The first issue of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) was published in May of 1984. Since then, the TMNT have gone on to achieve worldwide mainstream success thanks not only to their original comics run but also a number of influential cartoons, videogames, and wave-upon-wave of action figures. This year, I’m emphasising third entries and time travel shenanigans in the popular franchise every Tuesday in May!
Released: 30 August 2022
Originally Released: March 1991 (Arcade) / 24 July 1992 (SNES)
Developer: Digital Eclipse
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Arcade, GameCube, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S
Back in the late-eighties and early-nineties, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles for us Brits) took the lives of children everywhere by storm. Before Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers (1993 to 1996) and Pokémon (1997 to present) dominated playgrounds, Christmases, and birthdays alike, kids were transfixed by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987 to 1996) animated series. A toned down version of the original, far darker Mirage Comics publications, the “Heroes in a Half-Shell” were so popular that they spawned not just a series of live-action movies (of varying quality), but also additional comic book spin-offs, a beloved line of action figures, and a whole host of videogames. It was Konami’s efforts with the original TMNT arcade game that laid the foundation for some of the franchise’s most influential gaming ventures and the developers sought to expand upon those efforts with this equally beloved sequel. Bigger, better, and longer than its predecessor, much of Turtles in Time’s impact can be attributed to the surprisingly faithful home console port that wowed SNES gamers back in the day, and the game was so memorable that it received an unfairly lambasted 2.5D remake in 2009. Though ports of Turtles in Time have been sporadically available, its remake was de-listed from digital stores for the better part of eleven years, meaning Turtles in Time was (ironically) lost to time until it was included in this Cowabunga Collection for modern consoles alongside a host of other games and quality of life features. As both the arcade and SNES versions are included in this collection, and the differences between the two don’t really warrant two separate reviews, I’ll be including both versions in this review.
The Turtles leap into action when Krang steals the Statue of Liberty, only to be sent hurtling through time courtesy of a time warp activated by their archnemesis, Oroku Saki/The Shredder, forcing them to fight Shredder’s army in both the past and the future in order to get home.
Like its predecessor, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time is a sidescrolling beat-‘em-up that supports up to four players; supposedly, two-player arcade cabinets were released and the arcade version never made it over to Japan, but this version of the game allows both on- and offline co-operative play, though the SNES version of the game is limited to two player simultaneous co-op. As ever, players can select from one of the four Ninja Turtles who all control exactly the same but play slightly differently depending on the reach of their weapons (putting Raphael at a disadvantage). Gameplay is limited to two primary buttons, with X allowing you to attack and string together basic combos and B letting you jump; you can press X in mid-air for a flying attack and press X and B together to perform a power attack that doesn’t seem to drain your health meter. Once again, you have no dash options or dashing attack, but you can now slam and hurl enemies about by hitting X when up close to them and you can pull off a “back attack” to fend off enemies attacking from behind.
Turtles in Time is much bigger and longer than the last game, sporting nine levels to play through, each of which being far livelier and with more opportunities to interact with the environment. You can hit traffic cones, hydrants, explosive barrels, and boxes of fireworks to take out enemies but, even better, onscreen hazards like wrecking balls can also damage enemies. Hazards like these are far more plentiful this time around, including loose floorboards, mines, and electrical bolts from turrets and Krang’s massive exosuit so it pays to keep your wits about you and not just charge blindly ahead. Gameplay is mixed up a bit with two levels dedicated to fast-paced, autoscrolling action, first on a hoverboard in Sewer Surfin’ and then on a floating disk in Neon Night Riders; your combat options remain the same here, but some enemies are a little harder to hit as they’re floating above you and you’ll need quick reflexes to dodge hazards like the spiked gates and mines. The SNES version offers not only an additional score bonus for these stages but even includes an extra level, complete with a traditional elevator gauntlet.
Graphics and Sound:
Visually, the game is very similar to its predecessor; I’m pretty sure the sprites are all exactly the same, bar maybe a few additional animations and enemy variants, but they’re just as colourful and full of life as before. Every character pops against the background, has some limited idle animation, and the likes of Splinter and April O’Neil (depending on which version you’re playing) will appear to hurry you along if you dawdle. Voice clips are used to great effect, especially in the arcade release, with the Turtles shrieking, “My toes! My noes!” when hurt by spikes and ending every stage with a triumphant cry of “Cowabunga!” alongside a victory animation. Voice samples are far sparser and more dulled in the SNES version, naturally, which relies more on subtitles and its own sound effects, but both games still perfectly capture the quirky and slapstick nature of the cartoon. The SNES version also presents a different version of the Neon Night Riders stage, with the action taking place from behind the characters and the stage tweaked to make use of the console’s “Mode 7” features.
