Tag Archives: arcade

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.


Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge

Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade's Revenge (1992)

Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge (1992)

Expectations influence just about everything we come in contact with.  Expectations can help lead to a more fulfilling experience when those expectations are met.  Other times, they can help make the bad seem worse when something fails to meet though expectations.  When I was a kid and I heard there was going to be a video game featuring a team-up between Spider-Man, possibly the most popular character ever created by Marvel Comics, and the X-Men, easily the hottest comic at the time, I was giddy with anticipation.  This seemed like a no lose situation and Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge vaulted to the top of my list of must own Super Nintendo games along with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV:  Turtles in Time.  One of those games would turn out well and provide me with hours of entertainment, that game was not Spider-Man and the X-Men.

What went wrong?  Well, let’s backtrack a bit first and see how this all came together and if my expectations were even justified.  At the time of the game’s release, Spider-Man had already been enjoying a run on the Sega Genesis and Game Boy as a platform star.  Perhaps star is a bit strong as his games weren’t really great, but they also weren’t particularly awful.  The best was definitely The Amazing Spider-Man vs The Kingpin for the Genesis.  The game was pretty difficult, at times frustratingly so, but it did a great job of making use of the Spider-Man license.  It was also quite popular and one of the best-selling titles at the time.  The X-Men, on the other hand, really only had the one NES game titled The Uncanny X-Men.  It was horrible and it tricked many uninformed gamers into renting or buying it with it’s X-Men branding.  Arguably, the best games for both franchises were the arcade beat-em-ups Spider-Man:  The Video Game and X-Men.  The Spider-Man game came first in 1991 and for some reason it isn’t as well loved and remembered as the X-Men game that followed in ’92.  It was a typical brawler allowing up to four players to join in and included playable characters Spider-Man, Black Cat, Hawkeye, and Sub-Mariner.  It’s selling feature was a more platform inspired design where the camera would zoom out allowing the players to take on gigantic enemies including a super-sized Venom at the end of the first stage.  The X-Men game was similar, but it’s defining characteristic (aside from the comical mistranslations) was the double-monitor cabinet allowing up to six players at once.  Both games were hard as they were designed to suck quarters out of its audience but they were a lot of fun, especially with a group of friends.

I hate these stupid clowns and their stupid stage.

I hate these stupid clowns and their stupid stage.

It would seem to me that a track record was in place that at least suggested a console game featuring these two franchises could be great.  If I had been a little wiser as a kid and more aware I would have taken note of the LJN logo on the box and realized right away the game was going to be a giant turd, but sadly I just wasn’t.  Before I get into what the game did wrong I suppose I should point out what it did right.  First of, Spider-Man is represented fairly well given that he is able to stick to walls, shoot webs, and even make use of his spider-sense in the game.  The roster for the X-Men side is pretty solid as well as it features the obvious choice of Wolverine along with Cyclops, Storm, and Gambit.  Wolverine has an interesting dynamic to him as he retains his mutant healing power but it only works when his claws are retracted.  The game is packed with villains too like Apocalypse, Shocker, Juggernaut, and Carnage.  Arcade is kind of a weird choice for the main villain, but at least his Murderworld offers a lot of possibilities for level-design.

That’s basically it as far as what Spider-Man and the X-Men gets right, and unfortunately it’s a pretty small list.  So what makes this game suck so hard?  Well, lets first start with the presentation.  I’m usually not one to have much of an opinion on the audio within a game.  I expect it to do its job and often times I have to make it a point to touch upon it when doing these reviews because I tend to overlook it.  Here it’s easy to not overlook because the sound is so bad.  The score is okay at times, though certain levels (Wolverine’s) feature an annoying soundtrack.  It’s the FX that really bug me though as they just sound like, for lack of a better word, shit.  A lot of the characters, good and bad, let out a scream when they die that sounds fuzzy and distorted.  The machine sounds are just as bad and Spidey’s web blasts sound like they could be grenades.  The graphics are also piss-poor.  The characters are really small, except Storm but I’ll get to her later, and lacking in any sort of detail.  Wolverine even looks like he only has two claws on each hand while Gambit doesn’t have a face.  Some of the villains are almost unrecognizable, especially Apocalypse who looks like a blue bug or something.

Hey Gambit, where's your face?

Hey Gambit, where’s your face?

Perhaps what bugged me more than anything as a kid was just how un-super these super heroes felt.  Spider-Man and the X-Men is a pretty hard game made so mostly because these characters can’t seem to take a punch.  They die so easily and it’s a frustrating experience.  I get that it’s hard to make a super hero game because on one hand the super heroes need to be super powerful, but the game also needs some challenge.  That’s why we have super villains though, and Wolverine shouldn’t be getting annihilated by a jack-in-the-box with a tommy gun.  The X-Men games that would follow on the Genesis were hard, but at least those X-Men felt like powerful super heroes (well, for the most part), these ones are push-overs.  The level designs are also fairly lacking.  Spider-Man’s are just weird looking and kind of confusing as they’re intended to be maze-like.  The player is supposed to use his spider-sense to navigate but it just gets tiresome.  Cyclops’ stages feature an annoying mine cart premise where touching the tracks means death.  Gambit has to outrun a giant deathball and might be the best levels, which isn’t saying much.  Wolverine is in a circus and there’s nothing noteworthy about the first stage while the second stage he has to outrun the Juggernaut.  It’s basically the same concept as the Gambit stages, though at least LJN incorporated something from the comics to make it feel relevant.  Storm’s stages are quite different and probably everyone’s most hated as she has to navigate a flooded laboratory.  They’re swimming levels, but unfortunately Storm’s mutant powers over the weather don’t let her breath underwater.  Just about everyone hates the underwater Sonic the Hedgehog levels for the same reason, this is worse times ten.

The red guy is Carnage. That gray blob?  He's Rhino.  I think.

The red guy is Carnage. That gray blob? He’s Rhino. I think.

If the player manages to actually beat all of the levels then they get to take on Arcade as Spider-Man.  You kind of have to be a glutton for punishment to even make it that far as the game is both really hard and really bad.  That’s the worst combination.  As a kid, I never had much success and never made it past any character’s second stage so making it all the way to Arcade wasn’t in the cards.  Playing this game was a depressing endeavor as a game featuring a team-up between these two should have been awesome.  I remember a few years after I got it Toys R Us started their first trade-in program where people could trade in games they no longer wanted for store credit.  I grabbed my copy of Spider-Man and the X-Men and, thinking I’d get maybe 15 or 20 bucks, was offered only four.  I elected not to trade it in but in hindsight I should have taken the four Jeffry Dollars.  I could have used it for some Fruit Stripe gum or something.


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