Category Archives: Video Games

Tiny Arcade Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Turtle Fighter

Ready to experience the classic game…Turtle Fighter?

The best way to quickly view the passage of time is through technology, and perhaps no piece of technology is better suited for such an exercise than video games. What was once high-tech is now novelty while the modern video game is almost incomparable to what passed as a game 30 years ago. And one of those measurements of time is available via the Super Impulse Limited run of Tiny Arcades. These devices are smallish arcade cabinets, so small they all have a keychain affixed to them, that contain one classic game. They’re not actually emulated though, or even really ports, but are actually remakes that aim to capture the look and feel of the original. Most of these games are so simple, like Pac-Man and Galaga, that it’s not readily apparent you’re not playing a ROM unless you’re super familiar with the originals.

Notice the only thing the box promises is that it’s functional.

Super Limited apparently wants a challenge, and one of its latest releases is an interpretation of the classic 1989 arcade brawler Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Adapting this game is considerably more ambitious than anything Tiny Arcade has done before. The promotional images looked promising though as the cabinet was decked out in the familiar imagery of that old cabinet complete with Konami logo. It promised authentic gameplay too, but I was rather skeptical. At approximately $20, it seemed like a worthwhile purchase as a novelty item. I certainly didn’t expect it to be a great way to experience the old game, but I was far too curious to resist.

At least they didn’t try to cram four joysticks onto this thing.

Things have changed since the first unveiling. I first noticed the shape of the cabinet is a little different when I picked this sucker up recently at a nearby Target. The screen appears to be a little bigger, but also orientated different for a more vertical display. As a result, the base below the screen has been shrunk making the controls lower to the ground while maintaining the same height of approximately three and a half inches. It’s unfortunate since I was really interested in this as a display piece for action figures. It was already too short, but now it’s even shorter and I’ll need to factor that in when I got to make a “riser” for this thing. If I do. The Konami logo has also been removed, either because Super Impulse didn’t want to pay for it or perhaps because Konami didn’t want to be associated with this thing. The button layout was also changed and instead of the usual two buttons with the nub-stick it actually has four. The unit is powered by three AAA batteries which are included and it comes in the familiar clear plastic packaging with some licensing art emblazoned on it.

It kind of looks the part, though my camera is obviously going to make it look worse than it is.

Turning this thing on and you immediately will notice the music is different. The original begins with the cartoon theme, and Super Impulse assuredly didn’t want to pay for the rights to that song. It’s been replaced with a very generic and very annoying new tune. Otherwise, the beginning is pretty familiar, aside from the lack of a Konami logo. The turtles still burst out of the sewer and you’re treated to the same four-panel image introducing each one. After that though, a rather ugly user interface comes into view that can only be described as utilitarian. You can turn the music and sound effects off and on and adjust the volume as well. What you can’t do is select a turtle as you’re assigned Donatello.

I can forgive the game its shortcomings, but can we at least do better with the stickers?

After that, the game returns to being fairly authentic. There’s a fire at a nearby building and Splinter sends his pupils off to save April. The difference is Michelangelo doesn’t fall on his ass as the turtles land on the rooftop and enter the building. Once the gameplay starts though, you’re in for a shock. The Donatello sprite and the background looks okay. The resolution of a tiny screen is obviously not fantastic, but it’s acceptable. Moving Donatello though will expose how this sucker has a severely reduced framerate. The other Tiny Arcade stuff I’ve played is similar, but it’s far less noticeable with something like Pac-Man. This game feels like it’s moving at 10 frames per second, if that, and it’s very choppy. All of the sound effects seem like they were optimized for Leonardo as there’s lots of clashing sword strikes. It’s definitely not pleasant.

There’s a keychain on the back for those who like impractical things.

Controlling Donatello has also been adjusted from the original. The stick moves him around as expected, but he has two jump buttons and two attack buttons. This was done to allow the user to rely less on the actual joystick, which can be imprecise. One jump button makes Donatello jump forward, and the other makes him jump back. Same with the attack buttons. Repeatedly pressing a jump button will keep him in the air longer which is necessary for avoiding certain obstacles like the giant bowling balls or cars in later levels. Donatello will be confronted by waves of Foot Soldiers of various colors armed with various weapons. Sometimes, a Roadkill Rodney appears and in later levels there are mousers. It is impressive how many enemies this thing can put on the screen at once, so much that they start to look like a massive blob of limbs and weapons. The game doesn’t appear to slow down further during these moments, but it’s hard to imagine it running any slower than it naturally does.

Next to a Pac-Man from the same series. You can see how the screen size has been changed leading to an adjustment of the unit’s dimensions.

Super Impulse was able to get the bosses into the game as well. Rocksteady appears at the end of the first level, followed by Baxter in the sewer, and so on. It is only 3 levels long though, and I have actually yet to beat it. I can make it to the street level following the dual boss fight with Bebop and Rocksteady where things just get really cheap. Foot in cars or on motorcycles will fly by and they’re a one-hit death. I even reached this scenario with all of my lives intact, but died when I got hit by a motorcycle. The game respawned me in the path of a Foot missile, another one-hit death, and it was an unending cycle that took all four of my lives in the span of a few seconds. Prior to this though, I found the game extraordinarily easy. The bosses are staggered when struck and they can’t break out of it so this game is one you can essentially button mash through. You really only have to make sure enemies don’t surround you and learn to avoid the few level obstacles there are. Defeating enemies seems to restore your health bar as there are no pizza pick-ups. The environment also cannot be interacted with like it can be with the original, so no smashing fire hydrants or traffic cones.

At least he seems to be enjoying it.

I think most who pick this item up are doing so for the sheer novelty of it. And considering that, it’s still lacking. I find it rather deceptive of Super Impulse to not inform the consumer that only one turtle is selectable. I thought maybe they were going to release multiple versions, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. The actual game plays like a Java cell phone game from 2007. It’s so jittery that it barely feels like a full video game and more like a Tiger handheld. I expected this thing to have issues with the inputs, but I wasn’t expecting the video to be so poor. If Konami didn’t want its name on this thing it’s not hard to see why.

At $20, this item leaves a lot to be desired. I would almost rather a Hallmark ornament of this arcade cabinet instead since I was mostly interested in it for the aesthetics. Its dimensions are odd though, and the low-res images on the sides and marquee leave something to be desired as well. I thought this would be a fun addition to a someday NECA sewer lair for my action figures, but now it feels more like something I’m going to return to the store on my next visit.


The Power-Ups of Super Mario Bros. – The Definitive Ranking!

Pay not attention to the mustachioed statue.

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a video game post. In the spirit of the season, being Halloween, I decided to dive into…Mario power-ups? All right, hear me out. I’ve more or less exhausted The Misfits and everyone and their mother will have posts this month about horror themed movies, games, and TV shows. And what is a Mario power-up? It’s a costume! Sure, a costume with often magical properties and no real horror element, but a costume is a costume and not everyone gets dressed up as something spooky for Halloween.

Since the Mario franchise as we know it truly launched, power-ups have almost always been a major feature in the games that followed. The only outlier really is Super Mario Sunshine since the gameplay of that one focused on the user of a water pack. The other outlier is Super Mario Odyssey, but there’s a good reason there as Mario was gifted Cappy for that one which basically turns every enemy into a power-up of their own! A ranking of the various things Mario can turn into in that game is a ranking all its own, so I’m going to ignore that one. I’m also ignoring the power-ups removed from the main Super Mario Bros. franchise (like the RPGs) and the ones trapped in Super Mario Maker. I’m also ignoring the temporary accessory items Mario has been able to pick up, like the shoe or the blockhead thing in New Super Mario Bros. 2. I also excluded the intentional game-breaking power-ups like the Invincibility Leaf which gets offered to the player when they die too much. And lastly, I decided not to treat Yoshi as a power-up so he’s not included, nor all of the Yoshi-specific power-ups. What I’m left with was 34 power-ups, so since this is going to take awhile, we might as well get started. And we’re starting with the worst:

Tubular…

34. Power Balloon – The Power Balloon, or P Balloon, first appeared in Super Mario World and will forever be associated with the bonus level Tubular, the level most cite as the worst in the game (and one of the worst in general). It’s actually not that bad, and Nintendo has put far more annoying levels in its games since, but the P Balloon, which simply inflates Mario like a balloon for a short amount of time, is annoying to control. It’s not particularly enjoyable, and just the sight of it is anxiety-inducing. Sort of like an under water level in a Sonic the Hedgehog game since its effects are temporary and when it wares off there’s a good chance Mario is plummeting to an early death.

