The best beat ‘em ups are dumb as hell.
While Gogglebob.com is still officially claiming that any and all articles appearing within the Fustian Gaming Challenge are randomly chosen (“random” can mean a lot!), today’s article is obviously inspired by the glut of excellent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle gaming that has been released within the last year. A whole new turtle experience (but primarily based on the 80’s cartoon), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, was released in June of 2022. Then, a whole two (or so) months later, we were graced with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection, which collected seemingly every turtle game from the early days of the Nintendo versus Sega console wars (though the lack of Tiger Handheld titles was obviously a glaring omission). While this collection does include a few titles that are outside the beat ‘em up genre, the focus here are the arcade and console games that showcase ninja walking left to right and incessantly detonating foot soldiers. Many of these titles have been played and covered on this site before, but now having all the arcade, NES, SNES, and Genesis turtle beat ‘em ups immediately available and just a swipe away from each other? Amazing! I’m going to spend the next week finding all the stupid ways you can fight Krang!
And, having devoured all these titles in rapid succession, one simple truth emerges: all of these games are really good! Some are better than others, some are more memorable than others, and every single one includes a fight against Shredder that borders on unfair; but they are all a good time from beginning to end. It would be easy to simply reward infinite bonus points to these titles for practically defining the genre for a generation, but even the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade) is still fun throughout, and does not need a corollary “oh we owe this so much” like some progenitors of genres. Pick a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle beat ‘em up, any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle beat ‘em up released or rereleased in 2022, and you are guaranteed to enjoy yourself.
And that’s… kind of weird, right? Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking? No, TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge was a whole new experience. Maybe it’s a love of classic turtles? No, if I’m being honest, I would like to see nearly any other incarnation of these hero turtles included in a beat ‘em up. Is it because the beat ‘em up genre has languished for so long? No, that may have been true a decade or so back, but with everything from new Streets of Rage to Ninja Warriors, we are living in a neo golden age of beat ‘em ups. The humble beat ‘em up is soaring to the heavens! On an elevator where you have to beat everybody up! So why is a game from before we even hit the 90’s still so good?
Simple answer, stupid: it’s because it’s stupid.
There is not much to a beat ‘em up game. You walk down pathways that are so straightforward, it is literally impossible to get lost. There is no such thing as needing a map for a beat ‘em up. And speaking of strategy, 90% of your opponents in a beat ‘em up require just as much thinking as jabbing your index finger down. Oh no! Seventeen foot soldiers! I wonder if jump kicking over and over will stop them? And, while the generals are generally more complicated than their foot soldiers (oh… I just got that), they are still little more than the same mooks with extra steps. Double the health, and maybe there’s a laser gun, but no extra brains are available. In fact, “no extra brains” seems to be the name of the game here, as a brainless five-year-old could conquer any of these games. And I should know! I used to be that brainless five-year-old! I had a whole lot of quarters, but no sense!
And that is the point. Are any of the TMNT titles truly “brainless”? Absolutely not. These are carefully crafted games designed to seem brainless. Anyone that ever tried a one-credit run of these titles will tell you that Rocksteady has tremendously more nuance to his charges, foot soldiers of all different colors have dramatically distinct attack patterns, and there is a way to make Shredder keel without ever eating a mutagen beam. There is a rhythm here, a carefully calculated method to the madness that, like the best movies or music, makes it all look easy. And that’s the point! The games are not brainless, but you are supposed to be brainless, because if you’re not thinking, you’re not thinking about how many tokens you’re dropping in there. Baxter Stockman just knocked you flat? Dang! You almost had ‘em! Better drop another quarter, dollar, or however much money it takes to lay that scientist-fly flat. 90% of 90’s beat ‘em ups are perfectly calibrated to drain 90% of your wallet without you even noticing 90% of the time.
And, brother, if you got friends around the arcade cabinet with you sharing the experience? Encouraging you to keep going, and support the team with more of your hard-earned (or grandpa provided) dough? Oh, you’re going to be there until the end. Welcome to the cult of the beat ‘em up, please follow the Konami scripture.
