Ever since Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) first debuted, the franchise has enjoyed worldwide mainstream success thanks to action figures, cartoons, and videogames. Since I found some free time this December, I’ve been spotlighting four such videogames every Tuesday of this festival season.
Released: 30 August 2022
Originally Released: 4 September 1993 (Mega Drive / SNES) / February 1994 (NES)
Developer: Digital Eclipse
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Mega Drive, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Xbox One, and Xbox Series S
There was only one franchise that dominated childhoods back in the late-eighties and early-nineties and that was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles for Brits like me); beginning life as a violent pastiche of comic book tropes, the TMNT’s popularity exploded into the massively successful cartoon and action figures, live-action movie adaptations, and many videogames. Spearheaded by Konami, the TMNT were equally successful with their arcade beat-‘em-ups and their home console ports, but this was also a time when Capcom had changed the face of both arcades and the competitive fighting scene with the many iterations of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Capcom, 1991), which was great success on home consoles and inspired a slew of knock-offs looking to cash in on Capcom’s success. The TMNT were amongst these with this one-on-one tournament fighter, which released in slightly different versions across three platforms at the time; the games took inspiration from the cartoons, movies, and the Archie spin-off comics but, while the 16-bit titles aped the combos and special moves of Street Fighter II, the 8-bit version had more in common with the likes of Yie Ar Kung-Fu (Konami, 1984) due to the NES’s limitations. Of the three, the SNES version was positively received despite being a Street Fighter II knock-off, the Mega Drive version was criticised for its sluggish controls and lacklustre presentation, while the NES version was seen as ambitious but unsurprisingly limited. All three games were lost to the midst of time, available only through emulators or extortionately expensive physical copies until they were included in this Cowabunga Collection alongside a host of other games and quality of life features.
The Turtles and their allies take part in a one-on-one tournament against some of their most recognisable and obscure enemies and friends. In the Mega Drive version, the heroes battle across the alien worlds of Dimension X to rescue Splinter from their archnemesis, Oroku Saki/The Shredder, and their evil clones; in the NES version, the Shredder challenges them to defeat his latest plot for world domination; and in the SNES version, the heroes battle on a fighting game show to prove their mettle and earn some cold, hard cash.
Regardless of which version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters you choose to play, the game is a standard 2D, one-on-one fighting game, with the 16-but versions of the game heavily borrowing their controls, combat, and presentation from Street Fighter II. Each game comes with a different roster of fighters, with ten fighters selectable in the SNES version, eleven available in the Mega Drive version, and seven in the NES version. Each version of the game allows you to customise the gameplay in some way, such as setting the difficulty level of the game (which directly impacts the ending and bosses you face), changing the time limit and amount of rounds to win (with the games defaulting to the standard best of three rounds), setting the speed of the game, setting the amount of credits you have to continue laying upon defeat, and eve setting the strength of your character and your opponent to establish any handicaps. These features don’t carry across to every version of the game, and some are slightly altered (the SNES version represents difficulty on a zero to seven scale, for example, while the NES uses a simple Easy, Normal, and Hard designation), but these options are generally consistent to those seen in Street Fighter II.
Combat, however, is a slightly different story and varies somewhat between each version; while the SNES version benefits from the additional buttons and mimics the directional input and button presses of Street Fighter II to pull off special moves, the Mega Drive and NES versions are limited by their control scheme layouts and the general presentation of the game. Indeed, the SNES version is more like Super Street Fighter II Turbo (Capcom, 1994), running much faster at its maximum speed and aping similar button combinations, while the Mega Drive version is far slower and reminds me more of the original, somewhat clunky first release of Street Fighter II. The NES version, as mentioned, is more like Yie Ar Kung-Fu and features little in the way of complex button combinations and special moves due to the limitation of the NES hardware. In the SNES version, you have two different types of punches and kicks; A and X launch a “normal” punch and kick while B and Y throw “fierce” variants. You can press up on the directional pad (D-pad) to jump and launch flying kicks and punches; when up close to an enemy, you’ll grab them and toss them in a unique throw move and you’ll use directional inputs and button presses (down, diagonal down-right, right, X, for example) to pull off each character’s special moves. When not playing in the game’s story mode, you’ll gradually fill up a gauge underneath your life bar; when this is full, you can use another simple button combination to unleash a devastating “Ultimate-Attack” that, unlike your regular attacks, actually damages the opponent through their block (though if they attack you during it you’ll fail and it’ll deplete if you don’t use it in time). Much of this is true of the Mega Drive version, but with some notable differences; there’s no special attack gauge, for starters, and no “fierce” attacks, you simply use X to punch and A to kick, and press Y to pull off a taunt (that seems to have no function). To pull off stronger attacks, you need to press the D-pad towards the opponent and then press X or A; you can still grab and throw your foe but special moves seem a lot harder to pull off (not least because the button inputs are missing from the strategy guide) and the game’s sluggish pace makes combat inconsistent and frustrating. It’s still more complex that the NES version, though; here, X punches and A kicks and that’s about it; you can use directional inputs and button presses to pull off special moves, but they’re extremely basic and the TMNT don’t even fight with their signature weapons in this game! Each game features a stun mechanic like in Street Fighter II, though; deal enough damage in a string of attacks and your opponent will be momentarily dazed and wide open for another combo or throw.
