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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (SNES) artwork

Right off the menu, down to the options: Change the controls so special activates on “X”, crank those lives up to 07, turn off back attack, dash on manual and colours to “Comic”. I want absolute control. Can’t have the computer hijacking my inputs to do back attacks when I need to dance around my enemies. I’ll typically leave the difficulty on “Normal”, but I’ve taken this cart out to lunch on all of its modes.

TMNT: Turtles in Time, or TMNT IV, owing to the three prior TMNT games released for NES is a classic for a reason. It condenses the arcade experience down to console with almost no loss of quality. If you’re a stickler for pixel art, as I am, you’ll notice the halved animation frames, by comparison, but … Konami has ways of compensating for this.

TMNT IV is a rock’em sock’em quarter munching brawl fest that featured in arcades after the success of the original TMNT The Arcade Game. While the original was a faithful port limited by the NES’ relative limitations, TMNT IV brings every hit home with an improved sound track thanks to the SNES superior audio hardware.

Choose one of four Turtles, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Rapheal. Each varies in speed, strength and special attack power, so getting to know them will be your surest path to victory. There are a few tricks to learn: A dash which can be used to slam enemies or slide through them, depending on which button you hit after your turtle begins to run. This is why I always set dash to “manual”; double tapping allows you to dash from a standstill.

See, Rapheal has a gentle touch with his “swordbreaker” paired sai, but is the fastest of his brothers. Whilst exploring their abilities, Rapheal can perform one trick which elevates him to the top of the heap: His dashing special attack does as much damage as his usual but doesn’t cost any life to perform. You can literally kick dash through a crowd of enemies and clear the screen in a hurry.

Technically, TMNT IV is no marvel by modern standards, but it was the best home port available. The Sega Genesis version was overall smoother and better animated, but a single standout mechanic unique to the SNES version separated TMNT IV from the herd of street brawlers that crowded the system. Hit an enemy once, position yourself just right, and you’d spin toss or roll kick your enemy right into the screen with a choice audio cue that never becomes wearisome.

The advantage of this was the introduction of a new boss that required you to do this in order to destroy Shredder’s mech from his perspective. This was pretty exciting stuff. Throw In Kazuhiko Uehara and Harumi Ueko’s hard rock soundtrack and you’re in for a thumpin’ good time.

To say TMNT IV’s controls are precise is an understatement: You have perfect control of your turtle and no button press goes unanswered. Whether you’re getting squashed by a rogue wrecking ball or falling into an uncovered manhole, TMNT IV’s animations express that satisfying feeling you expect from an expertly crafted work.

Remember, the SNES had no force feedback, so animation and sound had to do all the work of communicating the physical experience in caricature. The experience was improved by a few aptly chosen samples at level intro screens, player injury or death, and this captured the slapstick nature of the 1980s cartoon handily. TMNT IV is a two player adventure and has been scaled beautifully to the challenge in contrast to the quarter hungry four player romp. In the adjustment each turtle has twice as many hit points to lose. With some practice, you’ll be cheesing the Shredder in Final Boss form with your dash attack, too.

To say the TMNT IV’s soundtrack is memorable is frankly a disservice. Overclocked remix, ever ready to chance a style change on your favorite music theme, did us one better by authoring an entire remix album in tribute to this title’s indelible style. Few games made the short loops typical of SNES games so enjoyable, and TMNT IV is a fine example of that.

While we’re on the subject of limitations, it’s no secret the SNES had just a few Megabytes of storage for developers to work with. There were many tricks applied to improve this situation over the SNES’ lifespan, such as compression and – gulp – recolors. The Arcade edition of Turtles in Time utilized some sneaky tricks to whittle down your very small pool of hit points, encouraging you to pump more quarters into their machine.

For instance, Foot soldiers always appeared on the screen in their default purple, and then would change color to signify a change in attack style. A yellow solider would throw a boomerang style weapon, whereas a pink one could block your attacks, requiring a dash attack to break their defense. Less concerned with coin consumption and more with memory reduction, TMNT IV eschews the trickery and saves a few precious kilobytes of memory to boot.

The point of TMNT IV was to bring the arcade experience to home consoles, and to this day no single title has done this as faithfully for this franchise as is represented here. This is everything you expected to find in the Arcade version and more besides. As a port, this is a definitive title and excellent addition to any collector’s archive.

Has it aged well? Absolutely yes. Its controls are reliable; music is exciting and fun; mechanics varied and interesting; the characters differ in attributes but are easy to learn. The relative simplicity of its gameplay could be called accessible. Players of all ages can pick it up and have a good time, and isn’t that what games are for?

Rock solid controls; top notch soundtrack; recognizable cast with personality. Well designed enemies that follow ‘industry standard’ combat mechanics but can throw you for a loop with unexpected tricks. Overall this game can be beaten in a comfortable hour or so solo, or with a friend in two player mode.

This game is the sum total of its parts, and pales in comparison to modern street brawler offerings. Each of the four brothers don’t differ much beyond their weapon and bandanna of choice, so once you’ve mastered one, you’re not far from mastering all of them. Bosses are relatively simplistic to beat once you figure out their patterns. There are no alternative modes of play or character building options on hand, or foot.

Licensing conflicts have left this classic in gaming purgatory with no digital release to speak of. It’s easy to say fans of the franchise won’t find a more polished brawler on the market as the franchise is woefully short in supply. Nonetheless, you can trawl the second hand market or take a chance with emulation. Just keep in mind the local rules if and when you do.

hastypixels's avatar
Community review by hastypixels (March 26, 2017)

At some point you stop justifying what you play and begin to realize what you're learning by playing.

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