And if you’re wondering why it took so long for beat ‘em ups to find their footing in the modern era, simply consider how much this
business model gameplay does not work with an at-home experience. The comradery of crowding around a cabinet is completely absent from online play, and paying once for a DLC title is not nearly the same as paying for a game a quarter at a time. Once you drop the essential trappings of the genre (and arguably their entire point for existence), you’ve got dumb gameplay that serves… nothing. Videogames are supposed to make you feel smart! Every puzzle you unravel in a game (whether it be in Candy Crush or Phoenix Wright) is designed to be resolved and tickle your brain in the right ways so you believe you are better for having solved the mystery. Every JRPG that challenges you to master its “system” is another exercise in making you feel sharper than a +1 vorpal blade. And those “skill trees” and bosses with weaknesses in action games are there to commend you for making the brilliant deduction that the fire move will hurt the ice monster. Achievement unlocked: you are a super player. Playing a game that is naturally “stupid” is the antithesis of that, and why would you bother playing such a thing when other games that properly massage your endorphins are immediately available?
Well, because you recognize Tokka, Rahzar, and Tempestra.
These games are good and stupid. And when you’re feeling stupid, a decent shot of nostalgia will keep things going.
And I’d love to list more reasons to play these games, but I just played a lot of turtle beat ‘em ups, and everything is kind of… fuzzy for some reason…
Me am like beat ‘em ups. Play more. Cowabunga.
FGC #645 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge
- System: Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC/Steam. Make sure you choose the system that all your friends own!
- Number of players: Six! And it is super fun when you get everyone together and working against Shredder’s forces. In fact…
- Watch it, Buddy: All sorts of turtle stuff happened on Even Worse Streams. We all played Shredder’s Revenge, and we… kinda played the Arcade collection. There were some technical issues! You may watch ‘em below.
Original Stream Date: June 21, 2022
Original Stream Date: August 30, 2022
Original Stream Date: September 6, 2022
The collection episode doesn’t really have any beat ‘em ups in there, but there wasn’t a place for it elsewhere on the site…
- Favorite Turtle: You may notice that I played as Donatello in every one of those streams. This is by design.
- Favorite Boss: Dirtbag and Groundchuck are the price cut, bargain bin version of Bebop and Rocksteady, and I am a man that likes his discounts. I always appreciate the duo bosses in beat ‘em ups, because it makes for a fine counter to playing with a buddy, and an excellent excuse to strategize with your partner(s). Oh, and Groundchuck is some manner of cyborg bull. That gets bonus points, too.
- Favorite Boss (Tournament Edition): Anytime Wingnut appears, you are going to have a good time. I have adored that action figure for years (it’s so weirdly gross!), so I am glad to see this Batman get a spot as an aerial opponent.
- Goggle Bob Fact: Speaking of toys, I noted on the Shredder’s Revenge stream that I had the Knuckle Head vehicle as a kid. And here’s proof!
A new toy and a new dinosaur friend! Best Christmas ever!
- Let’s talk about another game: For possibly the first time since I was twelve, I played through Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist as part of the collection. While it is the official Konami beat ‘em up for Sega Genesis, it is weird how much it feels like a fan romhack of Turtles in Time. Areas are repurposed haphazardly (I guess there’s just a pirate ship in the sewers now?), the one original boss is from the movie and has extremely limited animations, and an entire level is a boss rush (in a game with, like, five bosses). It’s still a fun game from start to finish, though! It is a good romhack.
- Did you know? The Punk Frogs appear in Shredder’s Revenge as helper characters. Attila, Genghis, Napoleon Bonafrog, and Rasputin apparently made a lasting impression on the fandom… despite only appearing in six episodes of the original series. Irma, another helper character, appeared in, like, a million episodes. Regardless, what is important is that they are known as the “Punk” frogs, but they are clearly surfer dudes. Know your genres!
- Would I play again: Anytime I need some good, stupid fun, I know the heroes on a half shell to call.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Killer Instinct for the Xbox One! Is Fulgore still full of gore? Let’s find out! Please look forward to it!
Okay, that was impressive