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Old 01-18-2013, 11:30 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Avalanche of Awesome, Part 6: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game

As mentioned in my last review, most beat-em-ups are rather straightforward affairs, mostly consisting of walking from left to right and punching a few guys every now and again. River City Ransom was very much the exception; the addition of stores, stats, and a large (if somewhat linear) world to explore freely were unique features that few other games of its kind implemented. Perhaps this is the reason that the beat-em-up genre isn't as well-remembered today as it was then: most of those games tended to, more or less, play the same way.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game isn't particularly innovative or forward-thinking as far as gameplay is concerned, and is similar to any number of other arcade games from the time. What it lacks in complexity, however, it makes up for in personality, capturing the spirit of a licensed property beautifully while throwing in enough little twists and turns to keep the gameplay from getting *too* stale. Granted, you'll still be mostly beating up the same foes over and over for about an hour, but it's still a fun way to pass the time.

As implied by the title, TMNT II is an adaptation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade title that was released in 1989. The downgrade in hardware makes for less spectacular graphics, a more limited soundtrack, and a maximum of two simultaneous players instead of four. However, the designers were certainly conscious of their limitations, and worked well within them; amongst NES games, it's still pretty good-looking, and the music makes good use of the sound chip. It's also nice that they extended the player's health bar and set a firm (but reasonable) limit on continues to balance the gameplay properly for a home release. Plus, there are a couple of extra levels, which was certainly a nice touch - especially considering that they take place in all-new settings and add entirely new enemies and bosses (rather than sticking solely to palette-swapped foot soldiers).

The controls are nice and simple: as far as the basics are concerned, A jumps and B attacks. To jump-kick, attack in the middle of a jump, which will abort the jump and send you flying, foot-first, into your enemy. Attacking immediately after the start of a jump, however, will activate the spin-kick, which does twice as much damage as your other attacks and can take out the regular foot soldiers in one hit. It's kind of nice that the jump button doesn't require any ridiculous combinations to pull off as in River City Ransom... although, granted, there's not really any platforming to worry about this game.

This is a much more straightforward beat-em-up that River City Ransom, however - the entire game operates under a very simple formula:

1. Walk to the right.
2. Kill some guys.
3. Repeat steps 1 and 2.

It's not for everyone, I suppose - I've heard people complain about the simplicity and repetitiveness, and their criticisms are not entirely invalid. So why is this game so well-remembered by people who played it back in the day? Well, there are three things that make this game work as well as it does, which push it a few notches above the sea of mediocre brawlers that flooded the market in the early 90's.

The first of these is the variety of enemies that you face... although given the sheer number of regular foot soldiers in this game, this may seem like a dubious argument. Consider, though, how many different kinds of weapons these guys wield: throwing knives, dynamite, gigantic tires... and the list goes on from there. The color-coding usually gives you a good clue as to how they'll attack you, and coming across a new variety keeps things fresh. It certainly doesn't hurt that the foot soldiers never take more than two hits to kill - something that keeps the pacing from slowing to a crawl, as in so many of the less remarkable Final Fight clones.

Of course, there are tons of other enemies as well, my favorite of which are the snowmen in the NES-exclusive winter level, which the manual refers to as "Frosty the Hit-Man." Gotta love those cheesy Konami-manual puns...

TMNT 2 also distinguishes itself by way of the setpieces that are scattered throughout the levels, which add still more variety and flavor to what could otherwise be an incredibly generic game. In a less remarkable brawler, enemies would simply enter from off-screen in each new area - and granted, there are plenty of instances of that here. However, there are also a number of interesting obstacles and events to take you by surprise, including giant rolling metal balls and foot soldiers driving through the middle of the stage on a snow plow. Most of these are one-off obstacles or only show up a few times in the game, so they don't tend to get stale. Even regular enemies will sometimes appear on-screen in interesting ways, like the foot soldiers who pop out of the sewers in level two and throw the manhole covers at you - which you can, with proper timing, knock back at them with your weapon.

Oh, and speaking of interesting setpieces, I always liked attacking the woman on the skateboard and listening to her scream. (Wow, I sound like such a jerk saying that.)

The third distinguishing element of TMNT 2 is its faithful implementation of the Ninja Turtles license. The first TMNT game on NES had its share of characters from the comic book and TV show, but it also had its share of insane, random bad guys that had nothing to do with anything, like those flaming men who shot out little hopping fire feet. The second game's arguable over-reliance on foot soldiers mitigates the issue somewhat, but there are plenty of other enemies that, if not present directly in the show, at least fit in with the look and feel of the Ninja Turtles series better. Many of your opponents are robots of some kind, like the one-wheeled whatsits in the first level that shock you with their laser beam, or the mousers that pop up in the sewers. As far as major villains, Bebop and Rocksteady are back, but Baxter Stockman and Krang also make their first appearances on a console TMNT game as well.

