Today we’re going to take a stroll down Memory Lane. Actually, see that manhole cover right there? We’re going to take a stroll in the sewers underneath Memory Lane. In honor of the release of the new Xbox Live game: Turtles in Time Re-shelled, I thought I’d share my 80’s childhood memories of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles phenomenon.
I knew TMNT was an underground comic book long before it was a popular cartoon and toy line because a kid brought a comic to school one day. I remember it was in black and white, but since I was never really into comic books, I didn’t pay much attention to it beyond that. I did remember the strange titles, though. Ninja…Turtles?!?
My next exposure to TMNT was the cartoon. Back then, the FOX TV network was just getting started, and they did a lot of bold things. One of them was showing the first few episodes of the TMNT cartoon on Sunday night (yes, really)! After that, it was a Saturday morning staple for years to come. The only reason why I watched the cartoon is because I knew someone who did the animation in it, and I liked seeing his name in the credits. But other than that, I thought it was a pretty dumb cartoon. For some strange reason, it always made me hungry for pizza, though.
During the height of 80’s TMNT popularity, they made a few live action movies. They were all pretty bad, but I watched them anyway because Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop had a hand in them, and as a fan of all things Muppet, I had to check them out. Later on, when little brother Jeff was very young, we had all the movies on videotape and he watched them constantly. The new computer animated movie they made a couple of years ago was actually pretty fun, and I can’t wait for that company’s next movie: a CG Astro Boy flick.
When TMNT was big, I was kind of at that awkward age where I was too old to play with the toys and action figures, but young enough that I could still watch the cartoon and play the TMNT video games without too much embarrassment (not that I cared). Really, the only two toys lines I ever got into were Star Wars and Transformers. After that, I decided that video games were worth more of my time and money, and I haven’t looked back since.
I thought the first NES Turtles game was horrible, but I LOVED the arcade four player side scrolling brawler (the NES version of that was pretty decent, too, all things considered). I put so many quarters into that machine that it’s not even funny! Most of my current knowledge of the Turtles, I gleaned from the arcade game. In fact, that game helped me decide who my favorite Turtle was. My favorite is Raphael. Which is strange because he was the most angry and aggressive of the four, and that’s usually character traits that I don’t identify with. But Raph is my favorite not because of his personality, but because of his joystick placement on the arcade machine. Yup. It was all the way on the right, so I wouldn’t have to squeeze in between two fat smelly guys to play the game. I could just slip in on the side. I got so used to playing on that joystick that when The Simpsons arcade game came out, I always played as Lisa because her stick was in the same place as Raph’s on the machine.
Don’t Get The Pizza!
The TMNT game proved very popular in arcades. I saw it in every one I went to. So naturally, a sequel was produced a few years later called Turtles in Time. It was pretty much the same game as the first, except now the turtles were sent back in time by Shredder so now they fight the Foot Clan in prehistory and on pirate ships. I only remember seeing it in two arcades, though. One of them was in San Antonio, in the arcade at Sea World. That was especially memorable and cool because they let you play it in a dark room on a projection screen TV!
Really, most of my memories of Turtles in Time come from the SNES version, and a funny story that goes along with it. My little brother Jeff was very young when we would play it together, and if I ever got the energy-filling pizza instead of him, even if he didn’t really need it, he would always start crying, “Moooommm! Cary got the pizza! Waaaahhh!” And then our mom would yell out from the kitchen, “CARY, DON’T GET THE PIZZA!” The challenge then became how to beat the game without getting any power-ups! Sometimes I would accidentally get the pizza, and when that happened, my heart would sink because I knew what was coming. But don’t blame Jeff for being a crybaby. He was only like, 3 years old or something when this all happened. Anyway, we still joke about “Cary got the pizza” to this very day!
So when the Turtles in Time remake came out on Xbox Live last week, I downloaded it for old times’ sake. The remake features 3-D graphics instead of 2-D sprites, but it still plays the same. There’s not much too it, but then, there wasn’t much to the old game either. And yes, you can still throw enemies toward the screen. It would’ve been nice if they let you play the old game along with the remake, and since the updated version is based on the arcade game, not the SNES one, there are a few stages missing and a couple of different boss fights. And of course it’s not as good as Castle Crashers. But I still say Turtles in Time is worth the 800 points if you have kids. I speak from experience that it is great fun to play with little ones, and the violence is only the cartoony, comic book style variety. And four player support means everyone can play. And family friendly Xbox Live games are few and far between, so yeah, get this one for the kids, they’ll love it. Best part is I don’t have to worry about not getting the pizza anymore! Jeff, now a teenager, lets me get the pizza at last. Usually I need it more than him because he’s a lot better at this game than me. I think as I get older, I get WORSE at video games, not better!
Anyway, that’s about all the memories I have to share about TMNT. But I’ve barely even scratched the surface as to how popular it was back in the day. Aside from the comics, toy line, cartoon, movies, and video games, TMNT was also on yogurt, cereal, ice cream, bed sheets, fruit pies, heck, they even had their own stage show! The Turtle phenomenon was as big as Pokemon, Power Rangers, or Hannah Montana. And with new video games and an updated cartoon and CG movie based more closely on the source material, TMNT is still going strong. In the comments section, if you have any good memories about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I’d love it if you would share them with us!