Even Mario would rather no bother with this one.

33. Spring Mushroom – This little power-up first showed up in Super Mario Galaxy, a game that unofficially brought the power-up back into style for Mario and oddly made them all mushroom-based. It, like the P Balloon, is ranked so low because actually getting the power-up is done out of necessity, not want. No one wants to control a spring-loaded Mario, just as no one wants him to control like a balloon. The Spring Mushroom sequences in Galaxy were, by far, my least favorite.

They’re no Ghostbusters, but they get the job done.

32. Light Box – The Light Box was brought into the universe via Super Mario 3D World and it serves one singular purpose: to thwart ghosts. And it’s good for that, but nothing else. It works, but it’s boring and honestly I almost didn’t include it.

At least he looks cute.

31. Frog Suit – The Frog Suit was one of the many power-ups found in the classic Super Mario Bros. 3. Getting it in World 3 was pretty exciting, until you actually used it. If underwater, the Frog Suit is great as it allows Mario and Luigi to swim faster and with more precision. On land though, it’s a nightmare and you’ll be searching for an enemy to knock you out of it. Maybe if Mario had been given a tongue attack or something it would have worked better.

The evolved form of Gravel Mario.

30. Rock Mushroom – Another Galaxy addition is the Rock Mushroom. It basically turns Mario into a Mario Golem that can roll around and smash stuff. It’s not particularly fun, but since Mario is nigh indestructible in this form it’s not as annoying to control as the Spring Mushroom.

Look at me! I’m a cloud!

29. Cloud Flower – Introduced in Galaxy 2, the Cloud Flower turns Mario into…Cloud Mario! This allows Mario to create cloud platforms to assist him in reaching new heights. It’s useful, just not particularly sexy. Unless you have a cloud fetish, then it’s very sexy.

All right, Bowser, now I’m-ah gonna fuck you up!

28. Canon Box – Mario has always lacked the fire power of Bowser and his minions, but the Canon Box evens those odds to a degree. It turns Mario’s head into a literal canon and he can blast anything in his way. It’s not particularly refined or cute, but it is pretty damn effective!

Sadly, not T-1000 Mario.

27. Metal Cap – The signature power-up of Super Mario 64. That game was a revelation when it came out, but one thing that it always lacked from the start was interesting power-ups. The Metal Cap turns Mario into Metal Mario, which is basically just good for letting him walk on the bottom of a sea floor without the need to swim. And swimming for the first time in 3D was quite the challenge so the Metal Cap was certainly welcomed, it’s just not particularly fun.

Mario’s got a nice set of cherries.

26. Double Cherry – In Super Mario 3D World, Mario gained the ability to split in two, or more, copies of himself. He’s always had the ability to gain extra lives, but never to live them simultaneously! It’s an interesting concept, but it’s less a power-up and more a method for puzzle solving or to get a star coin or something.

Admit it, you probably overlooked this one.

25. Life Mushroom/Life-Up Heart – A very useful power-up without really any “fun” component, the Life Mushroom in Galaxy just doubles Mario’s health. It’s something I’ll go out of my way to get when playing a level, but it doesn’t give Mario a fun ability or cool, new, look. It just makes him stronger.

Weee!

24. Penguin Suit – The Penguin Suit from New Super Mario Bros. Wii is the opposite of the Life Mushroom. It’s really fun and silly looking, but kind of a pain in the ass to maneuver in. It’s not as bad as the Frog Suit, and it gives Mario the ability to slide on his belly and to fire ice balls. It’s also the type of power-up that gets in the way and you may blame a death or two on this one before the level is over.

Angelic Mario.

23. Wing Cap – Mario had flown before, but the Wing Cap in Super Mario 64 was the first time he flew in 3D. And it was pretty cool to do so the first time, even though controlling Mario was a bit tricky and the level it’s available in feels more like a Pilot Wings demo than anything. It would have been a lot cooler if Nintendo could have integrated it into other levels like a more traditional power-up, but there was just no way to do it without breaking the game. I rank it as low as I do for that reason as it’s mainly just a diversion.

Red Star Mario reminds me of Red Son Superman, who was a communist. Is this Communist Mario?!

22. The Red Star – Basically the Wing Cap, but in Super Mario Galaxy. It drops the wings and just lets Mario fly like Superman. By Galaxy, controlling such a thing was far more refined and thus more fun, but like 64 it’s basically just a reward for players who stick with it and doesn’t feel like a true power-up.

He’s certainly owning this look.

21. The Blue Shell – Introduced in New Super Mario Bros., the Blue Shell is basically the Hammer Bros. Suit without the hammers. Instead, Mario can run and do a slide attack. It’s functional, doesn’t intrude on Mario’s basic controls, but also doesn’t impart much in the way of special abilities. It’s fine.

How small can he get?

20. Mini Mushroom – The Mini Mushroom was also introduced in New Super Mario Bros. and it felt like a longtime coming. We had the traditional Super Mushroom that makes Mario big, so why not have a small one that does the opposite? The Mini Mushroom makes Mario tiny and hard to hit while also seemingly boosting his running speed. He’s also light and floaty which makes him more challenging to control, but does let him run across water. It’s another power-up that has a very specific application usually in order to access secret areas. It’s fun to use though and adds a bit of challenge without making things too frustrating.

You best not get any sick ideas while invisible, Mario!

19. Vanish Cap – This one from Super Mario 64 renders Mario intangible. He can’t be hurt and can pass through certain things. Since it’s from 64 it has very specific applications, but it’s cool. It’s just not exciting to look at since it’s just regular Mario only he’s now transparent.

It’s a known fact that when you die your tongue increases in mass several times over.

18. Boo Mushroom – The Boo Mushroom lets Mario become that which he fears most: a ghost! He gets to float around and pass through fences and read a dead language reserved for ghosts, so it has a puzzle component to it. And it looks cool! What more could you want?

I’m-ah coming for you, Culken!

17. Bee Mushroom – The “big” power-up, I suppose, from Super Mario Galaxy turned Mario into an adorable honey bee. It grants temporary flight, the ability to walk on certain surfaces, and grip to others. It’s actually pretty fun and there’s definitely a rush of excitement when a Bee Mushroom is spotted in a level. The only thing that sucks is it’s from Galaxy, so once the level is done you can’t take it with you.

You can probably hear this image.

16. Super Star – The venerable Super Star, around since the beginning and a staple of 2D Mario gaming. It makes Mario invincible for a short amount of time and in some games augments his jump or running speed. Everyone loves a Super Star and it’s one of those power-ups you’ll run after when it pops out of a block, sometimes recklessly. And the best power-ups are the ones you don’t want to get away when they show.

Mario! Smash!

15. Mega Mushroom – Like the Super Star, the Mega Mushroom makes Mario invincible briefly, but only this time he grows to gargantuan proportions and can smash through pretty much anything. The only downside really is that once you’ve seen it and experienced it once a lot of the fun is removed since you literally just go right the whole time. And yet, if I see a Mega Mushroom pop out of a block I’m going all out to make sure I get that damn thing!

I don’t think I’d eat that…

14. Super Mushroom – The venerable Super Mushroom. What’s not to like? It turns Mario into Super Mario bestowing a precious extra hit point to Mario while often granting him an extra ability or two, like the drill jump in Super Mario World. It may be unsexy, but the Super Mushroom is undeniably useful and it has no negative side effects other than a larger hit box, but that’s hardly a trade-off since it makes Mario stronger.