Some versions of the game do allow you to alter the button layout if you’re not happy with the default, and all three versions allow you to block by holding back on the D-pad (a mechanic I’ve always found awkward in fighting games; I much prefer a dedicated block button) but the SNES version also allows you to flip away from incoming attacks but only the NES version allows you to run towards your opponent by double tapping the D-pad. Each version also comes with a few gameplay options; you can take on the story mode (where you’re limited to playing as the TMNT), with cutscenes and a map screen (in the Mega Drive version) furthering the narrative between each bout, battle against a friend (or against the computer in the NES version), watch or practice the game in the SNES and Mega Drive versions, or take on a standard tournament mode. This also differs greatly between each version, with the SNES version taking the form of a broadcast and game show and featuring pre- and post-match dialogue and even tossing in a bonus stage where you rack up extra points and gold by smashing open safes in a bid to help break up the monotony. Although this is absent from the Mega Drive version, whose tournament simply goes from one fight to the next, every match is followed by an instant replay), bonus stages do appear in the NES version; here you have to smash through walls in the dojo for extra points, and all three will tally up certain criteria (health remaining, time left, whether you took damage or not) when you’re victorious to add to your score and this is the only version of the game to feature a high score table.
Each game comes with a natural, steady, and expected difficulty curve that I find is typical of most fighting games but synonymous with Street Fighter II; your ability to succeed will depend on how adept you are at pulling off the awkward special attacks and combos, especially as special attacks and throws deal way more damage than your regular attacks. The enemy AI, even on the easiest settings, is incredibly cheap in all three versions; your opponent will block almost constantly, is consistently able to attack and throw you through your attack animations, and they’re far more aggressive and skilled than I was, meaning I either had to fight hard and fast or be on the defensive. The difficulty and gameplay sliders can help with this, especially in the Mega Drive version, which allows you to reduce the rounds to win to one and set your speed and power to give you an advantage. Since the SNES version is the fastest of the three, combat can move at a breakneck speed, with rounds turning out of your favour in the blink of an eye, and you’ll be immediately at a disadvantage as you need to play on at least difficulty level three to even battle to true final boss and see the game’s best ending. This is even more demanding in the Mega Drive version, where you need to play on level eight to get the true ending; this version is so hampered by its plodding speed that it’s easy to get trapped in an unbreakable combo string and stunned into oblivion by your hyper-aggressive opponents. The NES version can be both paradoxically difficult and easy at the same time; there’s little benefit from picking one fighter over another as they’re all so limited but some, like Hothead, make for bigger targets while others, like Casey Jones, appear to be more agile. Either way, the limitations of the hardware make this a mundane back and forth affair that’s more about who can grab the power-up first rather than requiring any in-depth skill like the SNES version.
Graphics and Sound:
Obviously, all three games look and sound very different. Of the three, the SNES version is the clear winner in terms of overall presentation; the game features more sound bites, big, bright, and well animated sprites and backgrounds, and the music is clearer and has more kick to it. The emphasis on story and cutscenes means there’s far more opportunities for big, partially animated sprite art here, with April O’Neil reporting on and interviewing characters before and after bouts and every fight in story mode being proceeded by dialogue between the fighters and the TMNT travelling to each location via their signature blimp. The characters in this version are clearly modelled more like the cartoon, with a hint of the live-action influence here and there, and they’re all large and full of attack and reaction frames. Sadly, the same isn’t true of the Mega Drive version; even the title screen and character select screen aren’t as impressive, though the game does include more palette swaps and some different fighters compared to its SNES counterpart. Sprites are smaller, however, duller, and seem to be missing some animation frames; everyone seems far meaner and more surly, as well, making this a very gritty and moody experience that seems to owe more to the original Mirage Comics, but it’s pretty obvious even to a die-hard SEGA fan like me which version has the better overall presentation. Naturally, the NES version is the most inferior in terms of graphics, character, and stage selection; however, while the TMNT don’t sport their signature weapons, they do have their own unique green palettes to separate them and the character designs seem to be drawing more from the first live-action movie than anything else. You won’t find much in the way of animation and variety here but it’s pretty ambitious, really; sprites have some decent details and special attacks, but the game suffers from black bars eating up a lot of the player’s screen.
