Retro Scope: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters

A look at one of the more obscure fighting games from days past.

By Angela Marrujo Fornaca. Posted 04/10/2014 09:00 4 Comments     ShareThis

I have very vivid memories of particular games on SNES from my childhood, and it wasn’t until a number of years went by that I came to understand that many of the games in the video game collection I share with my brother are either extremely obscure or somewhat rare. Since my brother was a huge Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan, my aunt got us a copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters for our SNES, simply because it had to do with TMNT and she thought he’d like it. Little did she realize that down the line I would wind up playing it more than he did.

At its core, Tournament Fighters sought to take advantage of the fighting game boom popularized by the Street Fighter franchise in the early 1990s, and it becomes clear once you start playing that the game was heavily influenced by the style of that particular franchise. The story mode of the game centers around Splinter and April being kidnapped by Karai, who seeks to resurrect Shredder, and you can choose either Leonardo, Michelanglo, Donatello, or Raphael to fight through each stage. I’ll freely admit that the difficulty in this game is pretty high– you can lower the difficulty if you have to, but just getting through the first stage without dying and having to restart at least once doesn’t happen very often for me. In typical retro gaming fashion, this game is tough and expects you to be at your best if you want to get through it. There’s also a one-on-one versus mode and a spectator mode in case you’d rather sit and watch the CPU go at each other.

I was always much more drawn to Tournament Mode in the game, which is an arcade mode where you get to choose your character from a wide roster of players and you have to beat everyone else at their respective stages to get to the final stage. Aside from the four turtles, you can choose between Shredder, a handful of characters from the Archie Comics line of TMNT books– namely Wingnut, War, and Armaggon– and Chrome Dome from the animated series. However, the character I always play as is Aska, the female ninja who was an original character created for the game. Of the four turtles, Donatello is hands down the most fun to use, as well as the most effective. His bo staff has the best reach and his move set feels the smoothest, as opposed to the other turtles who have either short reach or who simply don’t feel as effective in battle. Each character has their own unique set of moves, including a super special that can be used once the player’s energy meter is filled in battle; using it as a finishing move drops your bonus points to zero at the end of the match, so it comes with a cost.

Leonardo versus Aska in the Noh Stage.

In typical Konami fashion, from the start menu you can input a series of button presses and D-pad pushes to unlock both the Rat King and Karai to use in Tournament Mode, as well as their stages and other features to customize gameplay, such as increasing the game’s speed. In an homage to games like Street Fighter, from which a lot of Tournament Fighter’s‘s elements¬†drew their influence, there’s a bonus round where you smash and destroy as many safes as possible to increase the amount of cash you take home at the end of the tournament– though if you end up losing to an opponent during the tournament, all of that cash is lost and you have to start back at zero. The final fight with Karai is ridiculously hard, and I’ll freely admit that I usually end up spamming Aska’s hip attack over and over until the clock runs out and I win with the menial amount of damage I’ve caused. Nearly 20 years of playing this game hasn’t made that fight any easier for me.

One of the most memorable things about Tournament Fighters for me is the music. This game has a great soundtrack that ranges from the frantic, intense theme in the art museum against Chrome Dome, to War’s tribal influenced music in the ruins, to the traditional Japanese inspired music in Aska’s Noh stage (my personal favorite)– there’s a wide range of songs in the game’s soundtrack that keep the tone of the game fast-paced and really get you into that fighting game zone while you’re playing. The stages are visually interesting and some have semi-destructible environments; while the graphical limitations of SNES keep movements of characters in the backgrounds to nothing more than fist pumping or tapping of feet, the rich colors and creative arenas keep the game interesting throughout. Interestingly, menial changes were made when localizing the game from Japan to the United States, such as removing the destructible walls in Rat King’s Studio 6 stage or changing some of the characters’ voices. Most notably, Aska’s thong leotard that she wears in the Japanese version was deemed too risque for American audiences and consequently was changed to a bikini bottom in her sprite animations for the game’s US release.

Tournament Fighters may not have revolutionized anything in the fighting game genre, nor is it considered on par with franchises like Street Fighter or Tekken, but it deserves recognition for being a genuinely great game. From the music, to the stages, to the challenging battles, this is one game in my SNES library I’m happy to have, and frankly I have more fun with this game than I do with a lot of the contemporary fighting games that have come out recently on other consoles. If you’re ever lucky enough to run across a copy of Tournament Fighters, pick it up and add it to your retro gaming collection.

4 Responses to “Retro Scope: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters

  • 678 points
    amishpyrate says...

    Man, awesome throwback. I had the nes version as a kid. Was cool because there really weren’t any one on one fighting games for the NES. It got a lot of play on my system. I played the genesis version and remember it was different from the nes version. Was this one different from the other ones too or was it similar to the Sega version?

    • 1294 points
      Robert Marrujo says...

      The Genesis version is actually pretty radically different. You can play as Casey and April, for one, and the graphics and animations are different, too. It’s… interesting, in its own right, lol.

  • 678 points
    amishpyrate says...

    Thought it was, I have been surprised, while building up my retro collection, how different versions of games were between the SNES and genesis. Growing up I always assumed games were pretty much the same between the two consoles. Kind of nice getting a new experience. Will have to find a copy of tournament fighters for SNES now

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