I already made a testicles joke with the cherries, two would just be gratuitous.

13. Superball Flower – Super Mario Land was the first Mario experience on the Game Boy and it brought along the flower power-up. Only since the Game Boy lacked a color palette, Mario couldn’t easily be depicted tossing fireballs so Nintendo chose to go with Superballs! They do work a bit differently as they fire at an angle and bounce around. It’s the main power-up of Land and Super Mario Maker has given it a new lease on life.

And he was feeling good when just wearing the shell!

12. Boomerang Flower – Way back in 1988 we got the Hammer Bros. suit in Super Mario Bros. 3 and we had to wait until Super Mari 3D Land in 2011 to get the logical complement, the Boomerang Flower which grants Mario the Boomerang Suit. It’s the same thing, only Mario gets to toss a boomerang instead of a hammer. It’s pretty cool, but no hammer.

If this list were purely on aesthetics then this one would rank higher.

11. Ice Flower – Another one that took awhile, we’ve had the Fire Flower since the beginning, but the Ice Flower took it’s sweet time in making it to a game as it first appeared in Super Mario Galaxy. In that game, it was a temporary power-up like a Super Star, but it’s since become a permanent power-up in the New Super Mario Bros. series. It gives Mario the ability to toss ice balls which freeze enemies on contact turning them into blocks of ice which also have their uses. It’s not as good as old reliable, the Fire Flower, but it’s pretty fun to have ice powers and it doesn’t come with the limited movement of the Penguin Suit.

And this one would rank lower.

10. Super Acorn – One of the most recent power-ups, the Super Acorn was introduced in New Super Mario Bros. U and is basically the logical evolution of the Super Leaf. It grants Mario the Flying Squirrel Suit which allows him the ability to glide with a one-time height boost per flight to reach high places. He can also flutter slowly, but he descends quickly when compared with the Super Leaf. He can also cling to a wall when in this suit which has its uses. It’s a fun item to get ahold of, but also kind of terrifying as gliding is really tempting and blindly gliding over a level can end badly, especially if Mario loses his power mid-flight. It’s propensity for introducing trouble is why I don’t rank it higher.

More of these suits and powers should probably include a helmet.

9. Propeller Mushroom/Propeller Box – The flying item for New Super Mario Bros. Wii was the Propeller Mushroom which grants Mario the Propeller Suit. Basically, when wearing this Mario can do a double-jump that rockets him high into the air and allows for a slow descend. It’s a simple way to integrate a flying component into the game that’s not game-breaking, but it’s lack of an extra attack limits its use. The Propeller Box in the 3D games essentially functions as the same thing, only without the cool suit.

Like cats? Well, have I got a Mario game for you!

8. Super Bell – Introduced in Super Mario 3D World, the Super Bell lets Mario live out his dream – as a cat. It’s a simple power-up, but one that is always welcomed as it lets Mario run faster, climb walls, perform a dive attack, and gives him a claw attack as well. It’s awesome! And who doesn’t love Mario and his companions in an adorable cat costume?

Is this maybe too cute?

7. Carrot – The somewhat forgotten power-up of Super Mario Land 2 is the Carrot. Not Super Carrot, just Carrot, and it gives Mario…bunny ears? Yes, like the Super Leaf, it gives Mario the power to fly without making much sense, but who cares? Mario can fly! He flaps his new ears to clear large gaps. He can’t go up, but can travel horizontally in the air indefinitely and also slow his descent when falling. It is kind of game-breaking, like a lot of the flying abilities during this era, but undeniably fun to use and the signature power-up from that game.

Super Mario Bros. 3 Fire Mario is the best Fire Mario.

6. Fire Flower – Old reliable! The Fire Flower has been a mainstay and it’s never not useful. It lets Mario shoot fireballs at enemies and most of those enemies are not interested in taking a fireball to the face. It’s certainly been overshadowed over the years by flashier power-ups, but it still remains a hard power-up to pass-up when it shows itself in any given level.

Meanwhile, this look is a bit much…

5. Gold Flower – Everything that is good about the Fire Flower, only it also turns enemies (and a lot of other stuff) into coins and who doesn’t love money?! Sure, New Super Mario Bros. 2 probably went overboard with the whole coin focus, but the Gold Flower certainly fit in and it’s the Fire Flower, but better, so it’s ranked here.

Pure joy distilled into a single piece of Mario art.

4. Super Leaf – The Super Leaf gave Mario a raccoon tail and ears and changed the series forever. For the first time, Mario could fly! It was all anyone wanted to talk about when we first started getting a look at Super Mario Bros. 3. Since that game, the Super Leaf has resurfaced in a neutered form as it often just retains the ability to hover and tail-attack. That original one is still the best as the flying was easy to use and made exploring the levels a lot more interesting than they had been previously.

Mario’s most hug-able power-up.

3. Tanooki Suit/Statue Lead – It’s the Super Leaf, only it makes Mario both more adorable and more destructive! Mario goes full tanooki with the costume and never looked better giving him the same abilities as the Super Leaf. It also has the added ability to allow Mario to turn into a statue making him invulnerable to attack and able to smash stuff. It doesn’t get much better than that which is why it’s at number 3.

Mario! Hammers are for pounding nails, not throwing!

2. Hammer Suit – The most illusive power-up in Super Mario Bros. 3 is the game’s best. It gives Mario the ability to essentially be a Hammer Bro. His hard shell makes him impervious to fireballs when ducking and his hammers do massive damage. If you manage to hang onto the thing all the way through Bowser’s castle you’ll be rewarded with a really easy final battle. If you put it on though and then immediately lose it you’ll be left wishing that old game had a save feature and you could reload. The Hammer Suit is awesome, and if it only had a flight component it would be the ultimate Mario power-up.

All of those years he was calling himself Super Mario when he didn’t even have a cape!
  1. Feather – No power-up for Mario is as powerful as the simple Feather. It gives Mario a bright, yellow, cape and in a video game a cape can only mean one thing: flight. And unlike the Super Leaf, this cape can keep Mario airborne indefinitely once the user gets the hang of it making it the most game-breaking of all the power-ups. It’s probably the reason why power-ups like the Red Star are reserved for just certain areas in its games. And not only can Mario fly, he also gets a cape-attack which is incredibly useful throughout Super Mario World. Useful attack plus unlimited flight? Yeah, the Feather is the ultimate power-up.


Spider-Man (Arcade)

Forgive me if I’ve said something similar before; but younger people are shocked by the norms of the past! Yeah, it’s a very “old man” thing to say, but it’s also an easy way to impress someone younger. And in this case, the shocking thing to say is that Marvel Comics often found itself in a great deal of financial turmoil in decades past. The company that now is owned by Disney and is able to churn out hit film after hit film about even its most obscure characters once had to file for bankruptcy protection. Go through the history of the company and you’ll find other moments in time where things weren’t so rosy, though Marvel often can be credited with being forward-thinking in looking for other ways to make money.

That’s how Marvel ended up in the TV business in the 1980s. Unable to find the same level of success on both the small and big screen as rival Detective Comics, Marvel started self-producing television programs which included the company’s popular stars as well as properties unrelated to the comic business. The most successful Marvel TV program is probably Muppet Babies, as the company seemed to struggle to really break-through with one of its superheroes even famously failing to find a broadcast partner for its mega-hot X-Men franchise as the pilot for a cartoon series failed to be picked up. This ended up being a good thing since not too long after Fox would start airing a different X-Men series in 92 which ended up being far better than anything Marvel would have done on its own.

Sega landing the Spider-Man license seems like a pretty big deal.

When video games started to take off once again in the 80s, it’s possible some in the industry would have expected Marvel to self-publish. It was already doing so with TV, so why not games? It’s possible Marvel just didn’t trust the industry which had only recently emerged from a crash itself. And whenever Marvel wanted to make money easily, it would turn to licensing deals. With comics rapidly gaining steam in the 80s and building towards what would be a massive boom into the 90s, Marvel probably saw no real benefit in exploring the world of games and was more than willing to see what other companies would do with its characters.