Environments are far more varied this time around; thanks to the time travel plot, the TMNT don’t just fight through the streets and sewers of New York City but are also transported back to a prehistoric jungle (complete with shimmering heat effects from the lava and a cave full of falling stalactites), a pirate ship full of loose planks, a speeding train in the Old West, and the neon streets of the far-flung future! Levels are noticeably longer and with more enemies, with no visible slowdown, though the SNES version is automatically slower since you can’t activate a “Turbo Mode” to speed things up. The SNES version of the game does add a whole new Technodrome level, however, and swaps some bosses around, even replacing one entirely with one of my favourite villains from the series. Both versions of the game use big, colourful art to tell their story, with the SNES version offering different endings depending on the difficulty setting you played on. Finally, while the SNES version features some popping tunes and a decent rendition of the TMNT theme song, the arcade version impresses with its funky, adrenaline-pumping soundtrack and even boasts a rendition of “Pizza Power” for its introduction sequence.
Enemies and Bosses:
As is tradition for a TMNT videogame, you’ll primarily be fighting your way through hordes of robotic Foot Soldiers; these come in all different colours and variants, from the regular, easily dispatched purple ones to weapon-wielding goons garbed in red, silver, or yellow. These guys will toss shuriken at you, stab at you with spears and swords, toss giant bombs, or swing axes; they also come flying in on dinosaurs, charge at you on fire-breathing Velociraptors, and pilot flying machines. Robots also return as notable enemies, with one wildly swinging its boxing gloves at you, though you’ll only encounter Mousers in the SNES version of the game. There are some new enemies in Turtles in Time, too, including the Xenomorph-like Pizza Monsters and the Rock Soldiers, who charge at you and wield high-powered weapons of their own.
Also, as is to be expected, some of the TMNT’s most recognisable foes return to dog you as end of level bosses. The first you’ll encounter is Baxter Stockman, now mutated into his human fly form; Baxter hovers overhead firing at you with a machine gun, only to switch to sending out plasma fists after you’ve damaged him enough. At the end of Alleycat Blues, you’ll battle Metalhead, who attacks from a distance with his extendable arms and legs and flies at you courtesy of a rocket-powered kick, though he has a tendency to stop and gloat and leave himself open to a counterattack. Sewer Surfin’ doesn’t feature a boss in the arcade version, instead forcing you to fend of a swarm of Pizza Monsters, but you’ll take on the Rat King in the SNES version, which is much more interesting and exciting as he’s in his little hovercraft and fires missiles and mines at you. Similarly, you face the underwhelming Cement Man in the arcade version of the Prehistoric Turtlesaurus level, with the mud-like goon sliming about the place and trapping you in mud, but the SNES version replaces him with Slash! This deranged doppelgänger is far more formidable, slashing at you with his jagged blade and spinning about the place as a whirling shell of bladed fury, making him a far worthier adversary.
After battling across the deck of a pirate ship, you’ll face both Tokka and Rahzar; while they simple charge, swipe, and hop about in the arcade version, they’re much more formidable in the SNES version, where they appear in the new Technodrome stage and sport flame and freezing breath and act as sub-bosses. In the SNES version of the pirate ship level, Bepop and Rocksteady take Tokka and Rahzar’s place; garbed in theme-appropriate attire, they attack you with a whip and sword, respectively. The hulking Leatherhead awaits at the end of the train stage, scurrying about the place, lashing at you with his tail, and tossing daggers your way, while you’ll go one-on-one with Krang while racing through the futuristic streets of 2020 A.D. Krang’s a lot less of a threat compared to the last game, dashing at you with a kick, smacking you with a clap attack, and firing missiles from his chest, but he resurfaces in the Technodrome stage. Now flying a UFO, he drops Mousers into the arena and teleports about to avoid your attacks, but the SNES version also adds a bubble-like projectile to his arsenal and has him more erratically which, in conjunction with his height, can make him a difficult target.
