If you grew up during the height of Turtle-Mania, that means you grew up in an era where arcades were a popular and prevalent business. And if you found yourself in your local arcade, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were probably present as well. In that aspect our Heroes in a Halfshell are fondly remembered for their fantastic side scrolling multiplayer beat-em up classics: TMNT and Turtles in Time. But the black sheep in the TMNT arcade lineup was definitely a classic for us pinball wizards: Data East’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pinball machine.
Sadly, the arcade business has practically dried up…yet nowadays we can just purchase our own arcade cabinets such as the TMNT/Turtles in Time classics at your local Walmart. And as someone who dumped countless quarters into those machines as a kid, that modern reality is mind bending. But it was in my aimless internet journeys that I came across a more affordable (and insanely smaller) arcade classic: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Pinball.
Nostalgia is a money maker and “retro gaming” is a huge part of that. Enter “Boardwalk Arcade”. A line of fully functional miniatures of “your favorite arcade games, from the summer boardwalk to the after-school mall video arcade.” So far this series consists of 3 handheld games: Whack-a-mole, Skeeball, and TMNT Pinball. One of these things is not like the other, right? It’s like having the Superbowl, World Series, and Wrestlemania in the same package. And for $20…why not take the dive? So I did. Lucky you! And here are my thoughts…
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pinball was developed by Data East and released in June 1991. It was a bodacious looking machine with radical artwork that mixed elements of the 1990 film and ‘87 Fred Wolf cartoon. You had to save April and Splinter, there were sewer bonuses, real digitized sounds of voices and the classic cartoon theme, and the playfield was just scattered with classic TMNT action figures. This game was a huge reason I got into pinball as a kid. Nowadays it’s mostly referenced for April O’Neil given’ it up in that top glass art, but I suppose the Turtles needed to keep the attention of teenagers somehow. (Sex sells, dudes).
I ordered this from Amazon for $20. Now I see it popping up on various websites for around the same price. It came in a nice window box packaging and, even though I knew the measurements, in person I realized just how dang small it was 1.75(L) x 4.25(H) x 3.5(W).
It looks great. Going back and studying images of that original Data East TMNT machine online, sure, there are differences. The sticker artwork isn’t the original Data East art. It’s recycled images of the ‘87 cartoon Turtles mimicking the original machine the best they could. And with this thing being so tiny, it’s pretty impressive. It even has little plastic “coin slots”. The pinball playfield and topscreen are little LCD screens. You power it on (there’s a switch on the back powered by 3 included AAA batteries) and the screens are bright and alluring. The top glass features the original epic TMNT artwork (complete with infamous “April cleavage”,kids) and even has that classic “backlit” effect which adds to the retro authenticity.
Now, the playfield is a different story. Anyone who’s played some classic pinball know there’s a lot going on design wise. And you really can’t cram that down and present it on a 2 inch LCD screen without confusion. So this aspect of the game is completely simplified and redesigned. Is that a bad thing? Well from a presentation aspect…yes…it doesn’t look like that same game now…but the point of this is to play it. And with this simplified redesign…it’s a benefit for the gameplay. The “scorecard” on the top LCD screen mimics the original the best it can with the space provided. There’s sound and music. Unfortunately, the original TMNT theme is a licensing nightmare, so instead we get a looping song that vaguely reminds you of it. Dang. There’s also a fair share of generic “Radical!”s, “Pizza time!”s, and of course “Cowabunga!”s as well as classic pinball machine sounds. But you have no volume options. So try not to get too annoyed.
What’s important though is gameplay, right? And that’s where I was most impressed with this little doo-dad. It’s actually really fun to play. You have a button in front to launch your ball, and a flipper button on both sides of the machine like any pinball machine in existence. But playing pinball how you’re supposed to can get awkward due to its small size (hand cramps!). So included on the back of the handheld are additional flipper buttons. Which makes for much more comfortable gameplay.
You still “light” up the Turtle’s individual colors for bonuses. Sewer lids unlock. A pizza spins creating a bonus. There’s a multiball. The LCD playfield is very responsive to the button mashing and which leads to a potential strategy too. Which could make or break a game like this. Fortunately, it sticks the landing for a pretty satisfying baby pinball experience (you can’t tilt, cheaters). It doesn’t keep high scores though. So you might have to remember yours in order to best yourself from game to game.
- Fun, responsive controls and gameplay
- A good recreation of a nearly 30 year old pinball machine at 1/100000th scale
- Bright, sharp LCD screens
- Additional flipper buttons added for comfortable gameplay
- Affordable. Just the right price really.
- Sounds can get a bit redundant and annoying (RADICUUUUUL)
- No TMNT theme song 🙁
- Playfield art a bit plain and lacking in creativity
- Doesn’t keep high scores
In conclusion, Boardwalk Arcade’s TMNT pinball machine is an inexpensive and fun handheld that pays tribute to it’s big brother rather than shrinking it identically. It’s a great collectible for any TMNT and pinball fans alike. And, psssst, it also makes a great photo/ display op for those awesome NECA TMNT figures!