Let's Take This Brawl Outside

TMNT: Tournament Fighters

So here's a real curiosity. Well, actually, three of them. In the mid 1990s there was quite a fighting game boom, fueled mostly by the outrageous sales of Street Fighter II (and all it's various iterations) on home consoles (not the mention all its machines in arcades). When that game exploded on the scene, just about ever game company stood up and took notice. They had to have their own fighting games, STAT!

Konami was in an interesting position seeins as they had been producing Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesOriginally dreamed up as a parody of Marvel's Daredevil comics (going so far as to basically reproduce to opening shots of that comic's hero gaining his powers), the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles not only launched a sudden boom of anthropomorphic fighting animal comics but have, themselves, starred in multiple comics series, TV shows, and movies. games since 1989 and, as such, had a ready-made stable of brawlers to work with. All they needed was a game they could crank out to capitalize on the burgeoning "street fighting" genre. They'd cornered the hearts and minds of a generation with their brawling games in the TMNT series, creating Arcade machines that are still sought after even now, thirty years later. Could they do the same for the street fighting genre?

No, they in fact could not. It's weird because the games -- NES, Sega Genesis, and SNES -- are all perfectly fine games in their own right, solid little street fighting games just like all the rest that were released in the era. But that's also the issue: they were just like everything else put out. Instead of finding a way to adapt the genre to the special style of the Turtles, Konami simply slapped the Turtles overtop of the generic street fighting genre. It crafted three totally playable, completely passable games in the series that came and went without so much as a glance from most fans.

Also, weirdly, despite all the quarters Konami had stolen over the years with TMNT: The Arcade Game and Turtles in Time, Tournament Fighters never saw a release, of any version of the game, in arcades. This seems like a huge oversight, especially since the arcade competitive scene for street fighting games was huge -- if you wanted your fighting game to gain traction, you needed it in arcades.

Instead, the comapny released three different games, all titled "Tournament Fighters" for the three popular systems of the time. In a novel move, each of these games were very different from the other two, creating three unique experiences. On the other hand, because of this, kids with one edition of the game couldn't expect to go over to a friend's house with a different version and just be able to play. Konami really did som wild and weird stuff here, with very little of it working in the long run.

Since there are three editions of the game, we're taking a mini-look at each of them here to see their strengths annd weaknesses:

TMNT Tournament Fighters: NES Edition

To Konami's credit, there weren't a lot of fighting games released on the NES. In fact, if my cursory glance is any indication, there was only one true "street fighting"-type game on the NES: TMNT Tournament Fighters. Most other games that did "fighting" were long-form brawlers, often with simple characters and little in the way of detailed move-sets. But Tournament Fighters went the other route, looking to deliver the full fidelity of a street fighting game on Nintendo's aging system.

To closest analogue I can find to what Konami attempted was Capcom putting Street Fighter II out on the Game Boy. The controller, essentially, is the biggest issue as fighting games have complex move sets that usually involve using weak, medium, and strong kicks and punches alongside button-pattern combos. The NES (and Game Boy) only had two main buttons, though (A and B), so to get these complex patterns you had to find some substitution. As I recall, Street Fighter II got around this by using the Select button to act as a "high" version when pressed in combination with one of the attacks.

Since each of the Tournament Fighters games were made specifically for the system it was on, though, Konami went a different route. Specifically they didn't bother with low, medium, or high attacks; instead they just had punch and kick buttons and left the rest of the complexity to the combos themselves. It was an interesting idea, but that combined with the fact that most of the fighters only had four moves, the game felt rather empty and basic, lacking the complexity needed for a good fight game contender.

In this game, Shredder challenges the Turtles (and Casey Jones, who had nothing better to do) to a fight to see who really is the best brawler around. Oh, and some random mutant, Hot Head, shows up as well (for no real reason). The boys all battle each other for a chance to take on Shredder, and then, once they've bested him, the game is over. So, in total that means six fighters (all four bro, Casey, and Hot Head) plus the end boss of Shredder, and that's it. Considering the fourt turtles were basically palette swaps of each other with slightly different move-sets, that's very little put into a rather shallow package.

Additionally, and frankly, the system just wasn't built to display big characters on screen, fighting each other. Often I saw sprite flickering while playing, let alone some instances where the game just seemed to eat my inputs. Hell, due to the way the game was made, and memory conflicts with the system, Hot head was the only character that reportedly couldn't have their own "mirror match" fight (although supposedly there's a romhack that fixes this).

In short, Konami deserves credit for the attempt at making a fighting game on the NES. Once you play it, though, you realize why no one else ever made the attempt.

TMNT Tournament Fighters: Genesis Edition

Next on our list is the Sgea Genesis version of the game, and it's easiest to think of this as the "mid-range" version of the game. Because of the system it was on the game featured better music and sound than the NES edition (although, in fairness to the NES game, it had a couple of banger chiptune tracks) as well as a larger selection of characters. And, making this one unique over all the others, this was the only classic game in the whole sprawling series that had April as a playable character.

