Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters for Mega Drive is not the Turtles fighter you’re looking for

Confusingly, there were three separate games released under the name Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters, and all of them are included in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection. Of those three, we’ve already seen how the Super NES incarnation of this part of the Turtles saga is still an enjoyable one-on-one fighter. That still leaves the Mega Drive and NES versions, of which we’ll be looking at the former today.

The first thing to note is that the Mega Drive version is not a port of the Super NES version, or vice-versa. These are two completely separate games that both have their admirable qualities and are worth checking out independently from one another — but after spending time with both, it’s hard not to favour the Super NES version in almost every respect.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters for Mega Drive title screen

In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters for Mega Drive, the plot setup is that four purple-coloured clones of the Turtles have shown up from Dimension X and kidnapped Master Splinter on Krang’s behalf. Thus, it’s up to the real Turtles to kick some off-coloured shell and discover the real mastermind (and reason, perhaps?) behind the plan.

With Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters for Mega Drive being exclusively set in Dimension X, the whole game has a significantly more sci-fi feel than other Turtles games — and to be honest, it feels rather out of place. While there certainly are sci-fi elements to the Turtles franchise, particularly any time the Technodrome shows up, part of the series’ core appeal was always the fact that it was, to a certain degree, grounded in its “real” New York setting. That aspect of things is completely absent from this game, and the overall vibe suffers for it.

There are also other strange aspects, such as a playable April O’Neil character who looks more like Blaze from Streets of Rage, that make this game feel like it was perhaps originally intended to be something completely different to a Turtles game, and subsequently retrofitted with the Turtles licence to get it out the door and make a bit of extra money. There’s seemingly no indication that this was actually the case from a bit of cursory research around the Internet, but it certainly feels that way, and it’s hard to shake that feeling off.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters for Mega Drive

Mechanics-wise, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters is a relatively simple take on the fighting game genre. There are only three buttons — punch, kick and taunt — and thus a relatively limited set of moves with which to battle your opponents.

Probably the most interesting aspects of the game are the fact that certain stages feature destructible elements that allow access to new areas, and the “Desperation” moves that become available when you are extremely low on remaining health. There’s also a neat handicap system that allows you to tweak each character’s speed and power level before a match starts, allowing you to customise them to a certain degree — or simply give yourself an advantage or disadvantage according to your preferences.

Unfortunately, these vaguely interesting additions to the formula aren’t enough to rescue Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters for Mega Drive from feeling like a stiff, unsatisfying and frustrating take on the one-on-one fighter, particularly if you’re playing solo.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters for Mega Drive

The difficulty level is woefully unbalanced, even on its easiest setting, with hits on opponents being nigh-impossible to land while said opponents happily obliterate half your health bar in just a couple of strikes. And several characters feature special moves that it’s all too easy to accidentally lock yourself into the animations of, leaving you open to attack.

It’s just not fun, is the main problem, and the relatively nondescript lineup of characters doesn’t help matters. Besides the four Turtles, we have Casey Jones, who is kind of cool; the April O’ Neil who looks and behaves nothing like the April O’ Neil most people know; an original character called Sisyphus; and a relatively little-known character called Ray Fillet who is mostly seen in the comics. The Cowabunga Collection also unlocks the ability to play as the boss characters Triceraton, Krang and Karai, but it’s still a fairly uninspiring lineup that just doesn’t feel very “Turtles”.

At least the presentation of the game is good, with the solid pixel art and animation we’ve come to expect from the broader series of Turtles video games at this point, and the soundtrack by Miki Higashino (best known for her work on Suikoden) is often held up by enthusiasts as one of the best musical scores in all of Turtles gaming history.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters for Mega Drive

Unfortunately, none of this gets us away from the fact that this game just doesn’t feel like a Turtles game — and even taken on its own merits, it’s neither satisfying nor fun, particularly for the solo player. It is, of course, a welcome inclusion in the Cowabunga Collection because it’s just as important a part of Turtles history as the more well-loved titles in the franchise — but it’s probably not one you’ll find yourself spending a lot of time with unless you’re particularly determined to find the fun buried somewhere within.

Well, they can’t all be winners, can they?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection is available now for PC via Steamphysically and digitally for Switch, physically and digitally for PS5, physically and digitally for PS4, and physically and digitally for Xbox One/Series blahdepoop.

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Pete Davison
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