One of the most acclaimed beat-em-ups for the SNES, Turtles in Time is an arcade port that was the fourth Turtles game to be released on a Nintendo console – the first three were on the NES (the second was also a port of the first Turtles arcade game – still with me?) but the third wasn’t released outside of Japan. One of the problems with the second game in particular was the inevitable comparison to the arcade version – definitely playable on its own terms, it nevertheless lacked the oomph of the coin-op. By the time Turtles in Time arrived on the SNES, Nintendo and Konami’s 16-bit capabilities could more convincingly emulate the original source, and even throw in a few tricks of its own. I’ve never played the arcade version of Turtles in Time (or TIT as I won’t be referring to it from now on), but just from how the SNES version played, I realised that this was the arcade-experience-at-home I wanted but never hoped to get with Turtles II. It plays very nicely – the looks, sounds and feel do a sterling job of bringing a coin-op feel at home.
The minimal plot is bonkers. Evil brain Krang, within a particularly enormous version of his exo-suit (though if you remember, he has always been capable of super-size if you recall as far back as Episode 5 of the original cartoon), steals the Statue of Liberty in the middle of a report from a conspicuously cleavage-y April O’ Neil, who usually remained zipped up on TV. You and your designated turtle (and you can bring a friend, but just the one – there’s no four-player action here) must make it through three levels (a building site, the streets, the sewers) before arriving at the Technodrome to take on top-bastard Shredder. This latter level is unique to the SNES version, and it plays out just like a final level, but upon beating ol’ Tin Can, the game takes a twist and hurls you way, way, way, way back into the past – prehistoric times, in fact. You must clear the next few levels which leap further and further towards the present, but not before a quick detour into the far future. So that’s nine levels in total, plus a final boss level. Two of them are bonus stages that make fun use out of the SNES’ Mode-7 capabilities – the first one, set in a sewer, reminded me of Battletoads in Battlemaniacs, and the second, set in the future, is a dead ringer for F-Zero. However, unlike usual bonus stages, these count as proper levels because they actually have a boss at the end, so don’t get cocky when all those stats show up telling how well you did, because it ain’t over…
There are three difficulty settings – the harder the setting, the more obstacles are present, not to mention different, nastier foot soldiers that are thankfully absent on the easy version. To compensate, more continues are added to the tougher versions. And this is where I admit I use a little cheat that probably everybody else uses, but I felt smart for thinking of it myself. Essentially, play as you normally would as one player. You’ll notice upon playing that the option for a second player to join in at any point during the game is up there on the top right hand of the screen. So what you do is, when you’re down to your last life, pick up that second control pad, join the game and continue as normal, doing your best to ignore the fact that you’ve essentially left that turtle who got you this far to helplessly die. This way you have a whole extra bunch of lives and continues to help you out. Am I a fucking genius or what?
Enemies are predominantly Foot Soldiers – the purple ones are the most regular, and since they don’t have any weapons, they’re the easiest to take care of, although they can grab you so that other soldiers can thrown in some punches, so don’t get complacent. Other, more dangerous Foots (or Gits as I call them) of varying colours have a variety of weapons to get you with, from shurikens, axes, bow ‘n’ arrow and whatnot. Of course, you have a weapon of your own to defend yourself with, so, er… don’t forget to fight back. You won’t get very far if you don’t. This game ain’t for pacifists. You also have a unique boss for each level – some I recognised, such as BaxterFly, the two mutants from the second film, the Rat King, Rocksteady and BeBop and of course, Krang and Shredder. I vaguely remember Leatherhead from some episode or other, but Slash (not the Guns N’ Roses guitarist sadly) was new to me, a kind of Evil Turtle with a big bastard sword. I like to think of him as the ugly runt of the litter that Splinter got rid of when the others were born. The thing is, how did he get rid of him? Usually you’d flush an animal you don’t want down the toilet, but these guys already lived in the sewers, so I reckon he probably mailed him off somewhere out of the way.
Anyway, these bosses have their own set routines – learn them and you’ll know when and when not to attack. The final two bosses are pimped-up versions of Krang and Shredder and in the big scheme of things, even these two aren’t that tough once you know what their game is. In fact, the most difficult element of Turtles in Time is sheer volume – you can’t cruise through this game, you’ve got to keep fighting and fighting.
