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Dark Ages – Three Courses of Turtles

                Alright, it’s been a really really long time between my first article and this one (thus putting the weekly thing out to pasture, of which I apologize), but it’s for a good reason, I promise. In the two weeks I haven’t posted a Dark Ages article, the randomizer forced me to look deep and hard at one of the companies I grew up loving in as a kid: Konami. I love me some Konami. They force me to consider buying new cardboard every year because their card game, Yu-Gi-Oh, changes its metagame every f’n set and banlists force me to adjust as well. They also make Castlevania, and I have lost many hours of my life on the handheld Castlevanias. They also used to make the TMNT games, and if you say you have gone through life without playing Turtles in Time on SNES or the arcades, I am sorry you exist (legitimately, how did you live in the nineties without Turtles in Time?!?). Oh right, the disclaimer…the opinions stressed by KPB|MasterOnion do not reflect the opinions of KPB as a whole, etc, etc, ipso facto telemundo I feel so bad for you!

                Let’s get back on topic: why I hated Konami for the last month. They teamed up with Mirage Studios (the indy comic studios responsible for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) to make a fighting game based on their property based on the popularity of the versus mode in the console versions of Turtles in Time. This was to come out during the release of TMNT 3 (the one everyone hates. Everyone. I hate it for a personal reason; my grandma bought me a sweater of it when I was a kid, and bought my brother one too. We had to match…-shudder-) and they thought to release TMNT: Tournament Fighters across all major systems (NES, SNES, and Genesis). What they didn’t do  is consider the kind of market they were entering; instead of making 3 versions of the same game, they made 3 different rosters with three different fighting systems across 3 different controller types. I.E: They made it immensely different for me to review the game as a whole, because the NES, SNES, and Genesis versions are ALL DIFFERENT BETWEEN THE TWO. There might be common characters across the board, but the systems and controls are all different. Before I go into the controls, lemme talk about the characters, the first glaring error.

Characters

                This game draws less from the cartoon and more from the comic books. To that end, there are a lot of characters you won’t know. All you need to know is that there is a lot of move parallels to Street Fighter in these games, and you can count on seeing at least all 4 turtles in the three games. The NES version has the four Turtles (Leonardo and his spin kick o’ doom, Raphael throwing himself at the opponent, Michaelangelo cannon drilling into the air like a boss, and Donatello having the best move I have ever seen, bar none) as well as their friend Casey Jones (who can dizzy his opponent easy with an air projectile), against Shredder (he has the Hyakuretsuken) and his goon Hothead (so big that a mirror match against him bugs out the system). Splinter shows up during the rounds and drops off a Red Ball, which lets you have a projectile each Turtle can use differently.

                The Genesis version features characters less from the Peter Laird comics and more from the TV show and Adventures comic. You have the Turtles (with projectiles and well-defined ripoff techniques like Shoto Leo and Guile Donatello) as well as Casey Jones (being so CHEAP. Who gave him remote explosives?!?) and April O’Neal (I shit you not, plays like Vega), along with new characters Ray Fillet (looks like a stingray, plays like one) and Sisyphus (or Musha Beetle in Japan. He is completely original). Bosses include Triceraton (don’t get thrown, takes 40% of your life, and he is like Honda in that his throw lets him walk while the opponent lands), Krang (plays like Sagat), and Karai (not too annoying in here, but she plays like Bison, even has the Scissor Kick). Splinter and April O’Neal are the damsels in this game, and Shredder isn’t active because he might be sleeping off his beatdown from Hyperstone Heist (my favorite Genesis game I ever owned the box for).

