A generation ago, it would have been absurd to even think of the phrase “my first fandom”, but now here I sit contemplating whether or not I could consider Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to be the first fandom in my life. I wonder what the qualifications are for such a thing, as, even at the age of four, I probably qualified for #1 Voltron fan in the tri-state area. But I was, you know, four, so it was hard for me to really absorb everything that was available, or even have the slightest inkling that Voltron was a heavily modified import (“Sven didn’t die, he’s at Space Hospital,” sounds so natural to a toddler). Transformers was another biggie, but I was still shackled by my age (and generally low earning potential), so, while I never really wanted for more, all I had was the original animated series and maybe twenty different toys. I think I even missed the movie because I heard there was a swear in there.
Then there was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I want to say I got in on the ground floor of this one, but I know that isn’t true, as the original Eastman/Laird comics were decidedly not for me. But I was definitely there at the start of the action figure line, complete with the little origin comic on the back of the box that explained turtles and their rivalry with Shredder, who had originally used the ooze to poison (human) Master Splinter, but wound up creating the Turtles (and a giant rat) instead. This was the beginning of what I consider to be “following a fandom” in more ways than one.
When you’re a kid, everything is concrete and factual. There are no gray areas, there are just facts and lies. Birds fly, fish swim, your parents are always right, and thunder is your deceased Great Uncle Bernie bowling in Heaven. You’re old enough to understand that reality is reality and fiction is fiction, but fiction follows the same uniform rules as reality: everything in a proper sequence, and the beginning of the story doesn’t just change willy-nilly because it would lead to a more exciting ending.
So imagine my shock when I first saw the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle animated series and its origin story didn’t exactly match the story presented on the back of the five dollar toy I’d obtained on the boardwalk. I don’t know how, as there was nary an Internet to be found back then, and it wasn’t like there were (informed) news reports on the Ninja Turtles either, but at some point shortly after the premiere I received my answer: there was an old “for adults” Ninja Turtles comic, and an animated series for kids like me. And the toys themselves were an additional third pillar that didn’t have to adhere to either continuity. I didn’t know the word “continuity”, but I came to understand there could be different histories and worlds for the same turtles. It was a revelation.
The reality of story-telling is that stories change wildly over time and through authors. There’s people who don’t understand this (just google “Simpsons goofs” to find a whole host of them), but it’s a natural part of fiction that it adapts and changes to the times and audience. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles itself started as a parody of Frank Miller Daredevil comics, and from that narrow sliver of a field it evolved into a multi-million dollar child entertainment empire. It was natural that a few things were going to change along the way.
Assuming I had never learned this simple lesson years earlier, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters would have broken my brain.
First of all, TMNTTF has three different versions across the NES, SNES, and Sega Genesis. We’re primarily looking at the SNES version here today (as that’s the copy I own), but it’s worth starting with the NES version. NES TMNTTF is one of the few NES fighting games (as the processor, controller, and graphics of the system were all terrible for the genre), and its roster is suitably “NES limited”, featuring the four turtles, Casey Jones, Shredder, and Hothead. Hothead is likely the name you don’t recognize there, but, even though he never appeared on the television show, he did appear as an action figure. So we’ve got a roster that at least is consistent with the toys, if not the show. Maybe you just missed his episode in the rerun schedule…
Then there’s the Genesis version. Here we have the same turtles and Casey Jones, but we’ve dropped Shredder in favor of Krang in his robot body (go find some footage of Krang fighting in this game, by the way, as he has an adorable “pugilist” fighting stance that matches that crazy body perfectly). April O’Neil also joins the fight (and this is the only version that lets her out of her yellow jumpsuit for a workout), along with Ray Fillet, a popular toy/character that popped up in an episode or two, and an unnamed Triceraton, another Animated/action figure mainstay. Then we have a completely original character, because there weren’t enough random mutants crawling around the TMNT franchise, a beetle mutant named Sisyphus who looks vaguely samurai-ish and might be a complicated, mythological poop joke. The final boss is Karai, Shredder’s successor in a lot of different media, but at this point in time, she had simply appeared in the comics series. I suppose her presence explains the lack of Shredder, but there’s no explanation for why the designers decided to pair her up with “Animated” Krang. Already we’re starting to see a game that is a desperate turtle soup of continuities, but at least it has the backdrop of Dimension X to claim “anything can happen”.
Finally, we have the SNES version. Once again, here’s the turtles, but Casey Jones has been relegated to background cameos. Also in the background but not participating: Baxter Stockman, Bebop, and Rocksteady. Who would want to play as those guys, afterall, when you can play as Chrome Dome, a Foot Clan robot that appeared in a pair of Animated episodes. Shredder is back with the moniker Cyber Shredder, but he still looks and acts like regular Shredder, so who knows what’s going on there. The official story is that Shredder has “left New York” when the game begins, so maybe this is just his life model decoy? Guess it works for Dr. Doom. Wingnut and The Rat King, both (basically) from the Animated Series and toyline, are also available. For some reason, Rat King is promoted as the winner of last year’s tournament, and has been enjoying his winnings from the luxury of his sewer lair. The footski doesn’t build itself.
