figure is being released as the first time was as part of a four-pack with some Foot Soldiers for San Diego Comic Con. That Shredder was also colored based on the color version of the debut issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This version is basically all blue and black and looks pretty neat. He’ll have some accessories as well and the crate will come with additional items that likely tie into the original comic line in some way.

bunny_bebop_tease

I can’t believe how much I want this.

What we don’t know, at this time, is what the featured figures will be in the next two crates. For those, NECA has provided only the theme and a few hints. Crate #2 is an arcade themed crate and the placeholder image is the Turtles battling the Foot in the first stage of the original arcade game with April in the background. NECA confirmed via its Twitter account that the figure will NOT be an arcade deco April, and since the Turtles have been released already, it won’t be them. The third crate is based on the 1987 cartoon and the placeholder image is Rocksteady. The only other info we have is that it will not be a variant of Casey Jones (some had guessed at a version of Casey in a suit). Patrons who are all-in on this trio of crates and pay for all three upfront receive a bonus figure of Bebop in a bunny suit from the cartoon. No images have been shown yet so we don’t know how much re-tooling is needed for the existing Bebop figure to conform to this. He could just have new hands and a cloth suit.

That silly Bebop was actually the thing that pulled me in. I love goofy variants, and while I’m less enthusiastic about the First Appearance Shredder I decided to take the plunge with the safety net being if I don’t really want one of the other figures, I can probably at least sell them for cost online. Even though the Bunny Bebop is the figure I covet most, it hasn’t stopped me from speculating on what the other two figures will be. The guessing game is so fun for me that I decided to put my thoughts down here, so let’s see if I can get these thoughts organized.

For the arcade wave, NECA has released or shown the following for retail:

  • All four Turtles
  • Multi-colored Foot Soldiers
  • Shredder (Turtles in Time Arcade)
  • Shredder (Arcade)
  • Slash (Turtles in Time SNES)
  • Leatherhead (Turtles in Time)
  • Granitor (Arcade)
  • Traag (Arcade)
arcade_crate

The lone hint provided by NECA for crate #2.

And as mentioned, we can rule out April. The image NECA provided as a clue is the Arcade version of the first game. It’s also the first level which featured a boss fight against Rocksteady. Also of note, NECA showed off Granitor and Traag a long time ago and has never come back and confirmed them for release. The current figures at retail are based on Turtles in Time, and Krang’s loyal rock soldiers did not feature in that game. In other words, I think they’re in play. Cartoon versions are on the way as part of wave 4 too, so we’re just talking a simple repaint here. With all that said, let’s speculate! I’m ranking based on the likelihood of who gets released:

neca_dimensionx_trio

NECA showed off this trio almost three years ago and we just now received Slash. Granitor and Traag have mostly been ignored since save for the cartoon reveal.

  1. Granitor/Traag – This seems like a good spot for one of these two guys. There’s nothing separating the two, hence why I rank them together. It’s also a smart marketing idea as one could be included this round, and the other figure could follow in the next wave. Anyone who has Traag will want Granitor and vice versa.
  2. tmnt_arcade_level1

    Rocksteady is the boss for the pictured level, though if he’s the subject of crate #3 it seems less likely he’d be featured in crate #2 as well.

    Rocksteady – we kind of half to assume he’s high on the list because the image provided features the rhino as the boss character. And Rocksteady would just be a simple repaint of the current figure, perhaps with the added benefit of including his helmet. And like the scenario I outlined with Granitor and Traag, it opens up the possibility of featuring Bebop further down the road. And both characters were unique to the first Arcade game as far as their attire is concerned. For the SNES version of Turtles in Time, the two appeared in pirate attire which would necessitate all new sculpts. I think it’s safe to say, whatever is included in these Loot Crates will be repaints of existing figures with only minor re-tooling. I’d actually list Rocksteady as the most likely figure if he wasn’t the placeholder image for crate #3.