                The SNES version contains the four Turtles, as well as character from the Mirage comic books, as well as the first playable appearance of Shredder, referred as Cyber Shredder. Joining them is War (an alien representing the Horseman of Apocolypse who plays like E.Honda), Chrome Dome (the robot from the cartoon show, like any robot with arms, don’t be near them, but he has to charge for it), Aska (an original character based on Mitsu from TMNT 3. Plays kinda simple, only 2 specials), Wingnut (a bad bat who is kinda stupid, but don’t let him be directly above you with meter), Armaggon (a shark mutant that works with Rat King. Very slow, but has moves like Charlie in Alpha 3), with bosses including Rat King (think Raiden from Fatal Fury 2) and Karai (THIS BITCH WILL KILL YOU! Send me a picture of you beating her with a perfect without cheating and I will do moose things for you. For serious. It just won’t happen, she is way too good. Like Orochi good. SNK Boss good).

Gameplay

                The NES version is very skippable in regards to gameplay, but you should give it a try just to understand the weakness of the NES in regards to fighting games. For example, there is little difference between the Turtles in both moves and sprites. For god sakes, their VS picture is the same photo 4 times with different colors to skin and headband. They all share the same two moves, a jumping kick and a jumping elbow to get closer to their opponent. They only differ in different moves, of which usually one stands out. Leonardo has a standing quadruple roundhouse that moves forward a bit. Donatello has the best move I’ve ever seen, a rising roll that is completely active from up to down, and it ends in a slide. I haven’t tested it (there is no Practice mode in all three games, we are spoiled these days) but I think it is like blocking Blanka’s Ultra 1. But it’s a special! Michaelangelo has a Cannon Drill like move that can move at a 15 degree angle or a 45 degree angle, but its active time is quite large. You can block it, let go of block and still take the move, but if you kept blocking it would only hit once. Raphael has a Psycho Crusher that hits like a Sumo Headbutt, and even if blocked he can follow up with a throw if you are not careful. Casey has no common moves with the Turtles, but can cause an auto-dizzy with his leaping projectile, and has a decent anti-air with his hockey stick. Hothead is a big guy with long reaching normals and a Yoga Flame to fend off blockers. It puts you in an odd spot that Hothead can take advantage of, so be careful. Shredder is the only one with a projectile he doesn’t have to Smash Ball for, and can also mash P to do a Hyakuretsuken, ala Takuma and Ryo. It even ends with an uppercut. If you watch it, you’ll go Pa-Cha at the end like any decent Kyokugen fighter has at the end of their special.

                There are no supers in the NES version, nor are there any weapons the Turtles are known for. The Turtles fight strictly barehanded, and are only provided a Red Ball dropped by Splinter in the middle of the battle. If you pick it up, you can input a fireball motion to throw it to your opponent. Each delivery of the projectile differs, like ricochets and air fireballs, and even a Sonic Boom with Shredder. The ball then bounces off the opponent and upward to be picked up again by whoever can grab it. This adds a Smash Ball-like mentality to the game to distract you from the lack of two-in-ones, throw techs, and supers.

                The Genesis version is slightly better, but is unfortunately plagued by one of the worst gameplay decisions I have ever experienced. Each Turtle has unique moves and their weapons, so at least that’s taken care of. Unfortunately, the Genesis has only 3 buttons. Two of them are used for strikes. THE THIRD IS USED FOR TAUNTING! In this day and age of Back/Select = Taunt, we might see that as foolish. Well, in practice, you’ll see it as f’n retarded! You gain nothing by taunting the opponent, you don’t lower anything, you don’t gain anything, you just make your opponent feel stupid. Unfortunately, you’ll feel even worse because THE TAUNT BUTTON IS THE BUTTON USED FOR DM’S. If you need to use a Desperation Move, which you can only use when your health is flashing red (you can use it more than once if you need to. Doubt it though, it wrecks faces), you need to use the Taunt button, which means if you screw up the input, you will stand there, basically doing your impression of a one-legged man in an asskicking contest. And some of these inputs are silly. Donatello’s is F, B, DB, D as well as Michaelangelo, and you can’t just do it like Guilty Gear motions either, you put more than what’s necessary you are taunting. Others are half-circles, which are hard as hell to convey on a Genesis pad. Not to mention that some of them are grabs, and in a game with 1-frame moves, that’s silly. But Leonardo’s DM is a sharp departure from the character you know him as. He rolls into a ball, hits the opponent into the air, and HAS THEM FALL ONTO HIS SWORD ALL COCKY-LIKE.  Who are you and what have you done with Leo?