Enter Sega. Sega was fighting an uphill battle to dethrone Nintendo as the kind of the living room. Sega’s strategy was to go after the kids who may have first experienced games via Super Mario Bros. and were looking for something a bit more their speed as they grew older. This made a character like Spider-Man appealing to Sega, and in a world where exclusive licensing agreements were still far off, Sega was able to convince Marvel to let it develop its own games featuring Spider-Man. Details of the agreement are scarce these days, so it’s unknown just what kind of restrictions Sega was under. The deal was apparently tenuous, but success of the Genesis/Mega Drive game Spider-Man vs The Kingpin apparently settled things down as the title once had an attach rate of over 60% with Genesis owners.

One of the first games I’d go looking for as a kid in an arcade.

Back in the 1980s, Sega was as much known for its home console business as it was for the arcade. The arcade boom was coming down, but Sega had success with a variety of genres and many of its games were ported to the Genesis. With the Spider-Man license in-hand, Sega sought to craft an arcade beat-em-up experience with the character that would differentiate itself from similar titles. It would be a game developed for Sega’s System 32 board which was the company’s first attempt at 32-bit development. This also meant hopes for a home port would essentially be dead-on-arrival, but that’s why Sega had the separate Spider-Man vs The Kingpin slated to arrive the same year, 1991.

The normally solo Spider-Man would need some help to take down Kingpin, and entertain more than one player.

When crafting a brawler for the arcade, one of the main issues to solve initially is just what characters to make playable? The brawler had started as a one or two-player affair, but by the 90s arcade-goers expected four-player co-op play. The challenge with Spider-Man is he’s mostly a solo act, so Sega likely had to work with Marvel on finding three allies to join him. They ended up settling on the sometimes ally sometimes foe Black Cat, Sub-Mariner, and the Avenger Hawkeye. The selection of Hawkeye was somewhat interesting as he was a playable character in the Captain America brawler also released in ’91. This naturally lent to comparisons between the two titles with at least my group of friends viewing the Spider-Man Hawkeye as the far superior affair since the graphics were far more attractive.

Not much to see here, just four heroes kicking some butt.

Sega’s approach to the tried and true beat-em-up genre is both conventional and unconventional. Sega often found gimmicks to keep things fresh, such as the transformations of Altered Beast or the mounts in Golden Axe. For Spider-Man, the game begins like any other. You select one of four characters and begin the game with a wave of enemies crashing down upon you. Players have to contend with enemies coming in from both sides of the screen and as they’re dispatched a “Go!” prompt will display imploring the player to continue right. Each character has just two action buttons: jump and attack. Pressing the two simultaneously provides for a ranged super attack unique to each character. Utilizing this move also sacrifices some health. Players can attack while in the air and also use a super move from that position as well which basically results in a diving attack. Interestingly, the amount of credits deposited into the machine increases the amount of health the character possesses as opposed to the amount of lives. As long as you keep pumping in quarters, you’ll never die!

Okay, now this is different.

Where things get interesting in Spider-Man is after the first boss encounter: Venom. The storyline for the game is the Kingpin as acquired some magical artifact and Spider-Man needs to get it back. When Venom gets exposed to that artifact, he grows to a tremendous size. In order to convey that to the player, the player characters and the environment around them shrinks via a zoom-out effect. This also alters the gameplay from a brawler to a basic platformer. Characters now have a ranged attack and all can cling to surfaces in order to scale buildings. Other elements often featured in that style of game show up as well such as falling surfaces, obstacles that need to be dodged, and so on.

Electro is one of the bosses who only appears during a zoomed-out sequence.

Every act in the game features a zoom-out sequence, even though only the initial one features a giant enemy. If the entire game were crafted around this style, it would be okay, but when the two are mixed it works quite well as a change of pace. Some boss fights are exclusive to the zoomed out mode too, which is actually kind of a shame since we’re denied seeing a proper, large, model of certain villains. Nevertheless, it’s Spider-Man’s defining characteristic and it works really well. It’s a real surprise this tactic wasn’t utilized more, but then again, fighting games mostly took over the arcade space shortly there-after and the arcade brawler largely faded away.

Battling a foe like the Green Goblin is a lot different from taking on someone like Venom.

The game is divided into four acts, but each one is quite long and will have the players going back and forth between the two gameplay styles. And even though there are only four acts, there are still numerous boss encounters with Spider-Man’s most popular foes. Expect to face-off against the likes of Venom, Green Goblin, Scorpion, Electro, Hobgoblin, and more. Many will have to be fought more than once, with Venom being the most frequent (this was probably when the character was at the height of its popularity). Some of the fights aren’t much to speak of as the enemy functions like a regular enemy, just with a unique sprite and health bar, but others are multi-stage battles and can get pretty challenging. Kingpin himself is also a bit of a red-herring as the real villain of the game is revealed after the third act, which keeps gamers on their toes, I suppose.

Character sprites are big and detailed when not zoomed out.

The presentation is where things are at though. The characters look great on the System 32 board, especially in the non-zoomed out portions. The models are big and detailed making Spider-Man one of the best looking beat-em-ups produced. The villains are tremendous as well, and in between acts there’s some story-line material with some limited voice over. About the only thing I dislike about the visuals rests with Spider-Man himself, as he has this odd, slightly stooped, posture. The music is also catchy, and some was even recycled from older Sega games. Most of the boss characters also get a line or two of spoken dialogue which helps add a little pizzazz to those encounters.

The charging attack, demonstrated here by Kingpin, gets a bit annoying.

Like any brawler, the gameplay does get repetitive eventually. Spider-Man is able to help itself not just with the gameplay switches during acts, but also with the boss variety. A character like Green Goblin attacks in a manner far different from the Kingpin, for example, though by the end of the game there is definitely some boss fatigue. The hardest foes all seem to attack in a similar pattern in that they get knocked down and then pop back up into a charging attack. The penultimate fight of the game can get a bit annoying as the boss has a very small window of time in which he can be harmed before going into a charging animation that renders him invincible, or a blasting position that grants the same. Even so, Spider-Man is a surprisingly fair game. Most arcade brawlers exist just to extract quarters, but it’s possible to gang up on a boss and practically neuter them. Especially with two players, as most boss characters will pop-up after being knocked down to immediately vault across the screen, rather than be momentarily invincible when first getting up. This means two well-positioned characters can effectively “ping pong” a boss until it’s been defeated. Preventing this from becoming a true exploit though is the fact that most bosses are accompanied by standard grunt enemies. I never counted, but Spider-Man can handle a lot of enemies on screen all at once so things can get a bit hectic. It makes those crowd-clearing special maneuvers more and more useful as the game progresses. The trade-off though is that enemy sprites are recycled throughout as you will largely battle the same three enemies all game long, just with different weapon and color variations.

The game keeps track of how many enemies each player defeated and which took down a boss adding a competitive element to the experience.

A play-through of Spider-Man will last about 45 minutes, maybe a bit more. The one trick the game does pull that I’m not a fan of is that the player’s health is always gradually depleting as a means of forcing the players to move quicker. This seems to mostly be in effect during the platforming sections which is a bit annoying as the game does encourage some mild exploration. The “Go!” arrow might be telling you to go one way, but there’s an obvious area in a different direction with health power-ups. Even with that health-drain in place, a pair of reasonably skilled gamers should be able to get through this one on about 20 credits, or 5 bucks back in ’91. After each act, scores are tabulated and health bonuses distributed in kind as well which helps prolong the adventure and adds a little competition as well. The game awards a boss “kill” to whoever scores the last hit and boss defeats are weighted far more heavily than basic enemies so competitive players will do whatever they can to make sure they land that final blow.

The game is quite unique when compared with its peers, at least as unique as a brawler can be.