  3.  NES Rocksteady – Not to be confused with the figure above. The image provided is clearly from the arcade version of the game, so I think it’s more likely the figure comes from there than from the NES, but the NES version of the game does present some additional opportunities. Considering NECA already did Slash who was unique to the home console version of Turtles in Time, it suggests the NES version of the arcade game isn’t off-limits. When that game was ported, some concessions had to be made as the NES was not capable of outputting the same amount of colors as the arcade game. And for that version, Rocksteady appeared in basically a black, white, and gray attire. It actually makes him look a little more like the Playmates figure than the cartoon, and it’s not an ugly look for the character. It’s also an easy thing to accomplish as NECA could just re-color the existing figure. Though again, he’d need a helmet.
  4. tora

    a Tora figure would be pretty damn fun.

    Tora – If that name isn’t familiar then that’s okay, as we’re not talking about a very popular character. Tora is the white dog/wolf boss from the snowy level of the NES game. He’s never appeared anywhere else, as far as I know, nor was he ever done as an action figure. Because of his obscurity, it makes sense for him to be featured in a subscription service like Loot Crate. He could probably utilize some of the parts made for Bebop and/or Rocksteady with the only challenge being he’d require a unique headsculpt and he had a leather jacket. If given the choice, I think I’d most like to see this happen as it feels fun, though all signs point to the figure being from the arcade version of the game and not the home console port.

  5.  Roadkill Rodney (s) – We know Roadkill Rodney is on the way as part of the cartoon line, so a pixel deco version would also make sense at some point. The character appears in both arcade games, so it’s possible it could show up in the Turtles in Time retail wave. This would probably be the cheapest option as the figures aren’t particularly large, though if they feature rubber tires or something then I could be mistaken. This strikes me as the least exciting option though and I don’t know that it would be met with much enthusiasm.

That’s my top 5 most likely for the arcade crate. I kept my guesses to just the original arcade game and the NES release, but if it also could include Turtles in Time figures then that expands things considerably. That game features Tokka, Rahzar, and Super Shredder which are all getting released as part of the movie line. Would NECA do a pixel deco on any of them and release them? I think so, but I also think they would rather release them as single-packs to retail and not in a Loot Crate. Baxter the Fly also features in the home NES arcade port and both versions of Turtles in Time. He has a figure on the way in the cartoon line, though he’s considerably larger in the games and I’m not sure if that figure is really appropriate for a game version. Maybe NECA isn’t too concerned though. Metalhead is also in that game, so he would be possible. Krang is featured in both, but I ruled him out as his android body is probably too big for this kind of release, but I’d love to be wrong!

UPDATE May 5, 2020 – Well, the identity of the figure has been revealed and I can say that I was way off. NECA promised some oddball releases for Loot Crate, and the Arcade themed crate certainly fits that bill. The website was just updated with a picture of what appears to be a ninja turtle getting electrocuted. It either has a light built into it or it’s merely glow in the dark and the character appears to be in mid scream. It’s not super exciting, but I suppose it will pair well with the eventual Roadkill Rodney release.

cartoon_crate

The lone hint for crate #3. Seems like Rocksteady is a given, no?

Let’s turn our attention now to crate #3. We have even less to go off of here as the image is just Rocksteady and it’s the same licensing artwork featured in NECA’s action figure release, so we don’t even have an episode or season to go off of. It wouldn’t exactly be much of a hint if the figure wasn’t Rocksteady, but for completion’s sake, here’s what NECA has done or is prepping for release at Target:

  • All four Turtles
  • Shredder
  • Krang (Bubble Walker and Android Body)
  • Foot Soldiers (regular and damaged)
  • Bebop
  • Rocksteady
  • Casey Jones
  • April O’Neil
  • Baxter the Fly
  • Splinter
  • Granitor
  • Traag
  • Leatherhead
  • Metalhead
  • Foot Alpha
  • Triceratons (Various colors)
  • Bunny Bebop
  • Roadkill Rodney
  • Slash
bunny_minions

Could figure #3 simply be a Bunny Rocksteady to complete the pair for those who are all-in? Maybe, though it seems like NECA would reserve him for a future release.

