If you happen to be under the age of 40, then there is little doubt that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles played a significant part in your upbringing. The series has an unascertainable timeless quality that makes kids connect with the turtles no matter how many times they reinvent themselves (except for perhaps the Saban TV show and those awful buffed-up turtles from the rebooted movies) . The turtles are undoubtedly as popular today as they were back in the early 90s, mostly due to the good stewardship of Viacom, which has ensured the turtles always stay on every kid’s radar.
Nevertheless, for those of us that grew up with the first wave of Turtle-mania, the turtles arguably hold greater significance to us than to kids growing up with the turtles nowadays who have many competing interests vying for their attention. Back in the 90s, the idea of one of nature’s slowest moving and clumsiest animals being adapted into an agile martial artist was laughable, and it was dubious to many whether such a concept would truly catch on.
Despite this, catch on it did, and it was most likely due to the well developed and unique character of each turtle. From the angsty Raphael, to easygoing Michaelangelo, to the tech-minded Donnatello and the stoic leader Leonardo, each turtle brought with them a personality that kids could identify with. The fact that each had their own weapon and bandana color added another layer of connection for kids in the playground.
This identification with each turtle naturally segued into kids wanting to manifest those urges into a more meaningful format, and naturally, videogames were there to fill that void. Circa 1988, the Nintendo Entertainment System was dominating the North American market (the Sega Master System was not really a contender and Europe was still stuck with personal computers like the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and the Amiga), so it made sense for the first foray of the turtles to be on the NES. The first outing, released in 1988 and developed by Konami (who would become the stewards of the franchise in video game form), was a rough sketch that lacked the hallmarks of later games.
On this episode, we focus not only on the three NES games, but also on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game, which was the title that came to define the genre for the turtles, that is, the beat em up or brawler. The first and second sequel on the NES would emulate the arcade game and would be greeted with a better reception than the first game, which is has been buoyed by nostalgia, but has not generally been regarded as a good game.
The brawler identity would carry over into the next generation and the subsequent arcade game, Turtles in Time. Though highly acclaimed and well-regarded by fans all over the world, Turtles in Time marked a dead end for the franchise in video game form, as the brawler entered an era of decline after being supplanted by Street Fighter 2 and its many imitators. One of those imitators was none other than the turtles themselves, who had their own fighter in the form of Tournament Fighters, which would hit the SNES and the Genesis/Mega Drive (in a much inferior form). After Tournament Fighters, there was a decline of TMNT games on consoles and no more turtles titles would be released on the arcades, coinciding with the general decline in interest in TMNT in the mid-90s. The turtles would not return to the video game world until 2003, when the series would be rebooted and reintroduced to a new generation.
Therefore, this episode allowed us to stick within a very particular timeframe spanning roughly 1988 to 1994. An upshot of this is that it provided us with the opportunity to talk in greater depth about the often overlooked Game Boy games, which were more polished and better than they probably warranted considering the state of licensed games for the Game Boy at the time. The third part in particular, Radical Rescue, is of special significance by infusing Metroidvania elements into what could have been just a straight side-scroller like its predecessors on the system. It is past due for recognition, and we hope our listeners get to discover it.
Whether you grew up with the turtles or not, we hope that this is an episode you enjoy, even it is just to bask in the vicarious nostalgia. We certainly had a ton of fun recording it, and we look forward to your discovery of which of the turtles would most likely be Dominican or move to the Bronx.
– Ozzy Garcia