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TMNT: Tournament Fighters

Genre: Fighting Developer: Konami Publisher: Konami Players: 1-2 Released: 1993

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters was released in ”The Golden Age of Fighting Games” (1993-1995) simultaneously with the SNES and NES versions in December 1993. It was Konami’s fifth game for the Genesis and I’m betting, the ONLY game I’ve ever gotten on the month of its release. I had such great faith in both Konami making a fighting game, especially one based on TMNT that at the holidays, I just asked Grandma to get one of the three versions. And thus I ended up with this version for the Genesis. But I was pretty darn reluctant when I saw EGM give them a bunch of 6s a few days prior to getting the gift. The very first words that came out of my brother’s mouth when the wrapping was impatiently ripped off was, ”Ah! The useless one.” Those words didn’t boost my confidence too much. I had a bad feeling that I’d wasted one of my only two opportunities of the year to acquire new games.

Instead of the cartoon/Archie Comics theme that all the other TMNT games had, this one is based on the Mirage Studios comic, thereby having a darker look and feel. Splinter was relaxing in the sewer when his ”sons” (pupils) the turtles greeted him, or so he thought. When they came around to visit their rodent sensei, they discovered he was missing and instead found the ”brainy” Krang on the tv screen. It turned out that the four Ninja Turtles weren’t the first guys that visited Splinter, and were preceded by ”evil Turtle clones.” Krang waited for them to fall into his trap. The Turtles knew this, so they obtained the help of the hockey-style fighter Casey Jones, the mutant beetle Sissypus, Ray Fillet, and even April O’Neil (not the cartoon version that got captured twice a day) to lend a helping hand.

There are a total of eight good guys to choose from. One player can either square off against another in the vs. mode, battle Krang and his clones in the story mode, hone his/her skills in the practice mode, or waste their damn time in the tournament mode. This was one of the first fighting game that allowed you to select the amount of rounds per fight, and you can pick from 1, 3, 5 or 7. There are also 8 computer skill levels. A more interesting option is being able to select your power and speed levels between 1 and 8.

There are three buttons used: kick, punch and taunt. There aren’t many super-fast, mighty blows (like jab and roundhouse) that differ from normal attacks. Special moves are done in a hybrid of fighting games styles: you have Street Fighter down, down-forward, forward attacks, Mortal Kombat forward, back, forward attacks, and Fatal Fury cheese combinations like back, forward, down-forward, down, down-back, and taunt. The punch button does a slower/lower-range special attack than kick version. When your health gets in the red (that’s after you lose a good 3/4ths of it), you have the power to do an Ultra-Desperation Attack. They usually take away about half of your opponent’s health.

Don’t even THINK about practicing combos in this game! Tournament Fighters has a very contorted and flustering fighting engine. After one hit, another cannot be linked (unless it’s a throw). When the characters get knocked back from a hit, it’s almost like an action game in the way that they’re are invincible for the second afterwards. You’re obligated to make every hit count. The dizzying system is weird too, but more realistic than on any other fighting game I know! You can stun opponents by hitting them right when they’re landing/about to land from a jump or right before they do certain attacks. The gameplay is surprisingly fast-paced (just a bit faster than Mortal Kombat) and the control is far from perfect, but never completely frustrating. The gameplay is decent, but definitely not on the caliber of the SNES version.

The moves are some of the more creative I’ve seen. There are a lot of conventional moves- for example, Donatello fights a lot like Guile, with a sonic boom-style move and a flash kick (stick, actually) both done in the classic charge move combinations. Other characters have VERY unique moves, Casey being my favorite with the ”rebounder” where he reverses any projectile by twirling his hockey stick, and my favorite move in ANY fighting game that’s NEVER been copied- his time bomb, which he sets on the ground for a few seconds before it wastes anything in its path (including Casey). A well-placed hit with that move can take out a good 75% of someone’s health. Some of the Ultra Attacks are very amusing, especially Leo’s, but a few of them are just beefed-up versions of their fireballs. The power and speed selection is an interesting idea, but a gymnast is SUPPOSED to be faster than a beetle no matter WHAT.

