For many of us, the arcade was a shrinking thing in our early days, on its way out as we were on our way in. In my area (Central NC), the phenomenon had shrunk to cover the side areas of bowling alleys, wings of places like Chuck E Cheese's, and one or two devoted arcades in Raleigh. Usually, my exposure as a child was at the bowling alley. I'm sure I've related this tale before, but my parents league bowled for a while in the late 80s and early 90s, and I'd be shuffled off with a few kids of various ages from other families in the league to the corner of the alley that housed the arcade. A roll of quarters would be put into my hand, and I'd be told to check back periodically just to make sure I was okay. The proprietor even had little stools for younger kids to stand on so they could access and see the games built into tall cabinets.
I spent a lot of time standing on a stool, furiously playing the TMNT arcade game. It was approachable, colorful, and... well, it was Ninja Turtles, dude!
An ad pitching arcade owners the game, and an image of the cabinet itself. Click to enlarge.
Released in 1989, the TMNT arcade title was developed by Konami, who had also produced a side-scrolling NES title under their Ultra Games imprint. (In fact, I wrote about it. Have a look if you haven't!) The new arcade title was much better in several ways; player (and bad guy) movement had an x and y axis as well as jumping, and multiple players could plow into the Foot Clan at once. Initial cabinets were released with two sets of player controls, but the second (and far wider) release allowed for up to four players to join the action.
The plot of the game is pretty simple, and not too different from that of the NES game. The Turtles must help their pal April out of a burning building and the clutches of Rocksteady the mutant rhino. After that fiasco, the heroes in a half-shell must carve their way across New York to battle the Shredder. In their way are various villains from the franchise, including the mutant boar Bebop, Krang the brain monster, and the rock people, not to mention robots and the seemingly endless recruits of the Foot Clan.
Arcade Original: Plenty of Bad Guy Butt to Kick. Fantastic Graphics, Blazing Sound.
Here's something I did not know as a kid, but learned while researching this article: The four Turtles have some differences in combat. Donatello is the slowest with his attacks, but he hits hard and can do so from the furthest away. Raphael and Michelangelo are both quick, but don't do as much damage per hit. Leonardo, as befitting a leader, is well-balanced and lies in the middle on both counts.
This title was most notably ported to the NES in 1990. Much of the nuance was lost, as often happens with the technical paring-down of a program to fit a simpler interface. The trade off: two new levels, or one could say, one and a half. One is a level depicting Manhattan under heavy snow, with a dog/weasel humanoid boss. The other is a half-level, stuck in front of the parking garage stage, features a samurai boss. Needless to say, since the 4-player attachment never took off for the NES, this version was 2 players max.
The NES Port: Title Screen, Snow Level & Boss, Gratuitous Pizza Hut Ads.
The game was also ported to the PC, Amiga, Amstrad, ZX Spectrum, and Commodore 64 by Probe Software in 1991. More recently, it was made available by Ubisoft for xBox Live Arcade, as well as in 2004's TMNT Battle Nexus, as an unlockable extra.
The soundtrack for the arcade original is incredible; I have memories of the burning building stage theme quickening my pulse, as well as Shredder's music chilling my blood. The graphics and music take a hit on transition to home versions, but that is to be expected. I will embed the arcade soundtrack, but if you'd like to hear the NES music, click here.
I give the TMNT Arcade Game 8 stars out of 10. It was fun when I had to pump quarters into it, it was fun on my NES, and it's certainly fun to think back on it. Cowabunga!