Sunday, November 13, 2011

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game

I'm sure I'm not alone when I say this but, my childhood pretty much revolved around three things: Ghostbusters, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and my NES. I watched Ghostbusters I & II just about every week on HBO, made sure to catch the Turtles every Saturday morning, and typically favored playing Mega Man 3 to doing homework. So what is a kid to do when game developers combine two of my childhood loves together? In the case of Ghostbusters - run away screaming. However, in the case of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, there's a lot to love about the video game series.

For the uninitiated, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles started as a dark, violent-as-heck, action-packed comic book series by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. The early comics were gritty and violent - not unlike the works of Frank Miller. This vision of the turtles shifted whenever the franchise was licensed into the exciting realms of television, toys, and film. What were once a team of young mutated ninja assassins became a lovable troop of colorful slapstick - the Three Stooges meets California surfer culture. To most of us, this was the only version of the Turtles we knew; and we ate it up like a big, cheesy slice of greasy Pizza Hut pizza.

Pizza Hut. Sponsoring childhood obesity since 1990.

Konami released four different Turtle-themed games for the NES: An action platformer, two awesome arcade-style beat-em-ups, and a fighting game. The first and fourth game in the series were nice enough - but for my money - the best games in the series are TMNT II: The Arcade Game and TMNT III: The Manhattan Project. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II is based on the 1989 arcade machine by Konami. Having played both the arcade hit and the 1990 NES port; I can say that, while it's not a picture perfect port, there's a whole lot to love about the NES version.

The arcade intro: Similar - but different.

While the graphics aren't 100% identical to the arcade version (obviously,) they look really darn good for an NES title. One of the shining features of the first game were the graphics and this game took that level of presentation and exceeded it. Sprites are big and colorful, with crisp clean lines and detail. Sure, it may not look exactly like the cartoon - but the cutscenes are nicely animated and the level design and sprites do a faithful job of recreating the feel of the arcade version. The sound effects and music also do a great job representing what the arcade felt like. The music is fast and funky - like hard rock music in full retro 8-bit glory, and every slash, punch, and exploding foot soldier sound-effect is there and accounted for. It's nice to hear the iconic TMNT theme song well represented here. The only major thing missing is some of the voice over clips that the arcade version had, but when listening to some of the garggly monster noise voice clips from games like Ghostbusters and Blades of Steel - do you really miss them? Heck, listen to the "Cowabunga" from Turtles III and tell me you really miss those "voice-through-a-tin-can" sound clips.

Worst. Trust fall. Ever.

The gameplay is fast, fun, and addictive. Anyone familiar with the standard Double Dragon-style beat-em-up will be able to pick this game up without any problems. The premise is simple: you smash, slash, slice, and dice countless faceless, nameless foot soldiers in a variety of exciting colors until you reach a boss at the end of each stage. Most of the early enemies from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles universe are well-represented here: we have Krang, Bebop and Rocksteady, Shredder, Baxter Stockman, and even a few new characters designed just for the NES port. One of the bonuses of having the NES version over the arcade is that many of the levels are longer and there are a couple of new bad guys thrown in the mix.

Rocksteady's packin' some serious firepower.

While some versions of the arcade game were 4-player compatible, sadly this version allows only a maximum 2-players. While it would have been nice to have Satellite compatibility and all four turtles on the screen at once, the two-player feature is a must. This really is a game best played between two people. For starters, the difficulty level is pretty high for a single-player experience. It's nice to have three lives and three continues, but I found myself frequently using all of my lives up at the boss in each level because it's sometimes difficult to dodge or maneuver around their attacks without a buddy wailing on them while you slash away. Which does bring me to one other pet peeve I have with the game which is the hit-detection. This is kind of a notorious problem with a lot of early beat-em-ups, but you will swear that you struck the first blow only to be grabbed by a foot soldier or struck by a flying dagger that you swear you dodged. It can get frustrating - but it adds challenge for otherwise seasoned beat 'em up champions.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II is an awesome 2-player beat 'em up extravaganza. The graphics are great, the game is challenging and fairly long for a beat 'em up, and it's exactly what you need to cure your arcade blues. After all, arcades are a dying breed anyway so you can own a little slice of that excitement right on your very own NES. I not only recommend this game but also TMNT III. It's a great game and it's available right now at Lukie Games!

Woohoo! Another cheesy cart picture!