Since Spider-Man was an arcade-only release, it has become a bit of an obscure title. For whatever reason, other arcade-only brawlers like X-Men and The Simpsons seem to be remembered more fondly even though I find Spider-Man to be the superior experience. It’s a wonderful looking game, even by today’s standards, and the gameplay quirks help set it apart as well. As much as I enjoy X-Men, that game is a pretty basic brawler that’s over quickly, but also brutal when it comes to quarters. It’s possible Spider-Man has been victimized by the success of the Genesis game since so many people had it that it’s likely the first game they think of when people mention the character and Sega in the same sentence. It certainly wasn’t an issue of distribution as I routinely encountered this game in the wild, and it was often the game I went to first.

If this game were re-released in 2020 the legal info would be a lot more complicated than what is seen here.

Spider-Man is one of the best arcade brawlers ever released, and it’s also one of the few to remain exclusive to that format. When Sega brought 32-bit gaming to the living room with the 32X, it chose to craft a new Spider-Man game for that system rather than port this one, which ended up being the final Spider-Man game developed by Sega. Eventually games like X-Men received a release just a via X-Box Live, but Sega’s Spider-Man has remained in cabinets alone. The game was fairly popular so it’s not hard to track down a cabinet today, but buying one is quite costly since the character is so beloved. I suspect we’ve never seen the game made available due to the complicated licensing agreements surrounding both the game and Spider-Man himself. Sony holds the license for basically all Spider-Man media, while the presence of Hawkeye might give Disney a substantial voice in the room should there ever be talk of re-releasing the game. And then there’s Sega, who no longer has a home console of its own to bill this as an exclusive for. The game is likely viewed as too niche to warrant trying to figure out how to spread the money among all interested parties. Ideally it would be offered as a downloadable title like the Konami brawlers were, but that window has apparently been shut, and Sony striking a deal with Sega to include the game as a bonus feature on a modern Spider-Man title seems unlikely. As a result, if you want to experience what Spider-Man has to offer in 2020 you’ll need to track down a cabinet, or resort to other, less legal, means. Should you find yourself playing it, expect to have a pretty good time. Just make sure to bring a friend, or two, or three!


Lego 71374 – Nintendo Entertainment System

There’s something almost cathartic about assembling a Lego set. It can be hot and sticky in my house in the middle of the summer, but if I’m fiddling with a Lego set I almost don’t even notice. Considering how unbearably hot and humid it’s been in the north east this summer, it’s a shame I don’t have more opportunities to mess around with a Lego set. Lego presents its own obstacles in that the sets are often pretty expensive and space-eaters. Even if I want something and can afford it, there’s the very real problem of what to do with it after the fact. As such, I try to just to stick to the Disney stuff, in particular anything modeled after an actual attraction at the park. Since finishing the Disneyland Train Station last year though, things have been quiet on that front, but Lego had something in the works I just couldn’t ignore.

It was earlier this year that Lego announced it had struck a licensing deal with Nintendo. This attracted my attention a bit, but I didn’t necessarily expect anything to come of it that would interest me. What I did expect were some Mario playsets, and Lego eventually showed off just that. It’s also not a straight Lego set with Mario themed mini figures, but a bit of an interactive thing where a brickhead-like Mario makes sounds and plays music depending on what blocks he comes in contact with. It’s different, and my son seems to have an interest in it, but it’s not for me. Then Lego went and unveiled something unexpected: the Nintendo Entertainment System.

A few years ago, the NES Classic proved there’s a lot of nostalgia surrounding the venerable old machine from 1985. Nintendo couldn’t even keep up with demand initially and people were scalping the 60 dollar item for triple the price for a short while. Because of that, I suppose it shouldn’t have shocked me when Lego unveiled this set which is a brick reconstruction of the NES, controller, Super Mario Bros. game pak, and an era appropriate TV to pair it with. And just a few short weeks later the set was launched on August 1st with an MSRP of $229.99. The 2,646 piece set quickly sold out at retail locations and the online stock has since sold out as well. Worry not if you missed out as Lego plans to continue making more and it’s a safe bet this one will be a popular item this Christmas.

Fearing a sell out, I rather insanely stayed up the night of July 31st just to make sure I got an order in at midnight. The set actually went up for sale a few minutes early and I had my order placed before midnight. This actually worked against me as there was supposed to be a free gift related to the Mario set, but I think that didn’t go live until midnight so my set arrived by itself. Not that it mattered that much as I only want the NES. It arrived at my door just a few days later and it was a bit of a long day with work before I could get to it.

The set arrived in a box larger than I expected. There’s an inner box that contains the first 7 bags of the set (which all relate to the NES itself) and two booklets: one for the console and one for the TV. There are only three stickers included which is fantastic as I loathe placing stickers on Lego sets. The only stickers are the labels for the game cartridge and a faux informational label for the rear of the TV. I decided to build the NES first and was able to complete it in one evening of roughly three hours of build time. Some of that was spent with my five-year-old son which probably slowed me down some, but it still felt rather breezy.

The construction of the NES is rather painless. You’re essentially just building a slightly irregular box so it shouldn’t be hard. The mechanism Lego has you construct for the game-loader is a bit intimidating to look at, but it’s actually fairly easy to install. Lego made use of a special spring-loaded piece to get it right and the end result is actually kind of amazing. It works just like the old console: you insert the game, push down, and it stays down. Push down again and the game pops back up for you to remove.

Lego took care to make the outer box look like the real deal. There’s audio and video hookups, a channel changing switch, as well as all of the buttons and cosmetic effects you would expect. There’s the ribbed area of the console’s surface which is an interesting part of the build as well as lots of smooth pieces for the top and sides. All of the logos and words are graphics printed on the piece so they look really sharp. The only thing Lego was unable to hide were the hinges on the front cover, but it’s hardly an eye sore. If anything looks a tad off it’s the front of that cover as it’s done with several pieces so there’s an abundance of seems. It probably could have been done in a cleaner manner, but it’s not as if you’re not supposed to know that this is a Lego creation. Lego also couldn’t perfectly replicate the irregular shape of the NES’s controller inputs, but they did a rather good job with it as-is.

The finished product is smaller than the real thing, but not by that much. I had the original NES, in terms of width, height, and depth as: 10.125″ x 3.5″ x 8″. The Lego version measures out as: 8.125″ x 3″ x 7″. The controller is more 1:1 though the Lego one is a touch thinner. It also isn’t a perfect rectangle as the sides and bottom don’t line up perfectly which is perplexing. I guess they didn’t want to engineer a slightly longer, flat, piece? I don’t know why they couldn’t use existing pieces to get it so that it didn’t have such a gap. It’s minor though, but something that I notice. There are also no working buttons on this thing. They look the part, but don’t function, which I expected but it would have been fun if the A and B buttons on the controller at least were able to be pressed.

The included game pak, or cartridge, is another thing you have to build. It’s a very quick build though as it’s quite thin and Lego didn’t feel a need to put a proper back on it, so it’s just the underside of the flat bricks used to craft it. It looks the part though and is undeniably cute in the hand. It’s also smaller than the real thing, and if you’re curious, no, an actual game won’t fit in the Lego NES. A traditional cartridge is: 4.75″ x 0.75″ x 5.25″. The Lego version is 3.75″ x 0.375″ x 4.125″. The stickers look great too and since they’re applied to a flat, black, piece it gives you some freedom in applying them. The smaller sticker even includes the Nintendo official seal of quality, an important touch.

So if you can’t tell, I’m quite pleased with how the NES and it’s components turned out. Since the old Control Deck, as it were called, came with two controllers I do wish this did as well. Since it’s not a functional gaming console though, I understand why it wasn’t exactly necessary to have two. What a Nintendo does need though is a television, because what good is a video game console without video?

Lego could have probably just done the console, and if it were to include a TV it could have just made a big, brick, box. Lego wasn’t content to do that though and wanted to actually simulate a Nintendo game, in this case Super Mario Bros. That’s how we ended up with this rather ambitious television included in this set. It contains more than half of the bricks in this set and is a longer build than the console. The TV is also modeled after the one that appeared in the original instruction manual for the NES, though I am unsure if it’s to scale or not. Regardless, it looks the part of an old TV and has some interesting functionality.