Naturally, the stages you’ll fight in follow very much the same format; the SNES version features a variety of large and detailed environments set largely on Earth, with some even featuring destructible elements to smash your opponents into like in Street Fighter II. Also like in that game, you’ll see background characters and elements and characters cheering and watching the fight, including TMNT staples like Bebop and Rocksteady, Baxter Stockman in his fly form, and various Foot Soldiers. There’s always something going on in the SNES version, whether it’s a giant octopus, a band performing on stage, or a news report recording the action, and this version also includes better, more detailed and varied story cutscenes and even character bios in its attract mode. Comparatively, the Mega Drive version is an immediate disappointment; cutscenes are smaller and less interesting and the backgrounds, while surreal and often disturbing, are far more muted and feature almost no animation and absolutely no interactable elements. As this version of the game features a planet-hopping narrative, there are some bizarre stages to choose from, from an ice world complete with a submarine to an ocean planet with a sinking ship in the background, to the bleakness of the cosmic abyss, but it’s all so dull and lifeless even when there’s giant cycloptic magma creatures and dinosaurs looming in the background. Again, the NES version is hampered by its hardware and includes only four stages: the sewers, a subway station, the galley of a pirate ship, and the rooftops of New York City. This latter is the most impressive stage, showing the city and the Statue of Liberty at night and in all its 8-bit glory, and is preceded by a rare cutscene to set the stage for the final battle against the Shredder.
Enemies and Bosses:
As with all fighting games, every available character will eventually be your enemy at some point; button codes and the Cowabunga Collection’s enhancements allow you to play as the boss characters in the 16-bit versions of the game and the Mega Drive version even includes and practise mode to help you get to grips with your favourite character. Essentially, however, there’s minimal benefit to picking a certain character in each version of the game; all of them sport special moves that can match each other, with every character sporting projectiles, grabs, and powerful rushing or slamming attacks to deal heavy damage. However, there are some notable exceptions; as mentioned, Hothead is a unique character in the NES version, sporting a chunkier sprite and breathing fire, meaning his hit box is a little larger and the character is a little slower. In the Mega Drive version, Casey Jones can set bombs as traps, while characters like Chrome Dome and Krang can cover distances from a standstill with their extending arms and legs. Even on the easiest setting, the SNES version puts up quite a fight; I struggled against War in the first battle simply because of his ridiculous rolling throw and large swiping claws, and the Shredder proved quite formidable here thanks to his dashing uppercut, his flurry of punches, and his cheap tactics of spamming low kicks. The Rat King also proved a unique foe in this version as he relied more on wrestling moves, snatching you out of the air and grabbing you midway through your attacks to slam you to the ground, and you’ll really get a sense of how good or bad you are when you face off against your character in a mirror match.
These are spiced up a bit in the Mega Drive version through the inclusion of evil clones, who sport a purple palette swap and constantly dog your progress throughout the game. The Mega Drive version also includes a unique character, Sisyphus, an alien beetle who spits a blue projectile at you and unleashes a rapid-fire horn attack. He’s not the only unique character, however; Ray Fillet, April O’Neil, and a Triceraton are also included in this version of the game, while Wingnut, Aska, and Armaggon round out the SNES roster, with each one bringing their own strengths and weaknesses. April was a surprisingly decent character to use as she has a very cheap crouching spam attack that’s great four countering the game’s aggressive enemies, but you can never count out the titular turtles, who can send ground sparks, spinning cyclones, and twirling kicks your way at any moment even in the NES version. Krang only appears as a boss in the Mega Drive version of the game; naturally, you battle him in the Technodrome as the penultimate boss and he’s able to extended his arms, slide at you with a kick, and fire missiles high and low from his robot body but his sprite just isn’t large or intimidating enough to evoke a sense of danger. Both 16-bit versions include the same final boss, Karai, who can only be fought on higher difficulty settings; on the SNES, you fight her on top of a speeding train, whereas you battle her in a traditional dojo on the Mega Drive. In both, she’s easily the most formidable fighter, which is accentuated on the SNES thanks to her larger sprite; she’s capable of crossing the screen with a devastating cartwheel kick, tossing out projectiles, diving from high above with flying kicks, and is overall a pretty tough customer thanks to her martial arts kicks and overly aggressive AI. Thanks to its limited roster, the Shredder is your final foe in the NES version of the game; fought on a rooftop like in the movie and original comic, Shredder again has a dashing uppercut, a flaming flurry of punches, and can send a ground shot your way but goes down just as easily as every other enemy in this version of the game.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As Tournament Fighters is styled heavily after Street Fighter II, for the most part, there aren’t any in-game power-ups for you to utilise. The SNES version includes that special gauge outside of the story mode, which is good for a dramatic finish, but this is completely absent from the Mega Drive version. The NES version, however, does feature a power-up; at some point in every battle, Splinter will drop a red ball into the arena, which you can collect by pressing down and X. While the exact button inputs aren’t explained, and it seems incredibly temperamental, you can then launch this ball at your enemy to deal massive (and, usually, decisive) damage and this will be your key to victory in almost every bout. Be warned, though, as your foe is also able to pick up the ball and you’ll lose it if you take too much damage.
