Totally Turtle Games – TMNT Tournament Fighters
Between 1993 and 1994, the popularity of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on television was starting to fade. The 1987 animated series had lost its luster, and was soon to end. Video games were in full swing, and multiple systems were available that fractured any former allegiance, giving players and fans access to any number of options for their entertainment needs. To capitalize on this new market, Konami used its rights to the TMNT franchise to publish a game that could reach fans on all three major systems, essentially guaranteeing that not a single potential customer would be left untapped. So, taking into account the growing popularity of fighting games, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters was released for the NES, SNES, and Sega Genesis systems.
The NES version was the simplest, featuring a short story mode that had the player battling as a turtle against his brothers, followed by bouts with Casey Jones and the dragon warrior Hothead before taking on the Shredder. There was also a versus mode for battling with a friend. The SNES game featured a bit more in-depth story, in which Karai kidnapped April O’Neil and Splinter. The turtles then traveled across the country to face warriors like Chrome Dome, Wingnut, and Rat King to get them back. Like all fighting games, it also included a versus mode to battle with friends. The Genesis version varied even more, with Splinter being captured by Krang, and the turtles and their friends traversing the galaxy to get him back (and of course fighting a Triceraton, Krang’s android body, and Karai along the way).
With each system’s power, the game got progressively longer and more involved. Fighting game standards were in place for all three, including a best two-of-three-match win requirement, and the controllers featured standard kick, punch, and jump buttons. With the SNES and Sega versions, however, the enhanced systems made it possible to unleash super attacks and desperation attacks, depending on the health of the player’s character. The Genesis version also allowed more options of playable character in story mode, including Casey Jones, April, Ray Fillet, and Sisyphus.
Unlike its predecessors, Tournament Fighters didn’t receive much in the way of praise. It was very clearly the end of an era (as evidenced by its title as the last third-party game ever released for the NES in North America), and a last-ditch effort to capitalize on the franchise. While none of the TMNT games prior had been terrible deep in terms of story and game play, they were still some of the best games ever for what they did manage to bring to the table. Though it was surprising, and laudable that the game brought in Karai twice as the master villain (when she’d never appeared outside the comics at that point), Tournament Fighters was simply a very forgettable game.
The only unique aspect offered by the title was in the SNES version. One of the characters introduced was unique to that game, and inspired by Mitsu from the third TMNT feature film. Aska was a kunoichi looking to open her own dojo when she got caught up in turtles’ quest to find their friend and father. She never appeared again, but because of her uniqueness, she made Electronic Gaming Monthly’s “Top Ten Female Fighters” list in 1993 at number four.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters didn’t have the same draws as its predecessors, but for simple beat-em-up action, it got the job done. The only trouble it had as a part of that genre was that it wasn’t terribly well-developed. The story mode was passable (as most fighting games have next to no story because that’s not their draw), but there weren’t enough characters available to even draw on the many preferences of its niche fan base, let alone compete with some of the bigger titles that were available at the time. Unfortunately, this game will likely be lost to the annals of turtle time, and be forgotten as better games live on in fans’ minds.