June 19, 2010

Refresh Rate – TMNT IV: Turtles in Time

Filed under: Archives — Tags: , , , , , — Dan Rankin @ 7:27 pm

TMNT IV: Turtles in Time
There was a time when the turtles were bigger than pro wrestling. As it’s been a number of years since the pinnacle of their success, it’s probably best to specify that I’m referring, of course, to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Undoubtedly, there is a certain generation of people who don’t need that specification; when they hear ‘the turtles’, their minds make that immediate synaptic connection to the Ninja Turtles. But, as time passes, there is bound to be ever more gamers and movie fans who weren’t there to experience Turtle Power first hand.

Consider this your time machine.

TMNT IV: Turtles in Time
At their best, they drew fans to the comic book racks, toy shelves, TV screens, and even to the box office for three live action films in the early nineties. They had their moment in the spotlight, strutting on stage with Vanilla Ice singing “Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go!” – before being plunged into very much the same obscurity as Vanilla Ice.

A recent animated feature put the heroes in half-shells back out on the streets, but, well-received as it was, it and any subsequent films will never be able inject the same kind of freshness into the series that it enjoyed in the late eighties and early nineties. Today, they’re competing against the Transformers and Smurfs and Thundercats of the world for a chance at the purse strings of nostalgic North Americans; not as glossy or as fresh as characters in the Pixar universe or the heroes from the Marvel and DC worlds who have recently been getting their own big budget Hollywood makeovers.

TMNT IV: Turtles in Time

So, it is in the spirit of looking back in time that I take a look back at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time, a 1992 Konami title for the SNES which came out at the plateau of the Turtles’ presence in the pop culture arena. By Turtles IV, not only the heroes, but also the game’s villains (from Shredder to Krang and Baxter Stockman, right down to the Foot Clan) were all well established in the form of action figures, not to mention comic books and TV shows.

In a world where flying space aliens are working in cahoots with masked Ninjutsu warlords, an origin story for the six-foot bi-pedal katana-wielding turtles committed to saving the day seems somewhat irrelevant.

And honestly, in 1992, no origin story was needed. Some household pet turtles had been mutated by some ooze and raised underground by a martial arts master who was also mutated… into a rat for some reason, and that was that. So it’s fitting that at the outset of Turtles IV, there is no origin story – just a heist and a call to action.

TMNT IV: Turtles in Time

Krang swoops in while April O’Neil is making a non-descript newscast in front of the Statue of Liberty, before proceeding to make off with the 150 foot statue. Only one team of mutated teen turtles, who happen to be watching the broadcast from their sewer hideout, can put the terrible wrong right.

The player then fights through three seemingly disconnected New York environments, facing three seemingly disconnected minor bosses, before reaching the Technodrome, the first encounter with Shredder, and the first real challenge of the game. In order to defeat Shredder in this meeting, the player must hurl foot soldiers into Shredder’s control room, which, in a unique and memorable flourish, is located in the extreme foreground of the action. The turtles literally appear to throw the baddies out of the TV set; that act in itself seems to reflect the youthful exuberance the turtles represented in the early nineties.

TMNT IV: Turtles in Time

But, besides that, the first Shredder fight itself was sort of a train wreck. Shredder’s profile, and some of the weapons he used to attack the player, and his health gauge, all ate up valuable real estate on the screen making combat on the Technodrome floor against the constantly re-spawning crowd of foot soldiers somewhat chaotic.

However, it was that first chaotic clusterfuck at the Technodrome that made what happened next all the more worthwhile. Revealing some heretofore unknown mystical power he has at his disposal, Shredder somehow sends the turtles back in time. All the way back.

The next thing Leo, Donnie, Raph, and Michelangelo know, they are in the year 250 000 000 BC, groovin’ with dinosaurs, mudmen, and, for some reason, the Foot Clan.

Apparently when an enemy boss is defeated in the past, the turtles cause a flux in Shredder’s time warp and are transported ahead in time to an era slightly closer to the present… although this is never explained and I just sort of made it up based on my experience with the game… and even my rationalization of the game’s plot fails to explain the pair of levels in the future where the turtles duel with Krang.

TMNT IV: Turtles in Time

At any rate, after 250 000 000 BC, the turtles find themselves swashbuckling on the deck of a remarkably long pirate ship in 1350 AD. I always thought that was kind of an uncomfortable leap – from dinosaurs to pirates – but I guess in the interest of brevity, ancient Egypt and the fall of the Roman empire had to take a back seat.

After 1350, the turtles take on the old west on a steam engine circa 1885, facing off against Killer Croc.. err, Leatherhead.

An amazingly accurate portrayal of what life will resemble in 2020 – ie. hover boards – follows, before a trip to deep space, and the obligatory final confrontation.

It is a thoroughly enjoyable game with a fun sense of humour, cool visuals, an achievable difficulty arc, and excellent multiplayer replayability.

Friendships can be made or broken over the course of the game, as brotherhood is put to the test based on who needs pizza power-ups the most.

TMNT IV: Turtles in Time
Apparently I’m not the only who fondly recalled Turtles IV as, last summer, a 3D remake of the game was released by Ubisoft and made available online for XBLA and PSN. The remake took the original arcade version of the game as its inspiration – not Konami’s eventual reworked SNES port – so it’s not an exact match of the game I’ve just described.

Some major differences actually exist.

The remake lacks the Rat King at the end of the sewer level, replaced by a frustrating onslaught of pizza monsters. The first Technodrome stage is also nixed, effectively making it pointless to ever throw the enemy into the screen, and, to an extent, removing the sense of satisfaction one got for making it to the time travel levels at all.

A number of other bosses differ from the SNES version. Bebop and Rocksteady become Tokka and Rahzar, and Slash gets replaced by Clayface.. err, ‘Cement Man’. Overly dark colour filters and new musical arrangements were some other criticisms that lovers of the original cited after playing the remake, but the changes aren’t all bad. April O’Neil, for instance, became a total fox in the revamped version.

The 3D graphics in the remake look great, but when players add up all the memories and experiences they had playing the original I think most will find the remake lacking.

Even a stunning rendering of a giant three-dimensional Krang can’t compare to the crude 2D image of Leonardo hopping up and down on a surf board, clutching his foot and whelping, “My toe! My toe!”


  1. Yeah, this was pretty much my experience with the 3D remake as well. It didn’t even occur to me that they wouldn’t go with the SNES version. WHAT A FOOL I WAS

    Comment by Veebles — June 21, 2010 @ 12:57 am

  2. What’s the reasoning behind changing well known bad guys into nobodies? Seems… odd.

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — June 21, 2010 @ 10:28 am

  3. I got the remake for $5 and for that it’s a very fun game with some much needed trophies for me. Still, nothing can beat the nostalgia of the original arcade game and the SNES port described in this article since pre-rendered or 1,000 deep polygon models weren’t around in ’92.

    Comment by EdEN — June 21, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

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