It might appear disconcerting for a game based on a kids cartoon to have so much relentless savagery – these Turtles games are essentially cuter versions of legendary beat-the-shit-out-of-em-up Streets of Rage, albeit without resorting to broken bottles as weapons, and with absolutely no kicking the living hell out of women. Still, there’s no need to call Mary Whitehouse’s estate as, if you’ll recall, the Foot Soldiers are robots, so they feel no pain. Unless they were programmed to feel pain. In which case, try to ignore their screams in your head. Of course, not all of these antagonists are robots – characters like Rocksteady and BeBop are most definitely flesh and blood, and here you are hacking them with a sword. Bit odd that – in the cartoon the most those two ever got was a bump on the noggin or they got trapped in a bubble or something. The Turtles in this game are brutal killers. Not all of the Foot get killed however – some of them break the fourth wall when you knock them out senseless just long enough to hurl them DIRECTLY AT THE SCREEN! Seriously, this never, ever gets old. This move was never in the arcade version apparently, so 1-UP to the SNES version. However, the move can be tricky to pull off if you’re trying to do it on purpose on a regular basis, like in Level 4 when the only way to defeat Shredder is to consistently throw Foot Soldiers (or Feet as I won’t be referring to them from now on) at the screen. It’s doable enough on Easy and Medium, but proves to be an absolute git on Hard, where the incarnation of Foot Soldier you have to defeat are the really annoying versions that know how to block your attack.
Back to violence though, and interestingly Michaelangelo’s nunchakus, which was such a sore spot for the BBFC back in the day, (and were snipped out of UK broadcasts of the cartoon) remain in the game. The UK version retains the sanitised ‘Hero’ in the title, more I suppose for continuity’s sake than anything (though that didn’t stop the film from keeping its original title), but apart from that there seems to be no watering down of the content. Mikey happily swirls his chucks and beats the living snot out of a thousand bad guys with the things. I guess any kind of censorship towards video games had yet to be regulated at that time.
Of course, Beat-em-ups are mostly very repetitive things, and Turtles in Time is no exception– very little brainpower is required, just a lot of brawn. Attack, attack, attack, and that’s it. Of course, it’s not completely mindless – you have to keep alert and make sure the torrent of Foot Soldiers don’t get the better of you, but to be honest, the game threatens to get samey. That it doesn’t get boring is a testament to the game’s liveliness. Fans of the cartoon will love it, right from the recreation of the opening moments of the title sequence, and even using the same theme for when April does her news reports. As someone who wasted many a penny on the first arcade game, this is as close to reliving that kind of tremendous experience at home. The levels are relatively short and sweet, the bosses are fun (apart from the Hard version of Shredder), the music is fun (if unmemorable), and there are lots of cute touches, like Rocksteady and Bebop being so stupid as usual that they get their weapons tangled, leaving them open to attack. Why did Shredder keep hiring these two clowns?
Beating the game on Easy and Normal results in a let-down ending, with Splinter commending you for reaching the end, but essentially telling you to try harder. Thanks, geez. Shredder cackles before the Game Over screen mocks you for your half-hearted efforts, but I never understood why he’s laughing, given that he was just chucked off a building. Mad bastard. I wouldn’t be laughing. The proper ending upon finishing Hard is quite mad, as the Turtles fly the Statue of Liberty back to its rightful place using the Turtle Blimp (remember that?) and there’s a bit that really makes me laugh when April and Splinter turn to the camera – the latter’s open-mouthed, goofy smile is all the funnier because of his blatant, don’t-give-a-shit attitude towards being out in public. Remember, the New York people don’t know about this man-sized rat in a kimono living underground, and here he is, hanging out with that famous reporter from Channel 6 News! Back underground, Splinter commends the Turtles (and me, of course) on a job well done and that we’re heroes. Don’t turn off the machine before the end credits finish though, because we get a ‘cast’ list sequence that really tickles me when it gets to the bad guys, because every credit for an antagonist is a shot of it absolutely battering a Turtle, freeze-framing on its pained, battered, dazed or brutally beaten defeat throes. Well, it made me laugh. Other amusements in these credits include the misspelling of ‘Stone Warrior’ as ‘Stone Worrier’ – then again, maybe that was the actual name of those monstrous rock monsters, but I didn’t sense any fretting from any of them. They were too busy trying to stomp me into the ground. Also, the final parting message from the game was ‘Thank you for your playing’, which doesn’t sound right.
Three-and-a-half-shells out of five half-shells. No, I don’t understand either.
PS: My Turtles of choice are Michaelangelo for sheer battering power with those nunchakus, and Donatello for his big stick. Good bit of wood, that.