The additional features on offer differ somewhat between each version of Tournament Fighters but there is some overlap; each version includes a story and a tournament mode and allows players to go head-to-head, selecting their character, stage, and handicap modifiers as you’d expect from a one-on-one fighter. Each game includes a variety of endings depending on which character you play as and the difficulty you set the game to, encouraging multiple playthroughs if you can stand to tackle this game again. Of course, the Cowabunga Collection adds even more features to these games; you’ll get a generous 100G Achievement for completing each game, however, you need to beat each one of the higher/highest difficulty level and battle Karai for this to pop. You can also use the Left Bumper to rewind the gameplay and bring up save states and display options with the Right Bumper, which also allows you to look through the strategy guide for tips and move inputs, which is much appreciated. In addition to viewing each game’s box art and manuals, exploring their soundtracks, and switching between the American and Japanese versions, you can enhance each game in various ways: you can choose to play as the 16-bit bosses, access additional stages, increase the game’s speed, and enable extra lives, remove sprite and slowdown from the NES version and allow for Hothead versus Hothead fights if you wish.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters is a tough one for me. I’m really not the best at Street Fighter II and similar knock-off fighters; the button inputs and aggressive opponents always throw me off and playing these games is often more frustrating than fun. The TMNT aesthetic certainly suits the format; all of the character have unique attacks and represent both the cartoons, comics, toys, and movies from the time and anyone who’s ever played Street Fighter II, especially on home consoles, will be immediately familiar with the 16-but versions of the game. For me, the SNES version is the clear winner; not only does it look and sound the best of the three, it plays a lot better and there are far better opportunities for combos and special attacks. The story and tournament modes are also presented in a much more visually impressive way, the stages are livelier and more interesting, and the game is bolstered by the faster combat and fluid gameplay. It pains me to say it being a big SEGA fan, but the Mega Drive version just can’t compete with its SNES counterpart; everything’s smaller, grimier, and so slow and clunky. I actually prefer some of the roster here, having read a lot of the TMNT’s Archie Comics as a kid, but the gameplay and presentation lets these additions down considerably. Naturally, the NES version is the inferior of the three but, even so, it does a decent job with the limitations of its hardware. One-on-one fighters are never a good option on inferior hardware and the TMNT definitely benefitted more from their 8-bit sidescrolling adventures and brawlers, but there’s some ambitious elements here that make it an interesting option, at least, though it’s hard to believe anyone choosing to downgrade or settle for the NES version of the far superior SNES version. Overall, if you’re a fan of one-on-one fighters and Street Fighter II, you could do a lot worse than to give the SNES version of Tournament Fighters a whirl; the other two are worth a quick playthrough for a boost to your gamer score but I can’t see myself picking the Mega Drive or NES version on future playthroughs since the SNES version just leaves both in the dust with its superior options, gameplay, combat, and presentation.
Mega Drive Rating:
Could Be Better
What did you think to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters? Which of the three did you own back in the day, or is your favourite to play in this collection? How do you think it compares to other one-on-one fighters, especially Street Fighter II? Which character was your favourite to play as in each version? Were you disappointed by the dip in graphical quality in the Mega Drive version? What did you think to the NES version and how it utilised the system’s limitations? Would you like to see another one-on-one tournament fighter from the TMNT? What did you think to the additional features added to the Cowabunga Collection? Whatever your thoughts on Tournament Fighters, go ahead and share them in the comments below or leave a comment on my social media.