The TV is separated into various build phases. You first start with the base and the “guts” of the device before moving onto the rear and sides. What’s that is complete, it’s time to take care of the screen. See, Lego wasn’t content to just make an era-specific brick-television set to pair with your NES to form a nice display, rather it chose to make this system “playable.” In order to do that, you need to construct a fairly elaborate rotating mechanism with a picture on it all entirely out of Lego. The final product is essentially like those old racing or flying toys in which a picture rotates on a cylinder to simulate movement while the player has a controller or wand with a car or plane at the end of it to move around avoiding obstacles or just keeping the car on the road.

In order to do this, Lego basically has you build tank treads, and it’s the section of the build that is the most tedious. There’s a sequence of bags starting at 14 where you’re basically just making one small thing, but over over. The treads are a bag all by themselves as you link them together to make two long treads. You then need to build 15 joiners which are simple, but certainly do a number on your thumbs. You then need to build the plates to place over them which need to snap into place. They’re not all entirely the same as some need a couple of colored bricks affixed to the end which will work with the Lego Mario figure (sold separately).

Once you get through all of that (which comprises three bags, or steps), you’re finally ready to construct the image. Using mostly flat tiles, you build the scenery of Super Mario Bros. There’s lots of blue and brown tiles as well as some studs. You could conceivably ad-lib this part if you wanted to and create your own background, but it’s meant to be constructed in a specific way to work with the previously mentioned Mario. Lego is generous with the special pieces like the goomba, turtle shell, etc. as they’re small, flat, pieces that could be easily lost. You have an extra of each. The graphics printed on them look great, though the mushroom and goomba shape are a little off since they use a tiny “pie slice” piece. They’re still easily recognizable and are probably my son’s favorite part of the set. This was also a great part to have him help me with since it’s basically just laying tiles.

Once the scenery is constructed it has to be wrapped around a little “cart” the set has you construct which then gets placed inside the TV. It’s a touch challenging to get the scene to hook to itself as there isn’t a ton of give, but it wasn’t as bad as I though it might be. Inserting the finished diorama into the TV was also exceedingly simple even though there’s a lot going on. The only part I didn’t like was the little cap Lego has you build to put on top of it as it’s not engineered as well as it could be. There’s a little gap in the piece itself because of the bricks chosen and when snapping this into place it can come undone. This piece isn’t crucial, and after a few tries I just let it be even though I’m pretty sure one side wasn’t snapped together as well as it should be. It’s basically just a spacer between the mechanism and the top of the TV. Mario is added before the next step and he’s a cute little tile all on his own screen-printed to resemble Super Mario from the original game. He’s affixed to a transparent rod (the same one that came with the Ghostbusters Fire House for the flying ghosts) with a spherical, bubble-like piece behind Mario to guide him over the obstacles.

After that is done, the only thing left was to assemble the front of the TV and the bottom leg supports. This was an enjoyable build that comes together pretty fast. Lego was creative with the television dial by using a gear that just rubs a soft, plastic, green, rod to create a clicking sound when the dial is turned. My kids were quite amused by that and even more amused that this is how a TV was once operated. There are more tiles with graphics printed on them for things like volume control and even a UHF toggle. The last step is to create the TV stand which is rather simple. The finished product rests on top of this with some bricks placed on the bottom of the set used as guides so while it doesn’t snap in place, it fits into a track of sorts so it’s not wobbly.

With the set complete, you’re free to experience what it offers. Turning the crank makes the scenery move and Mario will just slide over it. This means he has only one path and you don’t want to try and force him to go higher than intended or else you risk jamming the mechanism. My son did this as he wanted Mario to stomp more goombas and got it stuck. I had to pop Mario off and some of the other pieces to get it going again. I didn’t have to resort to this, but in hindsight it’s nice Lego includes extra tiles for goombas, turtle shells, etc. in the event one were to pop off and fall into the TV it could just be replaced rather than disassembled to dig out one little tile. It works as advertised though and my kids though it was pretty fun.

If you happen to have one laying around, the Mario figure adds to the fun of the set, though he’s also a bit of an eyesore up there.

Of course, you may be aware that this set contains an additional function. If you purchase the new Super Mario Starter Course set from Lego it comes with a Mario brickhead-like figurine. This figure has some electronics built into it that causes it to change facial expression and also output sound. If you happen to have this guy you can place him on a special tile on top of the television to start him up, then move him to the edge of the screen. When you crank the handle, the colored tiles on the edge of the track alert the Mario figure to what’s happened on the “screen” and he’s supposed to play the proper sound. If Mario stomps an enemy it should make that “pop” sound or if he hits a question mark block that unmistakable sound of a mushroom rising up will play. I went ahead and purchased the set for my son, as it’s more of a toy than a display set. It works as advertised, though I had to update the firmware on the Mario figure via the special app Lego launched specifically for the Mario brand. It’s a neat feature, but not worth $60 for adults who just want to experience the music from the game with this set. The Mario figurine atop the TV doesn’t really complement the aesthetic this set is going for, and the Starter Course is a play set as opposed to a display piece by itself so there’s nothing to gain from owning both aside from getting sound effects into this set. As a result, I cannot recommend it. Though if you want it for your kid, mine seems to love it, so there’s that.

Behold! The Tower of NES! Top to Bottom: Hallmark NES, NES Classic, Lego NES, Original NES.

If you lack the Lego Mario figurine, one substitution for him is the 2020 Hallmark NES ornament which plays sounds from the game. My kids didn’t notice the sounds didn’t sync with the TV and didn’t care as one would turn the handle and the other would hold the Lego NES controller and pretend to play. The console doesn’t physically hook-up to the television, you’re just supposed to place it nearby to complete the look. And this works fine. If the TV didn’t have the image built onto it you could probably fool someone from a distance as Lego really nailed that old school look of a television. And the NES is also quite convincing, especially to people who haven’t looked at a proper console in 30 years.

I am quite tickled by how this set turned out. It was a really fun build, even with the tedious portions of the TV, and was rather frustration-free at that. I love the look and functionality of both the TV and NES. When I first saw this set, and how much it cost, I was a bit grumpy they included the TV as a lone NES would have been much cheaper, I’d wager. However, now that I have it built I’m a little torn on what part is my favorite. The TV is so well crafted and so fun to play with that I can’t imagine the set without it. I’m even curious if Lego will do more with this design. While I have little desire at the moment to build another track, I’d probably have to consider it if Lego released additional games for this thing. Side-scrolling Zelda, or maybe Lego would challenge itself with a vertical scroller? And then there’s the Mario sequels or Duck Hunt with Zapper. I’m not expecting any of that, but it also wouldn’t shock me to see it happen. By itself, this set is a blast for nostalgia junkies like myself. If you can get your hands on it (it’s currently sold out, but it will be back) I wholeheartedly recommend picking it up.


NECA Turtles in Time Shredder

“Tonight I dine on turtle soup!”

We’re continuing to work our way through the latest offerings from NECA as it pertains to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. A lot of collectors are presently going nuts trying to track down the cartoon wave at Target or the movie figures at Walmart, meanwhile anyone wishing to collect the video game line is just sitting back and waiting for the package to arrive. That’s because the video game series, currently consisting solely of figures based on the Konmai classic Turtles in Time, is sold through online retailers and comic/hobby shops and have been available for pre-order since January. Wave 2 just hit in mid-to-late July and should be in the hands of most of the people who ordered them very soon. The wave consists of four figures: Raphael, Michelangelo, Leatherhead, and Shredder. Yours truly isn’t big into this line, but I did place a pre-order for Shredder and he has just arrived.

If you’re not familiar with this line, it’s basically a series consisting mostly of previously released figures with a new, pixelated, paint deco applied. There is some new tooling involved though, so it isn’t all just funny paint. Earlier this year we looked at Slash from the first wave who utilizes the same body as the other turtles, but has an all new and all different headsculpt as well as different pieces on his person. Shredder is not quite that extreme, but he is a bit different from the Shredder we received in the cartoon line. This Shredder is based on the arcade version of Turtles in Time. If you primarily played the home version, then he may seem a little unfamiliar. That’s because the Super Nintendo version of the game replaced the boss fight against this Shredder with one against Super Shredder. I am partial to the Super Shredder fight, but this Shredder caught my eye because he has a wild paint design with a hot pink cape and lots of magenta and purple mixed in. He also has some neat effects pieces that I’ll get to in a bit.

