Going back as far as I can remember, there were three things I loved as a kid more than anything else – Batman, video games, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Dark Knight had been popular ever since his first appearance in Detective Comics #27 in 1939 and through Adam West’s run as Bruce Wayne/Batman in the 60’s tv show, before another surge of popularity in the late 80’s with the release of Tim Burton’s film iteration of Batman. Video games had been steadily rising in popularity as a pastime once again thanks to the Nintendo Entertainment System after the industry had been considered dead thanks to market oversaturation by the likes of Atari and Mattel. Those whose childhood years were spent in the late-80’s/early-90’s will most likely know exactly what you’re talking about should you utter the catch phrases “Cowabunga!” or “Turtle Power!” and surely remember how significant the ninja turtle craze of the era was. Just a few examples:
- cartoons – I had probably a dozen or so VHS tapes I watched religiously(along with the movies)
- action figures – yup, owned just about every single one. Never got the Turtle Blimp though, sadly…
- breakfast cereals – the TMNT cereal was my absolute favorite(complete with turtle-shaped bowl)
- all manner of clothing – lots of pajamas and t-shirts
Of course, there’s been a number of TMNT video games, beginning with the very first games for the NES. I spent a lot of time playing the first game on the family NES, but don’t remember ever getting past the infamous “dam level” where you had to swim through a hazardous underwater maze defusing bombs before the time runs out. One game, that I enjoyed more than any other was TMNT IV: Turtles In Time; I absolutely loved this game as a kid, and, to be honest, anything TMNT was enough to ensure I wanted to play it back then. The game felt taken straight from the animated series, like I was playing something I had on VHS and would pop into the VCR on some random afternoon.
Turtles In Time is an arcade-style beat ’em up game in which you pummel waves of enemies as you make your way through the different levels of the game, with each level progressively adding a greater variety of enemy types, and in greater numbers. Anyone who has ever played a Final Fight or Streets of Rage game will be familiar with the genre already – I considered Turtles In Time to be the Streets of Rage to Battletoads’ Final Fight at the time. The game was developed by Konami, the same as the previous NES games, and initially released as an arcade game in 1991 before finding its way to the Super Nintendo the following year. The SNES version of the game saw the addition of the a couple stages and bosses, as well as a few minor changes to the in-game audio/soundtrack. One of the biggest differences between the arcade and SNES versions is the fact the arcade version features four player co-op, where standard two person co-op is the only option available on the Super Nintendo.
Turtles In Time begins with Krang stealing the Statue of Liberty from Liberty Island as Shredder takes over the tv airwaves, sending a message to our half-shell heroes daring them to try and stop him as they make their way across the streets(and sewers) of New York City shortly afterward, before battling Shredder in the Technodrome. After his defeat, Shredder leaps through a time vortex, traveling backwards in time. The turtles follow Shredder through the past and into the future as they work to foil Krang & Shredder’s diabolical plans once again.
The game features 10 different levels, with the first few stages of the game taking place in NYC and the Technodrome before following Shredder through various historical stages, each one featuring a different boss fight at the end of it. When starting the game, you select one of the four turtles – Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, Michaelangelo as the gameplay is as straightforward as most other beat ’em ups – see enemy, clobber enemy. Turtles In Time sticks to the traditional formula of: fight a bunch of enemies(with a wider variety of enemies thrown into the mix as the game progresses), face off against boss at the end of level, and repeat. The SNES version of Turtles In Time deviates slightly from the arcade version; in the levels Sewer Surfin’ and Neon Night Riders play like a short bonus level where you
navigate surf the sewers of New York City.
The first level on the other side of Shredder’s time machine takes you to the Prehistoric Age where you battle Foot Soldiers and Krang’s Dimension X Rock Soldiers while avoiding falling stalactites in caverns and being trampled by stampeding dinosaurs. The next level finds you battling a swashbuckling Bebop and Rocksteady aboard a pirate ship set in the 1500’s before traveling by train through the 1800’s Old West, culminating with a fight against the Cajun gator, Leatherhead. The game then jumps into the future as you ride your hoverboard through the streets of an unnamed city(ironically set in the year 2020…) on your way to fight Krang in his android body and then to a Space Station, where you will battle Krang for a second time. The final level of the game takes place back in the Technodrome where you square off against Super Shredder as the stolen Statue of Liberty can be seen in the background. I remember thinking it was pretty cool that the SNES version of Turtles In Time had references to the movie, TMNT II: The Secret of the Ooze – Tokka, Rahzar, Super Shredder, who were level bosses in the game, despite the movie was only released a year prior.
The game gets a bit difficult towards the end, as most of the Foot Soldiers you face have weapons of their own, the Foot Soldiers sporting projectile weapons are pretty easily the most annoying ones you have to fight. While it may very well be my favorite(?) example of the genre, it still shares many of the same criticisms I have with most beat ’em ups. For as well as the controls themselves typically work, pummeling the numerous enemies on screen isn’t always as easy to accomplish as one would assume due to constantly having to line up your character in the same background/foreground plane as the enemies on screen. Anyone who’s spent any amount of time playing Streets of Rage or Final Fight will undoubtedly know the frustration of rearing back to land a punch on an enemy in front of you, only to swing and miss before quickly finding yourself on the receiving end of a retaliatory attack. This also means it is critical to keeping the on-screen enemies on the same side of your character, as most of the time an enemy won’t immediately attack you, but slowly attempt to wander behind your character and surround you. Again, this is nothing unique to Turtles In Time, but rather something to be expected in beat ’em up games. Fortunately, there’s no enemies in Turtles In Time like the knife-wielding thugs in the Streets of Rage games that will usually take a diagonal path across the screen towards you, making them very difficult to hit…
An enhanced 3D remake of the game titled, Turtles In Time Re-Shelled was released for the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network back in 2009 but was pulled from the store in 2011. This was considered an enhanced 3D remake of the game, which was modeled after the original arcade version of the game and not the SNES version. Not wanting to venture into “rant about Konami” territory, I will add that it’s a shame the once-revered studio doesn’t show greater interest in more(any?) of its many game series; I often bring up how awesome a slightly updated version of some of their older arcade/console games like Turtles In Time or Sunset Riders would be right at home among the many ports and remasters of retro(as well as indie) games on the Nintendo Switch.
Does Turtles In Time still hold up? There’s still a multitude of gamers out there who still hold the game up as one of the best beat ’em ups of the era, if not ever, and I’d be inclined to side with that opinion. The game still plays about as good as it ever did and doesn’t feel as ravaged by the effects of time(travel) like many games released much later than 1992. Turtles In Time manages to capture the essence of what so many loved about the popular animated series, along with a great soundtrack that will end up stuck in your head for hours afterwards. I have so many fond memories of playing the game; it’s still incredibly fun and a must-play for beat ’em up and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fans alike.
Thanks for reading and…cowabunga!!