Seeing as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are making their way back into the downloadable game spotlight on July 22, I am often reminded of how far consoles have come in terms of technology. The TMNT series has always been an example of a franchise that gave me series arcade envy – back during the original releases of TMNT and TMNT: Turtles in Time, the console versions were downright archaic compared to the cabinets, but unless you could drop money and dedicate space to one of these cabinets, the NES or 16-bit versions were what you had to live with.
Of course, the turtles had their humble beginnings on the NES with their self-titled game produced by Konami’s sub-label Ultra Games. While everyone my age was ecstatic about the release, when the game shipped, it was undoubtedly below everyone’s expectations with poor graphics, shoddy controls and frustrating difficulty. In that same year, though, Konami single-handedly redeemed itself with one of the most-treasured brawlers of the decade’s turn. I remember first seeing TMNT in the arcade for the first time like it was yesterday – that’s how big of an impact the game made on me.
I was in a Saginaw, Mich., mall and in the arcade, massive amounts of people were crowded around the center display. Typically arcades had all of its newest or hottest games in the center so that way people would be able to see the flavor of the moment from the entrance and tempt them to walk into the arcade and past other machines. However, in this one instance, there were so many people huddled around this cabinet, you couldn’t even tell what the cabinet was – you could only guess it was the second coming of sliced bread. If it weren’t for the fact that the arcade had routed a secondary video signal to a monitor above the cabinet (yet another arcade spectacle I miss), you would have had to push through a crowd just to see what was going on. At a mere 7 or 8 years old, I wasn’t quite as tall as I am now (obviously), so the big screen towered high above me, but looking up I could see all four Ninja Turtles dashing through the Technodrome, all in animation-quality graphics. My parents weren’t exactly up to waiting around for me to get in line for my chance at becoming a turtle, so we left and I constantly dreamed of being able to play the game.
After that scenario, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I flipped out when I learned the game would be coming to the NES. I used my birthday money to pick up the game (which came with a coupon for a free Pizza Hut personal pan pizza – yum), and this probably marked the first time I ever recall being exposed to the hardware limitations of the NES versus arcades. The graphics were downright abysmal (I guess the environments worked, but the character models stunk) and while I realize four-player NES games weren’t the norm back then, not having the entire team of turtles fighting together just seemed … wrong. Not only were the evident differences there, but those who knew the ins and outs of the arcade version found a number of quirks – there was only one type of jump kick, there were no shoulder throws, there were no injury animations (characters just flew backward) and my favorite animation of enemies smearing down walls when you threw them was nixed, Raphael lost his rolling kick special and only three enemies were able to be on the screen at one time. Even the boss fights became scrambled up, with a mutated Baxter Stockman subbing in for the epic Bebop & Rocksteady battle to save April. I could go on and on, really, but even though my NES gave me suitable versions of Bubble Bobble, Rush ‘N’ Attack and the like, TMNT became the first time I wasn’t satisfied, even though the NES version received two extra stages, thus beginning my arcade envy.
Around that time, with the advancement of technology, it was becoming clear that consoles needed to head somewhere in order to keep up with the glorious looking titles found only in arcades. The answer to this quickly became the Super Nintendo, which, while the 16-bit technology was still a tad behind the arcade’s true power, gave us games that actually looked and played like arcade games from the comfort of our own home. Through this time, Konami quietly snuck out a TMNT arcade sequel entitled Turtles in Time, which dramatically ramped up the turtle’s movesets, gave each character distinct difference and gave the game a graphical boost while tossing in nearly every staple character ever to appear in the mainstream TMNT series. Eventually this title would release on the SNES while the company was on fire and, thankfully, the SNES version hit the spot. It featured a myriad of content not featured in the arcade version, including extra stages, boss fights and a two-player versus mode. Even the Genesis “spinoff” title The Hyperstone Heist featured great game play while remixing the storyline and concepts found in Turtles in Time. While I accepted the quality game provided at home, still, again, the fact the game wasn’t four players really bugged me. Perhaps I was in the minority, but I grew up with arcades and I wanted what those games provided me.
When we flash forward to 2009, however, the turtles are recognizing their 25th anniversary (just like Tetris!) and we’re approaching a true remake of Turtles in Time. It sadly appears that the game is being revamped according to the arcade format, taking out the awesome bonus content found in the SNES version. The original 1989 arcade version of TMNT is large and in charge on Xbox Live and remains as one of the service’s highest-selling titles. Finally, I can play TMNT the way it is meant to be played – with four buddies, backed by current technology. Even so, the social aspect and crowd appeal of arcades are lost in shuffle, so it’s a Catch-22. Even though the arcade is finally home, we’ve lost our concept of the bustling arcade location – I suppose arcade envy is a matter of not being able to have your cake and eat it too.
So what stories do our users have? Have you ever fallen in love with an arcade title only to be miffed over the home version you had to pay $50 for?