                The Turtles maintain their styles across the board. Leo is more of a Shoto, Michaelangelo has a decent anti-air and throws whirlwinds and his DM is a ground wave that moves slow and hits hard, Donatello has a kick move preceded by his Bo staff and can give you 10 lumps of sugar with his bo’s DM and can charge forward while hitting with his staff, but loses his awesome move from NES, Raphael still Psycho Crushes but he can do it in the air without charging, and has a decent anti-air, but makes up for it with a Ryoko Ranbu-like DM (I kid you not). April is played like Vega in that she can bounce off of walls and come down with her elbow, or jump forward and hit with it too. She also has a spam attack, but no projectile, which is weird. She does have a DM throw that makes my nuts cringe like Kisarah’s Atomic Drop in ADK. Casey is cheap as all hell. His projectile is a bomb he sets that can only hit you, and his two other specials are a multi-striking high-low attack, and a reflector into a hit. Compile this together and you got a steady stream of chip damage coming to you. His DM is basically Jax’s multi-slam with his hockey stick. The other guys are kinda lame, since their DM’s are one hit projectiles and they basically have a projectile and other lackluster specials. The bosses do not have DM’s, but are playable in this game, and Krang’s Android plays like Sagat in that he has high-low projectiles and an uppercut. Karai plays like Bison minus the head stomp and Devil Reverse shenanigans, but does have a projectile so it’s more like a watered-down Bison from Alpha with enhanced speed. This is her very very tame.

                The SNES game is by far the best in gameplay. The super meter makes this an actual tournament game; whereas the Genesis contained more of a comeback mechanic than something you can aim for. Also, the supers were easy to do and you don’t go into a taunt upon messing the input. You just press the Fierce buttons together. The Turtles mostly keep their same moves from the Genesis version, except Donatello has a spin-kick move on his shell, Raphael loses his anti-air and gains a scissor kick, Michaelangelo gets a really strong anti-air (a jump-in to a two-in-one will make you lose 50% life and probably into stun) and gains Raphael’s Ranbu as a Super, and the Turtles gain a back-dash like Vega’s backflip. Raphael, Donatello, and Leonardo have projectile supers, but one is an aerial meteor strike, one is a Dragon Spirit, and another is basically Hundred Crack Fist of the North Star. War is laughably slow, but can close the distance somewhat and jumps the highest upwards, but his Super is a easy-to-block one. Chrome Dome plays more like Necro in SF3 before Necro was a thought, having a throw move as well as extendo arms, and a get-off-me thunder Super. Aska is very vanilla, but her Super is hard to jump over and it’s a one-hit projectile too. Wingnut is one of the first characters to ‘fly’, as in he can hover in place, and with proper placement his super can kill, but he can be easily hit out of the air where most of his damage is. Armaggon is more of a Guile character, but can swim in the air to hit with his nose, and his Super is a huge wave of water with an anti-air added into the mix. Shredder has the best normals in the game, but he is a charge character with an anti-projectile reflector and a charge punch that puts him in throw range if blocked. He also has a nice Tiger Knee move and a AOE thunder attack. Rat King is pretty powerful up close, but he has to use his Drop Kick to get in close, but he only has to throw you three times to win.

                This paragraph is brought to you by the name, Karai. She is WAY TOO FAST, and she can hold back to make any move of hers slide forward (that make sense? Totes makes sense to me). To that end, you can spam back+LP forever or transition into a throw at any time. This gives her time to jump up above you and rain down punches for your wake-up, which you take massive chip damage for. Blocking her dash punches only gives her meter, which she can use for Dark Thunder to damage you even further. She is also the only character with an air throw, and she has auto-tick throws with that LP. I’m telling you, you need to cheese out and stick to your anti-airs to win, like a flowchart Ken of sorts, just to get one win out of her.