Shredder comes packaged in a window box designed to mimic the old arcade cabinet. All of the figures in this line come in the same style of box with the only difference being the figures on the back. Some online vendors have listed this figure as Super Shredder, but as you can see just by looking at the box, he’s intended to just be Shredder.

If you have the cartoon Shredder, then you should know what to expect articulation wise here. Shredder has ball joints at the head and shoulders, though he doesn’t get a ton of movement out of either because of his cape, helmet, and shoulder pads. His arms can go all the way out, but can’t go up much. He has a swivel in his bicep and double-jointed elbows as well as a cut forearm. His hands rotate and are on hinges as well with in-out movement. He has a cut waist and if there’s any articulation in the main part of his abdomen it’s hard to tell because he has a piece of rubbery plastic serving as his shirt. He has good range of motion at the hips with ball joints and rotational articulation there. He has double-jointed knees and the calves swivel as well. A rarity for this line is the toe articulation as NECA seems to forego that detail frequently.

The goodies.

Where this Shredder differs from the prior one is just in the various armor pieces on his person. He still has a soft goods cape, but now he has fewer spikes on his shoulder pads, gauntlets, and shin guards. He makes up for this in what he does have for spikes are much longer and meaner looking. This is even true of the spikes wrapping around his helmet which are more pronounced as they come off of the back of the helmet. The gauntlets are also overall just bigger than before and the black wraps underneath are gone. He also has these little strips of “metal” at his ankle which is different from the cartoon version. Otherwise though, this is the same figure right down to the hands he comes with.

Shredder comes packed with fists that can pop off and be replaced with either gripping hands or a more open hand. The gripping hands are needed for Shredder’s sword, which is basically a light saber. It’s green and the paint is blended well on the “blade” to give it a glowing look. Why does Shredder have a light saber instead of a traditional sword? I don’t know – it was the 90s and swords just weren’t good enough. His fist hand works best with the fireball attachment he comes with. It’s a yellowish color and it fits over Shredder’s fist to give him a flaming punch effect. It’s a bit tough to wield as it’s not super snug and there’s some weight to it. By far the most interesting accessory is the big, flaming, hand. It clips onto Shredder’s forearm to resemble it shooting forward, as it does in the game. It is of Shredder’s right hand so you’ll probably want to clip it to his right arm, though if you wanted to nothing is stopping you from clipping it to his left. You can combine it with any of the hands, though I think it looks best with the open hand.

The other difference I notice between this Shredder and the past one is in the constitution of the plastic. This Shredder has a far more rubbery texture to him, which is something I’m noticing with the new figures in the cartoon line. I’m not sure if NECA has made a change, but the result gives the figure a less confident feel. He doesn’t stand as well as the cartoon Shredder as the more rubbery plastic causes him to bend and curve ever so slightly making him easy to topple even when using a NECA stand. On the plus side, none of the joints were stuck out of the box so maybe that’s the trade-off with this mix. The plastic used for the flaming hand is a much harder plastic, which is good because if it were soft then it would probably start to droop. It is a bit heavy though and the shoulder joint can’t sustain it fully. I set him up shooting his hand forward on my shelf and after an hour his arm had dropped until the hand was resting on my SDCC Hot Wheels set from last summer. From a quality control standpoint, my Shredder had a little paint slop on some of the spikes, most notably on one of his fists. There’s also a weird seem in the cape by the opening, but for all I know that’s supposed to be that way to maybe bunch it up more. Most of his spikes stayed straight in the package with minimal warp, which can be a problem with old Shred-head.

Shredder is a repaint of an already good action figure that’s true to the source material. I do love that flying hand accessory as well as all of the colors on this guy. I’m less sold on the pixel effect, especially with this figure because the cape is a flat color. He does ditch the cape in the game prior to the fight, so maybe that’s why NECA didn’t pay it much attention. It’s a bit surprising they even included it, but he does look cooler with it on. Since this is only my second figure from this line, I just have him kind of hanging out off to the side with my cartoon figures. Maybe some day I’ll go back and get more of these figures. I do prefer the video game Leatherhead to the cartoon one, and NECA showed off an early sculpt of a Baxter Stockman that will be the first all new sculpt for this line and one I’ll definitely get. As it stands, this figure is a touch underwhelming, but it’s also a little hard to get real excited for a Shredder repaint when so many other exciting figures are hitting retail right now. I don’t regret picking him up, and I think I’ll like him more when he has some more “friends” to play with.


Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure

In the West, it took awhile for Dragon Ball to make an imprint with US audiences. It was localized and brought over in the mid-90s in the hopes of making money in syndicated markets. There were over 200 episodes, so the reasoning was sound, but it just didn’t take off. It wasn’t until the property showed up years later on Cartoon Network that things changed and the rest is history. The gap though meant that a lot of other media associated with the brand was missing. Kids were getting hooked on the Cartoon Network broadcast and looking for other ways to engage the product, but other than a lone PlayStation fighter based on the sequel series (that was out of print at that point, plus terrible), there wasn’t much to turn to.

Eventually Infogrames stepped in and started producing titles based on Dragon Ball Z. The license would eventually switch to Atari when Infogrames went under and now is held by Bandai Namco. A quick search engine lookup of Dragon Ball Z video games will return dozens of titles now. What is still lacking though are games based on the original series: Dragon Ball.

Let’s get to it!

If you’re only familiar with Dragon Ball Z, then you’re really missing out! Dragon Ball tells the story of Goku starting when he has a chance encounter with a young woman named Bulma in the midst of a search for the mystical Dragon Balls. Goku is just a kid at the start of the series, but by its end he’ll be an adult setting the stage for Dragon Ball Z. Unlike its more famous sequel series, Dragon Ball is more of an adventure-driven show with a generous dose of slapstick humor. Even though it is not as combat-driven as Dragon Ball Z, there’s still plenty of martial arts action especially during the many episodes that take place during the World Martial Arts tournament. The show was originally given the same sort of trial run that DBZ received in syndicated markets, but disappeared even quicker. Once DBZ took off, FUNimation returned to the original series and re-dubbed the few episodes that had been dubbed previously as well as the rest of the series. It aired on Cartoon Network in its entirety, though it didn’t have much staying power beyond that.

Before DB: AA the only Dragon Ball game released in the US was this abomination.

With the showing receiving a renewed push, Atari did turn to the property for video games, the first of which was Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure. Advanced Adventure is a Dimps developed title, who was responsible for the Budokai games on home consoles, and it was released in Japan by Banpresto in 2004. Atari, somewhat surprisingly, waited until 2006 to release it in the West. As the title implies, this is a Game Boy Advance game based on the original Dragon Ball. It begins where the series starts and concludes with the battle against King Piccolo. My first thought when I saw the date was maybe Atari waited until Cartoon Network aired all of the episodes covered by the game, but the series finished broadcasting in 2003 so I’m at a loss as to why it waited so long. It’s also strange that the game did not include the Piccolo Jr. Saga especially in light of the fact that one could basically be covered with a few battles. Maybe Dimps just didn’t want to have to make more sprites for an adult Goku? Who knows?

Most of the game unfolds in a side-scrolling fashion.

Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure is an interesting title as it combines a few different genres of gaming. The game’s story mode places the player in control of Goku who has to battle his way through various levels to advance the story. It begins like a platformer with an influence from the beat-em-up genre. Goku can run left and right and jump as well. Double-tapping either left or right will result in Goku breaking out into a sprint which is needed to evade certain enemies (think Indiana Jones) and clear certain gaps. He can also wall-jump, which is handy to know as the game doesn’t tell you he can do this. It’s a bit like Super Metroid in that to wall jump you have to first contact the wall at the height of a jump then quickly press the direction away from the wall and the jump button simultaneously. If you never liked that style of wall-jump then rest assured you could play the whole game without using it if you wanted.

