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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.