Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters for SNES is still a fun fighter

I’ll level with you, dear reader: I’ve been holding off covering the three Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters games from the Cowabunga Collection up until now because I’m not a huge fighting game player and thus I wasn’t sure I’d be able to provide adequate commentary on them.

However, after spending a bit of time with the Super NES version, which just happened to be the first one that comes up in the menu of the Cowabunga Collection when scrolling through the available games, I feel a bit more confident. This is an accessible, enjoyable fighting game that reminds me of playing Street Fighter II on SNES back in the day. It’s a challenge for an inexperienced fighting game player like me, for sure — but it’s not a daunting one that it feels like I’ll never master.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters for SNES
Don’t tell Capcom about that logo

For the unfamiliar, I refer above to the fact that there are three different Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters games because although the NES, Super NES and Mega Drive all played host to a game by that name, each platform’s entry was substantially different from the others. The Super NES version appears to be widely regarded as the best of the bunch — which is not altogether surprising, since the platform in general was pretty solid for fighting games.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters for Super NES can be played in three different ways. There’s a single-player Tournament mode, a two-player Versus mode and a single-player Story mode. You can also watch the computer fight it out, and a comprehensive options menu allows you to tweak the experience to your liking — with additional options available after entering cheat codes that are thoughtfully provided in the Cowabunga Collection’s digital documentation.

The concept behind the Tournament mode is that Channel 6 is hosting a fighting tournament with enormous cash prizes on offer for the winner. The Turtles are surprised to see that Shredder appears to be participating, so they are encouraged to accept the unspoken challenge by Splinter as a means of proving their skills and how much they’ve learned.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters for SNES

The mode unfolds as a standard fighting game in the arcade format: pick a character from those available (excluding the “boss” characters, unless you either input a cheat code or activate the option in the Cowabunga Collection’s “Enhancements” menu) and then fight your way through all the other opponents.

Battles unfold as a best-of-three format as is usual for the genre, and the time limit can be customised in the options menu. Controlling characters is fairly straightforward by the standards of the fighting game genre, as there are just two punch and two kick buttons to make use of. Each character has three or four special moves which can mostly be triggered using Street Fighter-style directional and button inputs.

A notable addition to the Tournament mode is a special meter which fills when you land hits (including on a blocking enemy) and empties if you take damage. When this is full, pressing the heavy punch and heavy kick button together allows you to unleash an “ultimate” move, which is powerful but not game-breaking; these are useful for getting yourself out of a pinch, and also for winning matches in a particularly satisfying manner.

The difficulty curve in the Tournament mode feels quite gradual; while fighting game newbies like me may want to dial the overall difficulty down a bit from its default level, it does feel like the challenge factor escalates at a good pace.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters for SNES
This fucking guy

The same cannot be said for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters’ Story mode, however, which seems extremely prone to heavy difficulty spikes two or three matches in, regardless of difficulty setting. To its credit, the game does feel quite distinct in this mode in that the special meter is inaccessible (unless you input a cheat code) and each enemy character is clearly designed to fight in a very specific way, forcing you to make use of appropriate tactics, but it does feel significantly harder than the Tournament mode.

Presentation-wise, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters is excellent. The fantastic pixel art and animation we’ve come to expect from the series as a whole is very much present and correct, and there’s an impressive amount of digitised sound crammed into the game, too, with most special moves being accompanied by voice samples.

The animated backgrounds are lovely, too — though like the game as a whole, it’s very clear that Konami were taking some heavy cues from Street Fighter II in terms of their overall design and the various animated features! That’s no bad thing, though; if you’re going to crib from anyone, you may as well crib from the best.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters for SNES
Smell my ass, you mother

The cast of characters is fun and varied, too. The Story mode only allows you to play as one of the four Turtles, but they all handle quite distinctly from one another thanks to the range of their weapons and their overall speed factor. In Tournament and Versus mode, you have the option of playing as the other characters, too, and these are enormously varied — though again, the Street Fighter II influences are exceedingly obvious, what with the “hot girl with powerful legs”, the “stretchy arms asshole” and the “fireball-spamming dickhead” character archetypes all present and correct.

The big question with any game like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters is whether or not it’s worth playing when big hitters of the genre such as the oft-mentioned Street Fighter II (and sequels) exist. And that, of course, is a matter of taste — but it’s also worth noting that a bit of variety is nice now and then, too. For me, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters feels just different enough from other fighting games that I have experience with to be worthwhile and enjoyable — and the range of different playable characters makes it a fun versus game, too.

Like most fighting games, the majority of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters’ longevity comes from playing it with others. Whether or not you’re able to enjoy that depends on your own personal situation, access to friends to play it with and/or whether or not you enjoy playing online, since the Cowabunga Collection version of this Super NES version does allow you to compete against far-away friends and foes alike.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters for SNES

That said, for the solo player, there’s definitely fun to be had in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters for SNES — and a fair bit of it, too, what with all the different playable characters, gameplay modes and difficulty levels to challenge. It’s a game worth playing, even if you are, like me, not typically a fighting game sort of person. Who knows? This might even end up being the game that actually gets you into the genre properly!

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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