Hey, here's something to remind you that the frigid specter of Death is always just behind your shoulder and closing rapidly - the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game is 18 years old this year! With its fabled presence in some 98% of America's arcades at the height of its popularity, odds are that old-school gamers have some memories of it from some time or another ... but we're quite a stretch down the road now, those machines aren't so easy to come across anymore, and we got a whole new generation of snot-nosed Playstation-raised gamers who grew up in a gaming scene where arcades have become little more than expensive repositories for overpriced racing games, and lifelike simulations of shooting terrorists or drug dealers or whatever boogeyman we're all supposed to be afraid of at the moment.
So I guess it's nice that TMNT has been released for the X-Box Live Arcade, for the sake of preservation and whatnot.Those of us with a penchant for emulation have been enjoying online Turtles multiplay for a few years now courtesy of MAME32k (http://www.kaillera.com/download.php), but there is of course the small question of legality and intellectual property rights and suchforth. (Needless to say, I personally own a Turtles arcade machine. Which I keep .... in my bathroom. No, you can't come in and see it.)
Anyway, the game. TMNT is big, dumb, colorful fun. It was absolutely the toast of the town when it hit in '89 - we'd seen beat 'em ups before, heard digital voice clips, even had a few four player cabinets, but TMNT took all the outstanding single qualities of the best arcade games to that point, improved on them, and made them it's own. We had literally not seen so much stuff going on at once, and then you factor in that the original Turtles cartoon was at the peak of its popularity at this time and you can maybe start to see how a bunch of pre-pubescent kids got into such an uproar about it that they threw every spare quarter they had at the thing.
How has it aged? Well, the "wow" factor is certainly gone. Randomly distributed objects laying in the midst of the playfield that you can hit to knock over enemies isn't quite regarded with the same innovative awe as it was nearly two decades ago. And in a world of CGI and voice-acting, a few static cartoon cutscenes and the occasional muffled digital declaration of "Hang on April!" or "Tonight I dine on turtle soup!" clearly doesn't carry the same weight. However, that doesn't mean the game is not pleasant. It's got a level of detail that's still appreciable - even though you're fighting essentialy a horde of pallette-swapped clones level after level, they come bounding and somersaulting and wheelie'n onto the screen, they use a variety of moves with a nice amount of animated frames, you can knock sewer grates back at them and slam them into the sides of buildings, etc. Despite it's lack of enemy variety the game is never really boring. The gameplay is smooth, the collision detection solid. The graphics are clear, colorful and there's a lot going on in the backgrounds (simply animated though it all may be). Oh, and it's got a rad soundtrack.
It doesn't stand up very well, however, to single play. This is a game that really does much better when you have at least one companion to chat with while you play, and preferably a full load of four. In the original arcade scene, it was a very social game. You would make friends with strangers while playing this game. Nowadays, it's best experienced as a nostalgia fest with some good companions from back in the day.
Worth $10, when you can MAME it at no charge? Hey, it's your call, and your money. It'll probably be a lot easier to find remote partners to play with when you're in the mood, and you don't have to goof around with MAME controller settings to get everyone set up with the turtle that they want to be. It'll provide more long term entertainment than a trip to the cinema to see the latest attempt by some music video director to exploit nostalgia by "remaking" an '80s classic, and all-in-all probably costs a bit less too.
* Gameplay Video