The roster this time around featured all four turtles, along with Casey and April, plus mutants Ray Filet and Sisyphus, traveling to a distant solar system. Splinter has been kidnapped by Krang and the Turtles have to take the evil robot, along with all his minions (including "clone" versions of all the heroes) to save their master and win the day. It's a strange plot, but it's all just there to get the turtles fighting each other.

As noted, this game has a larger selection of fighters, which is to its credit. And the fighters all have differing move-sets and unique combos. It's odd, actually, because the four Turtles (the only characters to be playable in all three games) have similar moves here to their versions on the SNES, except many of the moves are mixed up between brothers. It's part of why it's hard to venture from one game to another -- no two games in the set play the same, and they all have their weird quirks and differences.

The fighter selection is decent, but still a little shallow. It would have been nice to have a few extra fighters to play as, especially when you compare this title to the SNES edition and see how packed with warriors that game actually is (we'll get to it shortly). In fact, as hackers have discovered, likely this game was meant to have all the final bosses -- a Triceraton, Krang, and Karai (in one of only two appearances Shredder's daughter makes in the classic series) -- as playable characters. They all have their own move-sets and proper fighter balancing, so likely unlocking them was intended and then never completed in the game. Had it been, this package would have felt much fuller.

The game itself plays well enough, but again not anything too interesting. The special moves are easy to pull off, but the game was fatally flawed in A.I. and character power -- any character could essentially do a flying attack into their foe, then follow it up with constant throw moves, to essentially juggle their foes into perfect victories. It's cheesy and dumb, not the kind a gameplay balance a fighting game should have. Friends would get angry at each other over pulling that kind of crap while playing this game (in my experience, that kind of cheap crap would end friendships among kids).

I want to like the Genesis version of Tournament Fighters, but it's flawed. It's too easy to cheese while also lacking a robust enough roster to make experimentation interesting. It's perfectly acceptable, but far from great.

TMNT Tournament Fighters: SNES Edition

Certainly the most feature complete of all three titles, the SNES version of Tournament Fighters is the one most people probably remember. Hell, this is the one most ready to be ported to Arcades, with everything that's packed into this title. I'm honestly amazed it never made the transition. If any version deserved to stand alongside other fighting games of the era, this would have been the one.

In some ways this game has everything fighting fans could want. The game is lush with graphics and sound (I know there a Genesis fans that argue the merits of the sound hardware in that system, but I always hated it), a rich feast for the eyes and ears. That includes voice clips for the announcer as well as all the fighters. This is a slick and professional package that showed a level of care and detail that didn't make it into the other iterations of this game.

Additionally, the game has the most fighters of any of the Tournament Fighters rosters. Better than the six on the NES or the eight (should have been eleven) on the Genesis, the SNES version features a full 12 right out of the package (no hacking required to get to any of them). That's four better than the original Street Fighter II, and equal with Street Fighter II Turbo (although slightly behind Super Street Fighter II released the same year as Tournament Fighters).

Of course, that's not to say that all the characters are worth playing, especiallu for fans of the TMNT series that may not be familiar with all the deep-cut characters included. Plus, of course, four of the characters are essentially palette-swap characters -- the four bros -- so evey thought they have their own weapons and move lists, this isn't like they made four completely original characters for all the slots. But I guess the same complaint could be lodged against Street Fighter II as well, what with Ryu and Ken.

To it's credit, each and every character has their own unique path through the game, fighting a selection of warriors through the tournament as we get bits of their story and little intros before each fight. It's a nice touch that encourages replayability and investment in the game. Want to know the full story? Then you're going to have to play through as every character to learn the whole plot of this version of the game (that's certainly more than the NES or Genesis games gave us).

At the same time, though, there's a spark that's missing from this game. I remember playing Street Fighter II with friends back in the day, blasting through with all the characters over and over. When TMNT Tournament Fighters came out, though, we played for maybe half a day then grew bored. Sure, there was a lot of story we could learn, but we hardly cared. After a few sessions banging up against the CPU warriors, we looked from somethting else to do.

Even now, going back to the game, it certainly feels competent but not special. Maybe it's because we already had plenty of fighting games with the Turtles in them, even if they were brawl-style games and not part of this stret fighting genre. The novelty of seeing the turtles beat the snot out of enemies had already grown old. Street Fighter II was weird and new, with strange characters we had never seen before; but this was just another TMNT game and we'd already had plenty of those.

All the features in the world weren't going to help these competent games stand out if they didn't add something new to the mix, and Tournament Fighters didn't bring anything new to the table. They were pretty, and had all the features gamers were looking for (especially in the SNES iteration), but there wasn't anything else to set it apart. With Street Fighter II ruling the roost, Konami needed to give us something more in the TMNT game, and on that front they failed.