The backgrounds are some of the most impressive ever to grace the Genesis, though I would’ve preferred more movement in them. They do have huge ”spectators.” Not a human audience, but strange things like the giant spider clinging to its web in front of the vivid tropics, blue clouds on the Jungle Planet stage, and the colossal lava beast on the Magma Planet. The true highlight is the psychedelic Mirage Planet, which has tubes all through the ground with purple and black liquid running through, with occasional giant flowers rooted in and some shining bubbles in the middle. It has to be seen to be believed.

As you’d probably guess, the evil clones are simply palette-swaps (Sissypus is blue and yellow while his clone, evidently named ”Clone Sissy” due to space problems, is gray and purple). The animation is fine in most places, but sometimes your characters will get knocked down when you do an uppercut! Also, some of the hit animations look more like the characters have stomach aches, but those are minor quibbles.

The sounds are great in most cases, from Leo’s many slashing attacks to the pop of Sisypus’s bettlejuice attack. They definitely aren’t too low-pitched. The voices are FAR more crisp and clear in this version than in the rest. They all sound like they’re supposed to (or how I’d imagine they’re supposed to), matching their respective characters. Don says ”Hey! Come and get me!” in a nerdy voice, April O’Neil says ”C’mon baby” in a pseudo-seductive voice, and Sissypus really sounds like he regurgitates when he launches the Beetle Glob from out  of his mouth. You can also hear his wings beat when he jumps. The only problem with the sound is how single attacks often sound like two or three. Again, that’s pretty irrelevant.

The themes are mainly techno with a few additions-jungle, ”martial arts” music, house, a bit of hip-hop and even some easy listening! My very favorite thing about the music is how the drums actually sound REAL- that’s something I’ve NEVER experienced on any other Genesis game. The keyboards never sound cheesy either but a lot of it is often amplified and synthesized. Some tracks are atmospheric like the jungle stage, which has sort of a safari sound. Others are extremely upbeat from start to finish, like the spaceship. Some even change the tempo in the MIDDLE of the track and they don’t end up sounding sloppy! Casey’s stage is the best example of that. It also fits the level’s ice setting very well. They all last a good long time and really sound like they were done by a professional. Overall, the music is truly the apex of Genesis music, without a doubt. Streets of Rage, Sonic the Hedgehog and Strider are close seconds, but even they don’t have anything on this game’s music.

As usual, the computer skill level doesn’t decide its SKILL at all- just its power. Well, that and how many times you get thrown. Speaking of throwing, on the very first day I played this, I found out about a VERY big loophole in the gameplay- the moment a character gets up, you can throw them right then and they WON’T be able to escape! This works especially well with April. I’ve always had a knack for finding cheap, inescapable gambits in fighting games. It’s also the only hope of winning the tournament mode since you fight 88 fighters in a row with no real separation between fights. If you ignore the whole throwing gambit thing, you can set things (the rounds, the difficulty, speed and power) to however skillful you think you are.

Eight selectable characters seems to be too little for a 1993 fighting game. Each character has three special moves and an Ultra Desperation attack, and there are no combos, so the game won’t take that long to master. But that still doesn’t mean it will get boring. A two-player fighting game where you have to earn every hit is rather refreshing from the ”press two buttons and hit an opponent 32 times thing.” The ending is average and it’s a shame that every character has the same one.

As you can see, I wasn’t as disappointed with this game as I thought I would be (and neither was anyone else). Tournament Fighters has EVERYTHING the SNES version is missing except for the gameplay, and that’s a big ”except.” I loved that Konami always made each version of a game completely different, like with TMNT: TF, Sparkster and Contra. Still, this game is definitely worth buying if only for the music!

SCORE: 8 out of 10

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