The writing and humor of the show come through in a few places as well, if only in subtle ways. The game's not exactly dialogue-heavy, sure, but little one-liners like Shredder's "Tonight I dine on turtle soup" are a nice touch, no doubt. There's also the fact that, when one of your turtles falls in a manhole, he says, "Who puts the lights out?" It's not the sort of thing that will send you rolling on the floor, but it's certainly par for the course for a campy late 80's/early 90's kid's cartoon, at least.

Oh! And speaking of licenses, did I mention all the Pizza Hut advertising? The manual even came with a coupon for a free personal pan pizza... which, sadly, was expired when I bought the game new back in the early 90's, but hey, I suppose my intact copy of the instruction manual is worth a little more because of that.

You're given three continues to get through the game, which should be enough if you keep in mind a few basic strategies. One of the most important is that the spin attack is by far the best way to kill most weak enemies, although some can be taken out with jump-kicks with little trouble. For most bosses, I've found that jump-kicks are the way to go... but bear this in mind: if you wait until the end of your jump (while you're falling) to kick, you'll be able to jump out of the way before the enemy can attack you again. Unfortunately, this doesn't work so well on Krang because of his eye lasers... and in all honesty, unless, I'm missing some key strategy, that battle is really just a war of attrition. Shredder's actually much easier, provided you avoid the instant-death electricity (although sometimes he barely uses it).

Although resource management isn't as meticulous as in the first TMNT NES game, managing your health meter well can still make a huge difference. Make sure to save pizza for emergencies; unless you're about to die, don't get the pizza as soon as it appears, but wait until you've cleared any nearby foes. Also, remember that your health restores at the end of each level, so if you're playing with a friend, the player with more health should probably focus on the boss, so that the weaker player can come into the next stage without losing a life.

Ideally, two-player is the way to go; although most of the bosses are best defeated with one player doing most of the work, the game is a lot more fun if you have someone to play along with. As with most beat-em-ups, the dynamic is more fun with a buddy, not to mention that the extra lives a second player brings in make getting through a lot more manageable...

...although Krang is still a pain in the butt either way. Freakin' Krang.

The music lives up to the standard of most later Konami titles, and as an added bonus... it actually includes the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song! Once you start up the game, it's the first thing you hear during the opening cutscene, and in many of the later levels, bits and pieces of the theme are woven organically into the background loops. A music theorist would refer to this recurring use of thematic material throughout a larger work as "cyclicism"; a Ninja Turtles fan would simply refer to it as "awesome."

As straightforward and no-nonsense as it is, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game is a well-made beat-em-up that's still good for a playthrough even today. It's beloved by many who grew up with the NES, and for good reason - the user-friendly controls, clever use of setpieces, and faithfulness to the license make it a joy to play, alone or with afriend. It may not be an epic, sprawling masterpiece, but it does a good job at what it sets out to do - and frankly, that's more than can be said for a lot of NES games...


Where/when purchased: At a Wal-Mart when I was in elementary school... so some time in the early 90's.

Cost: Somewhere in the area of $40... I remember feeling like that was kind of pricey. Then again, I wasn't the informed bargain-hunter that I am now...

Date Started: 8-8-2011 8:56 PM

Date Finished: 8-8-2011 10:12 PM

Space in the NES notebook: Two lines for start and finish times.

FAQs/assistance used: None.

Favorite part?: It's hard to single out a favorite part, but I'm a bit of a fan of the first fight against Baxter Stockman for some reason. During co-op runs, I always liked how the element of co-op could really come into play here: "Okay, I'll take care of the mousers, and you go after Stockman!"

Difficulty: Moderate. The early levels aren't too bad, although Bebop is, strangely enough, one of the trickier bosses. Experienced gamers should have no problem getting to the Technodrome, with Krang being the only serious sticking point in the game.

Worth it?: If you find beat-em-ups bland and repetitive, this one might not be enough to change your mind, but for fans of the genre, this is a *definite* must-play.

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Old 01-18-2013, 12:01 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Avalanche of Awesome, Part 6: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game

Those screenshots demonstrate marvelous skill of working with the NES color limitations. The different colored regions in the background transition right into each other naturally. Really neat scrolling trick with the car on the highway stage too.

Bravo, Konami.
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