Any male (and even a few females) over the age of 20 who grew up in North America, was at some point, completely and utterly obsessed with the Ninja Turtles. I was a basket case when it came to them. I had the backpacks, the cereal, the action figures, and even the bed sheets. My mother made me vow never to draw Ninja Turtles again, as I had three bedroom drawers stuffed with crude sketches of the four radical reptiles, and nothing else. I would go to school, and make-believe with my friends that we were the Ninja Turtles, saving New York City from some new alien threat.
Then there was the arcade game. All of us remember it. Some of us were fortunate enough to have a local arcade near us, where we would congregate for weekends and birthdays. Some of us had to go to the local Chuck E. Cheese’s to play the seminal brawler. Fighting over who would get to play each turtle was rite of passage, each person shouting at the top of their lungs why they were Donatello’s or Michelangelo’s biggest fan. Developed internally at Konami, the game itself was four player co-op bliss. Wrecking street signs, tossing foot soldiers into walls, fighting Rock Soldiers in the Technodrome; the game had it all.
The game received a port on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1991, which included two extra exclusive stages, but because of hardware limitations, it was no where close to the original in graphical fidelity. Since then, the game has never received a port to a home console (save for a hacked up sub par unlockable in Konami`s contemporary brawler for the PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube), leaving nostalgic fans with no choice but to use arcade emulators like Mame to get their fix.
Despite Ubisoft currently holding the license to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, they managed to work with Konami to bring the original arcade classic to the Xbox Live Arcade. Ported by Digital Eclipse, the same team that brought Contra to the Xbox Live Arcade, TMNT 1989 is a near arcade perfect port, with some irritating issues.
The original arcade release was a side scrolling beat-em-up in the classic sense. Up to four players could join in co-operatively, and slash their way through enemies and bosses from the animated series, until the final showdown with Krang and Shredder in the Technodrome. The controls were simple (a jump button, an attack button, and by pressing both together, one could execute a special attack), the action was simple, and the rules were simple: beat up everyone. The game was a marvel to console gamers at the time. Not only did the game feature voice acting, it was remarkably close to the original show. Shredder appears on TVs in an electronics store window, shouting “Tonight, I dine on turtle soup!” Rocksteady appears from a drill capsule, snickering “Say your prayers, toitles.” In 1989, the gap between consoles and arcades was so large, that there was no way to create arcade perfect ports of the games outside of the Neo Geo platform.
With Digital Eclipse’s port, we finally have an almost arcade perfect rendition. The graphics, voices, sounds, and music have been left intact. The excellent soundtrack has been retained, and even the voice samples seem a little sharper, although the game’s overall volume is rather low. All isn’t perfect in this nostalgic paradise, sadly.
Despite new graphical additions, such as a completely new menu screen, everything is pixelated beyond belief. The game itself retains its charming retro graphics, but the added menu screen, new company logos, and option screens look absolutely terrible in high definition.
The upside is that despite having a rather unsightly border framing the game, DE had the forethought to include a screen editor that allows players to stretch the game image to the edges of the screen, eliminating the border. Strangely, stretching the image to the edges of a 16:9 HDTV doesn’t make the game look stretched, despite its original aspect ratio being 4:3.
Unfortunately, parts of the arcade version have been mysteriously removed, sometimes replaced with a pixelated mess, sometimes not replaced with anything. In single player, the character select screen has been replaced with a terribly ugly version developed by Digital Eclipse, where the character you choose is dependent on the next button you press (Donatello is X, Leonardo is A, etc.). The portraits for the new character select screen bears the visage of the characters from the upcoming 2007 movie, which while well rendered, clash with the retro graphics, and tarnish the experience.
In single player, players have unlimited lives, while in Xbox Live Online Co-op, each player is limited to 20 lives for the entire run. When playing with offline friends on the same box, players are forced to use the single player mode (how is that single player?). On the other hand, playing online requires that you play a Multiplayer game. This means that if you have a friend without a 360, that you want to play with on the same TV, and a friend online that also wants to play, you will have to choose who you will ultimately team up with. You won’t be able to play with both.
The achievements for the game are great, and a lot of fun to attempt and earn, including a 0 point secret achievement that will make most fans of the game chuckle. Without a save feature, some of the achievements can be tense, as one slip-up can mean having to start the game over. Sadly, some of the achievements require that you play an Xbox Live Co-op game (likely because of the varying rules between Single and Multiplayer), so those looking to unlock all the achievements with their roommates or console-less friends will be out of luck. Thankfully, unlike Contra, TMNT’s online code is solid, except for issues with playing other fans between regions (such as between the US and Japan).
Even with a myriad of irritating issues, Digital Eclipse should be commended for porting TMNT to the XBLA rather successfully. The online net code is solid, and the game still plays excellently. The game itself has stood the test of time, and is still a blast to play in four player co-op. Ninja Turtle, beat-em-up, and retro fans alike will enjoy the game, and it’s well worth the $5.00 price tag. Get ready to boot up your US or UK accounts, though, as the game isn’t currently available on the Japanese Xbox Marketplace.