Then things get weird. First, there’s Armaggon, a mutant shark, who, admittedly, would fit right in on the show, but originated from the Archie Comics. Another case of “maybe I missed that episode” in a time before Wikipedia. Also, for reasons I’m not going to get into, Armaggon is a mutant shark from the future. Have to note these important developments. Then there’s War, another Archie creation. If you haven’t figured it out yet, the Archie Comics characters are more “hardcore” than their Animated counterparts, and War is here to remind you of that as he is literally one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Of course, he just kinda looks like yet another Dimension X whatzit, so pretty par for the course for Ninja Turtles.
And then there’s the most… lurid character: Aska. Aska, like her beetle buddy on the Genesis, is a completely original Konami creation. She’s also not wearing pants. She’s basically wearing a swimsuit with thigh high boots, and in the Japanese version, that swimsuit has morphed into a thong. Her primary attack is tossing herself butt-first at her opponent, or performing a vaulting split that catches the enemy between her thighs before smashing them to the ground. She kicks high. Nowadays, she’d just be labeled as the “sex appeal” character, and we’d call it a day, but back in ’93 it was downright puzzling. Hell, it’s still pretty quizzical, given the TMNT franchise wasn’t exactly a bastion of maturity at the time (or would ever be). In a game where a radical, pizza-loving turtle hurls “dragon breath” at a mutant shark from the future, here’s a Japanese teenage dream trying to raise money for her dojo. It’s a neat trick that the most mundane, bland fighting character in the game also winds up being the most incongruous.
As in the Genesis version, Kairi is the final boss, and, perhaps as an apology from the producers, she’s presented about as sexily as Raphael (maybe even less, after all, Raphael is mostly naked). There’s at least an in-game explanation this time around confirming that Kairi is the leader of the Foot Clan now, so maybe the less comic-inclined fans would just assume this tournament takes place in the future? Doesn’t explain why all the Animated characters are just hanging out in the background, but, hey, you didn’t hit start for the story, you came to play as that weird purple guy about which you know nothing.
The Super Nintendo version, as often happened during this era, is the far-superior game. Both the NES and Genesis versions have a measly two attack buttons, so the simple improvement of having a King of Fighters-esque four button attack option is a boon for the SNES edition. But the NES and Genesis games both have a much more familiar roster. Casey Jones is a lynchpin in the TMNT franchise, and he’s just a background element on the SNES, where a space bat takes center stage. Bebop and Rocksteady are absent from all rosters, which is a travesty, as, come on, I could create a moveset for a bipedal rhino in my sleep. And Splinter, a karate master that can put Shredder to shame, plays the part of captive in two out of three games. Forget Ms. Fanservice, a modern release of this game would have been wall-to-wall “characters you actually want” DLC.
But it was released in the twentieth century, around when I was eleven, so you better believe I played it like the controller was glued to my hands. Yes, I would have rather played a game with a playable Krang or Baxter Stockman, but I acknowledged that there were other characters in the TMNT universe, ones that I didn’t know about, and I accepted them. I was a fan of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, no matter the medium or characters, and would enjoy anything that came my way, canon be damned. Turtle, shark, or spiked scaly thing, all are welcome.
You always have a softspot for your first.
FGC #45 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Tournament Fighters
- System: Were you paying attention? NES, SNES, and Genesis. SNES is what you’re looking at for the article, though.
- Number of players: 2. Well, technically you can get a tournament going with more players, but only two at one time.
- Version Differences: I already pretty much covered them, but let’s note that the NES version requires a “powerup” to do any useful special moves. The NES was not made for fighting games, cannot stress that enough.
- Favorite Fighter: War, huh, what is he good for? Absolutely wreckin’ stuff. Huh! Good God, ya’all.
- Difficulty: Oh yeah, every version of this game is adamantium hard. Like, beating the game on Difficulty 3 is difficult, and Difficulty 7 is just impossible. It’s one of those lovely fighting games before the advent of combos where you just have to throw out a bunch of fireballs and hope for the best.
- Konami Code: Wingnut is a bat from deep space, or another dimension, or something. His favorite videogame is listed as Castlevania 2099. Oh, what I’d give to see Castlevania relevant through 2099…
- What does it mean to be a TMNT fan from the 80’s? Yes, TMNT has my obsession for much of my childhood (which seems longer when it’s happening). Barring some of the ultra rarities, I probably have every TMNT action figure and vehicle thanks to a combination of generous grandparents and various holidays. And this isn’t past tense, as I am incapable of letting anything go, I have a good couple of tubs of the guys. There’s no way any kind of “resale” money could outweigh the value of just knowing where Monty Moose is in my home.
- Glad you got over that kind of behavior: I know, right? By the way, anybody know the next time I need to line up outside Target at 5 AM for amiibos? I’m a Falco away from completion, and I’m trying to plan my week.
- Did you know? The Genesis version is the only one that doesn’t allow the player to control the bosses. This is a great loss for anyone that wants a playable Krang, but it seems fair to keep Kairi out of the hands of player vs. player, as she can drain an entire life bar with approximately three hits. Did I mention this game is stupidly hard?
- Would I play again? Behind the arcade games, this might be my favorite TMNT game, so it does wind up on my big screen every once in a while. I never play it for very long, but it’s charming enough to flail around with Donny on occasion.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Krion Conquest for the NES. Never heard of that game? That’s okay, let’s just say… it’s a literal slap in the face. Please look forward to it!