Simple cut scenes are used to advance the story or start a boss fight.

When Goku encounters an enemy, he usually has to dispatch them with a flurry of attacks rather than bop them on the head or dispatch them quickly with a simple attack. Pressing the attack button in rapid succession causes Goku to dispense with simple combos, the majority of standard enemies will be felled by this. Adding in directional inputs can trigger Goku to utilize his famous Power Pole to flip enemies over his head or add some distance to his strikes. The A button causes Goku to jump and he can attack from the air as well with a jump kick or a diving kick. The jump kick doubles as a means of deflecting rockets back at enemies, while on the ground pressing up+B causes Goku to twirl his Power Pole which can deflect bullets.

Goku can make use of the trusty Flying Nimbus in a few levels. Only Goku can fly on the magic cloud.

Other stages in the game will place Goku on his flying Nimbus cloud in an auto-scrolling manner. This is hardly unique as many platformers do the same, but some levels will basically cause the game to turn into a one on one fighting game. In this mode, Goku and his opponent will have a break meter below their health. Repeatedly taking damage causes it to deplete and only when it’s depleted will a character take actual damage. The game still largely feels the same, though Goku ditches his Power Pole, but does pick up the ability to hover jump by twirling his tail. Goku can also launch his opponent into the air to deliver additional damage resulting in them being slammed into the ground. If this mode were released as a dedicated fighting game it would likely be met with a lukewarm reception. As a diversion in a beat-em-up title though it serves its purpose and gives the tournament portions of the story some added importance.

There’s a lot of stuff to collect in this game.

Throughout the story mode, Goku is tasked with finding special items. Many of these are easy to uncover and many more are all but mandatory. These items will be expand Goku’s health meter and even the length of his Power Pole strike. Goku will also learn the much beloved Kamehameha wave. At first, it does very little, but the charge bar for it will be expanded as the game moves along. Once completed, Goku’s charge meter (activated by holding R) will expand to four portions and a full blast results in a big, blue, Kamehameha. Goku can also use this meter to unleash a twirling Power Pole attack with the simple press of the L button. It consumes one “brick” of the meter and will need to be recharged. When Goku has a full meter, he can perform a super move by holding R and pressing L which is a big attack that comes in real handy during one-on-one fights as it can be aimed in different directions. During regular gameplay, the special move works similar to a grab attack as Goku will dash forward and if he connects will then pummel his opponent as he flurries all around them.

Most of the Dragon Ball story is covered in this game, though there are some omissions and deviations here and there.

The main story mode will probably take around 2 and a half hours to complete. Several levels have exploratory components so one could conceivably spend more time in them than the average person, though many also feature gates on the first play-through. Even though the game isn’t terribly long, it’s a game best experienced with short bursts of play as the action can get repetitive. Adding to the repetitive nature of the gameplay is the fact that enemies respawn quite liberally which can become rather annoying, especially in sections with heavy platforming. The game is fairly average in terms of difficulty. Health items are plentiful enough to keep most going and I often found myself amassing a dozen or so extra lives. I’d then hit a troubling spot and maybe reduce them to six or so before moving on and eventually building my stock back up. Most of my deaths came against boss characters later in the game, many of which required some trial and error on my part. I also do not have an instruction manual for this game and the story mode doesn’t tell you about the ability to deflect certain attacks so I had to figure a lot out on my own. Defeating most bosses was largely an exercise in figuring out the best way to deal damage as some require a bit of possum to defeat effectively. Many more though just require some straight-forward bashing and liberal use of Goku’s ultimate attack.

Beating the game and finding the right items means playing as extra characters like Krillin and Tien. It also means being able to play as some pretty bizarre ones as well.

Completing the game will unlock some bonus modes, the most notable is the ability to replay the story mode as Krillin. In extra mode, the player can switch between Goku and Krillin on the fly and replay stages in any order to access areas that were previously inaccessible before. You’ll also quickly gain the ability to use Goku’s super jump which is needed to find special items and was previously only usable at designated points. Krillin plays very similar to Goku, but obviously lacks the Power Pole. Instead, he can use the Solar Flare technique to temporarily stun nearby enemies. He also has a dashing kick attack that’s quite useful in closing in on enemies, though as far as I can tell he can’t deflect bullets. Pretty much every enemy encountered in the game can also be unlocked after beating the game with Krillin and finding their portrait in extra mode. Many of these extra characters are useless, but some (like King Piccolo or Tien) are pretty interesting because they’re both strong and can do something Goku and Krillin can’t: fly.

Initiating the “battle and chase” quality of the fighting mode is a key component to having success.

If you’re really into the one on one battles in the game, there’s also a one on one mode. After beating the game once, you’ll have access to six fighters, but a few more can be unlocked including one who doesn’t even appear in the story mode. There’s also a boss rush mode and a collection of mini games that you’ll probably never want to play. There’s a lot to unlock and experience in Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure, but you’ll likely grow tired of the game long before you experience it all.

Send them high into the sky, then bash them back down to Earth!

That’s not to say that Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure isn’t worthy of your time. I quite enjoyed my time with the title and would deem it a mostly pleasant experience. It’s simple and easy to pick-up, but there’s a bit of hidden depth to discover as well. A lot of the early parts of the game’s story mode can be overcome with button mashing or spamming Goku’s stronger moves, but the game introduces enough curveballs in its later stages to keep you on your toes. And since it’s based on the original Dragon Ball it has a certain charm to it that any Dragon Ball Z game would lack. The actual cut scenes and such are pretty bare bones, and the game makes some changes to the story as well and chooses to omit certain things. It does have some speech elements, enough so that the voice cast received a credit, so the production values are certainly there. The sprite work is quite pleasing to the eye, and the music is good enough, though I’m actually not certain how much of it is based on the actual anime.

Seriously, GameStop?!

I played this game on my Game Boy Micro with an actual cartridge. It’s probably not the best way to experience it since this game requires the use of all of the Game Boy Advance’s buttons. It’s probably best experienced on a Nintendo DS or the original GBA as the layout is far more optimal. I often couldn’t play this for more than a half hour or so without my knuckles starting to ache a bit. The small screen on the Micro can make the one on one battles a bit tougher as well as I found myself jerking the unit around.

The boss battles will often keep you on your toes.

Of course, if you want to play Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure in 2020 you may find it a bit difficult. Since the game arrived after the release of the DS it likely wasn’t manufactured in large quantities. It’s far easier, and cheaper, to acquire the Japanese version as a result and the cartridge alone will probably set you back between 40 and 60 dollars. After stalking eBay a bit for this one and missing out, I actually found it on GameStop’s website and was able to acquire it there. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I did receive a genuine US edition of the game, just without a box or manual. It also came with some gunk inside it that may or may not have originated from a pizza that I had to clean out. Clearly, GameStop does not inspect the games it resells at all so buyer beware. After cleaning it with some rubbing alcohol, I was momentarily dismayed when my first playthrough ended with the game freezing about 20 minutes into it, but all subsequent playthroughs have been issue free so maybe the alcohol had not completely evaporated when I first booted it up.

The game is mostly fun, but the allure of playing as extra characters will only take you so far.

If you’re looking to experience Dragon Ball in video game form, I do recommend Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure. The somewhat high cost of entry for a genuine copy of the game is off-putting, so I would recommend checking out some videos or something before diving in. There were Dragon Ball games released on the DS and Nintendo Wii that are considerably cheaper to acquire, though I find them to be a bit less fun. I probably would not recommend the Wii game, but Dragon Ball Origins for the DS is perfectly fine. If accessibility isn’t an issue though, then Advanced Adventure is the way to go. It’s fun, breezy, and will hold your attention for 6 to 8 hours which is solid for what is largely an old school action platformer. Plus it’s Dragon Ball, what more could you want?


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.


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