                Across the board of systems, there is a glaring problem with this game: with how easy it is to get in, there are no throw breaks in this game. Throw breaks were at least present in SSF2, enough that you’d only take a small amount of damage but you can get out of taking so much damage from a throw like Triceraton and Rat King exploit to ridiculous amounts. It’s like Triceraton knows that it’s the only way he’s going to get damage that doesn’t include turning into a ball and bouncing across the screen like someone clearly not his frame. With how heavily it borrowed from games preceeding it (and having Supers before the release of Super Turbo) you would think they would find a way to add throw breaks. Games like this are the other side of the broken meter, where this game is way too aggro for its own good. You defend, throw, and make a set-up, rinse, repeat. On the other side is a game like Killer Instinct, where you can block all day because there is no overheads or throws, so nothing is challenging you to break out of your turtle defense except some really advanced tech. There are two-in-ones in the 16 bit games, but the NES game is hardly one to find deep immersive gameplay in, since it is all hits and trades and throws. All in all, gameplay wise, the SNES is the clear winner of a pile of annoyances, and I’ll tell you why.

Controls

                I’ll try to be brief here; I’m already 2000+ words in. NES controls: 2 buttons. Punch, Kick, no directional influence to determine fierce attacks. You basically only have fierce attacks in the case of punch attacks, whereas kicks are more sharp and lighter. Inputs determine specials, but nothing too elaborate. Genesis controls: 3 buttons, Punch, Kick, and FN TAUNT! Forward and a button will give you a fierce attack with slower frame input but more hitstun. The special inputs are a bit far, Michaelangelo having a Tiger Knee input, and the Forward to RDP is an annoying thing to put in on my battop. I’ve already explained my gripe with the Taunt button, so you know why I’m giving this game less points on the controls aspect of the game. I shouldn’t lose mocking my opponent. I shouldn’t have a button on a 3-button pad be devoted to taunts! SNES controls: solid, 4 button inputs, light and fierce punches and kicks. Supers are easy to do (two buttons like Easy Mode Marvel vs. Capcom 1!) and require no odd inputs, though some specials might require an odd input or two but that’s just the nature of the game we all play. SNES definitely wins out.

Story

                Damsels (or Senseis) in distress, travel across planets and cities to fight for their freedom. In NES it’s just the Turtles vs. Shredder. In the Genesis version, it’s Turtles & Friends versus the misfits of the Foot Clan left when Shredder is taking a nap after Hyperstone Heist (that’s my story, sticking to it). The SNES version features a tournament based on money, and the winner usually has a unique reason for being in the tournament, whether it glory or greed. Either way, Story Mode requires you to use a Turtle, and you might find yourself fighting clones of your brothers or you. In the SNES version there is no meter for supers, but you can do the Desperation Moves in the Genesis version. All in all, very par for course, almost a 30 minute cartoon plot. It’s at least better than the Punks from Dimension X.

Synopsis and Rating

                I don’t know why there was 3 different teams working on three different versions of what could have been a really good fighter. I know memory restrictions kept us from having a large generalized cast, but I seriously could of done without Armaggon, Wingnut, Rat King, Triceraton, Ray Fillet, Sisyphus, and War and you could of kept April, Aska, Casey, the Turtles, War, Chrome Dome, Shredder, Karai (less cheaper), and the super meters from SNES and I would have been a happy guy. In this day and age of MUGEN, someone should put all of them together and give them a super meter and maybe throw breaks, and I could see it being a good nostalgia fighter. Instead, throws are prevalent, slides are king, anti-airs stop the whole program short, and DM’s only lead to taunts (no, I’m not getting over it!) and disappointment. All in all, I give the whole series an average score of 2 out of 5, with NES getting 1, SNES getting a 3, and Genesis getting a 2. That’s it for today. You can move on to the next stage now. CHAA!

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