Naturally, you’ll also do battle with the TMNT’s mortal enemy, the Shredder. However, in the SNES version of the game, you actually battle him twice and the final battle is noticeably different in both versions. The first time you face him is at the end of the new Technodrome level, where he hops behind the controls of some unseen giant mech and blasts at you with bullets while swiping with a retractable claw arm in perhaps one of the game’s most memorable boss battles. To defeat the Shredder, you need to avoid his targeting reticule and hurl Foot Soldiers at him in a fun bit of innovation, though this can be tricky to do due to poor visibility and the sheer number of enemies and projectiles. The Shredder awaits in the final stage of the game, too, where the Statue of Liberty looms in the background; in the arcade version, he attacks with his sword and martial arts skills while also sending out plasma hands similar to Baxter and once again sporting an instant death regression blast that turns you back into a regular turtle. In the SNES version, Shredder immediately transforms into his far more formidable Super Shredder form; protected by a flaming aura, Super Shredder sends fireballs flying your way, shoots flames along the ground, and fires bolts into the air while dashing about the screen at breakneck speed.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Unfortunately, for all the additions Turtles in Time sports, power-ups are not one of them. You can still replenish your health with the odd pizza box but the only other power-up available to pick up is a bomb pizza item that sends you into a frenzy for a few seconds.
As is to be expected, the arcade release is limited in its options; you can play with up to four other players both on- and offline and try to out-do your last high score, but there’s not much else on offer beyond playing through this awesome game as a different character. The SNES version might have taken a graphical hit but actually boasts a few interesting additional features: you can go head-to-head against a friend in versus mode, take on three courses in a time trial mode, pick from three difficulty settings (with different continues and endings assigned to each), set your maximum number of lives, and enjoy the benefits of a sound test. You can also pick between two colour schemes, “Comic” and “Animation”, which gives the TMNT new colour palettes, which is a nice touch. Naturally, the Cowabunga Collection adds a number slew of extra features to the list, however; first, you’ll gain a 70G Achievement for finishing each game, you can use the Left Bumper to rewind, and use the Right Bumper to access save states and display options. The arcade version can be further enhanced with a level select, God Mode (which makes you invincible and allows one-hit kills on most enemies and bosses), the removal of the penalty bombs that kill you if you linger about, and the ability to activate the far harder “Nightmare Mode” and speed things up with Turbo Mode. The SNES version isn’t lacking in similar options, boasting a level select and additional lives, while also providing every boss with a helpful life meter. Even better, you’ll still get your Achievements even with these enhancements activated and you can again peruse a strategy guide, switch between the American and Japanese versions (with minimal differences that I could see), view the game’s box art and manuals, and even choose to simply watch the game play itself.
There’s a reason Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time is remembered so fondly; it really was the quintessential TMNT videogame at the time, taking everything that was so good about the original arcade release and expanding on it with larger, more varied stages and far more interesting boss battles. While the gameplay remains very much the same and there’s a distinct and disappointing lack of power-ups, the game is much more enjoyable than its predecessor, offering more enemies and more visually interesting environments to battle through. The SNES release, while noticeably lacking in visual and audio quality, is a surprisingly faithful recreation of its arcade counterpart; sporting some nifty additional features and new levels and bosses, it’s easy to see why it was a must-have game for the system back in the day. The Cowabunga Collection only adds to the appeal of both games, offering numerous quality of life options to make gameplay a breeze and preserving these two classic arcade beat-‘em-ups for a whole new generation. There may be better beat-‘em-up titles out there, with more gameplay variety, more power-ups, and more options available, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles videogames didn’t get much better than Turtles in Time when it was released and it’s a joy to see it more readily available so others can experience the fast-paced, action-packed pick-up-and-play thrill of these simplistic brawlers.
Did you ever play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time out in the wild? How do you think it compares to other TMNT videogames and similar arcade fighters? Did you own the SNES version? If so, what did you think to the new levels and bosses and were you impressed with the conversion from the arcade original? Which of the characters was your go-to and which of the game’s bosses was your favourite? What did you think to the additional features added to the Cowabunga Collection? Which of the four Turtles is your favourite (and why is it Raphael?) Whatever your thoughts, I’d love to hear your memories of Turtles in Time down in the comments or on my social media!
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