That’s a lot of figures, and I may even be forgetting some. NECA has also strongly hinted that Ace Duck and Mukman and Joe Eyeball are forthcoming, and the assumption is that neither would be featured here. Again, we’re mostly assuming this figure will be a variant of an already released or soon-to-be released character. And since this crate may be arriving in the fall, virtually all figures to be released are in play. Though since the image is Rocksteady, I have to go with him first:

human_rocksteady

Might a human version of Rocksteady be on the way?

  1. First-Appearance Rocksteady – Rocksteady didn’t show up as an existing mutant, he had to first be some regular dude who wasn’t very nice. He basically featured the same outfit as his rhino form, only with a vest and no helmet. NECA could simply retool the existing figure and give him a new head to accomplish the job. It would then setup for a future crate figure of human Bebop.
  2.  Bunny Rocksteady – if the bonus fourth figure is Bebop in a bunny costume, then fans are going to wonder when they can complete the pair. As a result, a Bunny Rocksteady makes sense as once again it’s an existing figure with a few new additions. And as a bonus, since the two-pack continues to be hard to find at retail, it gives collectors another opportunity to get these figures. Especially if the bunny outfit is just a cloth addition leaving the regular figure underneath largely intact. The only reason why I think it won’t be a rabbit version of Rocksteady is that it probably makes more sense for that to be the featured bonus figure of another round of Loot Crates. Such a maneuver is borderline mean, but that’s capitalism for ya!
  3.  Ultimate Rocksteady – Basically, just the regular figure with more accessories including a helmet, something fans have been requesting ever since the original two-pack was released last November. It wouldn’t be very sexy, but considering how hard those figures have been to find it might give NECA some reason to assume fans would still be onboard with such a move. It’s not what I would want, but I also wouldn’t hate it.
  4. mightyhognrhinomanRhino-Man – I talked about wanting this figure in my list of most wanted NECA figures, so naturally I’d put him here. This was Rocksteady in a super hero costume. He could easily be repainted to accomplish the look well enough, and once again it would setup for a future release of Bebop in his super hero attire. Since fans would expect such a move, that version of Bebop could once again occupy the bonus figure slot or something.
  5. Mighty Rocksteady – I’m sticking with the Rocksteady theme! It just seems to me that if NECA wanted to give fans a hint (and they confirmed that was the goal), then making the figure something other than Rocksteady seems pointless. It would just mean the hint was actually no hint at all and reinforce that we shouldn’t trust these going forward, which wouldn’t be much fun. Mighty Rocksteady is the robot replacement from the episode “Super Bebop and Mighty Rocksteady.” He still looks like Rocksteady, but he’s metallic. Potentially, any figure would be a mash-up of parts made for Rocksteady and Metalhead. Though admittedly, to really get this figure right and do him justice it would be preferable to create an all new mold which is why I think he’s the least likely version of Rocksteady to be featured in this crate.
mighty_rockteady

A Mighty Rocksteady would be considerably harder to pull off, but that Bunny Bebop looks like it might feature a lot of new sculpting so who knows?

That’s it, my picks for most likely figures. I hope this doesn’t come off like an advertisement for NECA and Loot Crate, but it felt like a fun exercise to undertake. I’d prefer to not have to deal with the Loot Crate nonsense to get these exciting figures, but given how hard they’ve been to find at retail it’s not the worst thing to actually know I’m guaranteed to get four new figures this year. Expect a review for each one when it arrives and I’ll definitely refer back to this post to grade how well I did.

UPDATE May 5, 2020 – NECA’s Randy Falk confirmed in an interview with Pixel Dan that crate #3 will indeed be Rocksteady in an Easter Bunny costume. I put the update here so that hopefully you still got to enjoy my wild speculation before having it spoiled for you!


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