Chasing Ghosts: One Quarter at a Time

Teenage Mutant Quarter-Munching Turtles: The Arcade obsession.

A brief note of apology for the delay in this article. The PC inside of my MAME cabinet kept becoming unresponsive and impossible to play. None of the buttons worked, and it kept making a ridiculous clicking noise, to the point where I thought the hard drive was dying and had to keep the PC turned off. Turns out, one the pushbutton wires had gotten loose, and the shift button was being held down, which turned on filter keys and made it not work. In short, if you have PC troubles in a MAME cabinet, make sure all your wires are secure. And you’ll save yourself a month of nonsense.

The following is part of a series about my past experiences with arcade games and running them in MAME. I will only write about games I remember playing in an actual arcade, not games I only discovered through MAME.

When I was a kid, I thought I could will things into existence. For example, when I was four, I had seen commercials for a toy called Dino Riders. For the uninformed, Dino Riders were Dinosaurs with laser guns. You cannot get any cooler than that. So I wanted those for Xmas. And then I asked for a Dino Riders cartoon because why not? And wouldn’t you know, there was a VHS copy of Dino Riders under the Xmas tree!

Why didn’t they make THIS into an arcade game?

Looking back, it was the 1980s, and nearly every toy had an accompanying cartoon. However, I was four and had no idea what kind of economics were at play. Fast forward a year or so, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had replaced Dino Riders in my little heart. I’m not sure how that happened, as dinosaurs with laser guns are much better than turtles who know karate, but we’ll save that debate for a different time.

There was a cartoon and really nice action figures, but there hadn’t been a video game for it yet. Then we took a trip to Showbiz Pizza (Chuck E. Cheese basically). I’d been to Showbiz before, I knew they had fantastic arcade games (Donkey Kong and Frogger come to mind). And with my Turtle love affair in full swing, I thought, “What if they had a Turtles video game?” And low and behold, they did.

I should preface this by saying my luck at willing things into existence ended when I discovered that there was no Small Wonder beat-em up game at Showbizz Pizza. Yes, I really thought that would be a thing that got made.

Yes, I thought this would have made a good video game.

Actually there were two Turtles games at Showbizz Pizza. One was an amusing game called Pizza Drop, where you used ping pong balls to score points. This amusing video does it better justice than the written word. And the other was the penultimate arcade game. Probably the greatest beat-em up arcade game created until The Simpsons hit arcades a few years later.

I can’t tell you how amazing this arcade game was. For one, it had actual music from the cartoon and that pan from the skyline to the sewer. The sideart was incredible as well, as you can see in this photo.


The 1989 TMNT Arcade Flyer.

The 1989 TMNT Arcade Flyer. You could have gotten any kid to dress up as April in this photo shoot, that’s how popular TMNT was. Image courtesy of

I love the Roger Rabbit influence of humans mixed in with cartoons that they used on the sideart. The programmers and designers really knew how to get kids interested in playing this game, as they did everything right about the presentation. And keep in mind this was the 1980s. The graphics and sound were always going to be superior in the arcade. Nowadays, you’re used to see mind-blowing visuals at home, but in that decade, you weren’t inundated with the latest and greatest on a day-to-day basis.

So when you saw something like this where the actual theme music was used, and the character sprites looked like they were straight out of the cartoon, it blew you away. I can only compare the feeling of seeing that game to being at a big game reveal at E3 or similiar convention.

Playing the game now, the graphics aren’t as mindblowing as I remember them being (for some reason I thought the characters were bigger than they really were). The beat-em-up play mechanics are beyond simple, but that’s par for 1989. It wasn’t until The Simpsons in 1992 that you got deep beat-em up gameplay (you could team up for attacks in The Simpsons, unlike Turtles). And there are a lot more silly plot inconsistencies than most video games had. Why are giant boulders falling down the stairs at April’s house? Why doesn’t April escape? Why don’t the Turtles rescue anyone else in the burning building?

And the game was designed to gobble your quarters. You’ll spend at least $2-3 just go make it past level two, since Bebop’s difficulty is too unfair. And defense isn’t in the Turtles repertoire either.

April! Your building is on fire! Leave! Go!

April! Your building is on fire! Leave! Go!

And the beat-em up genre is the one best suited for the Turtles. Not just because of the turtles themselves, but the enemies. Repetitive enemies are a real bummer in bad beat-em up games (Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage for instance), but the Turtles’ main enemy is the foot clan. Robot soldiers. You can repeat the same foot soldier over and over without feeling repetitive, although the game does a great job by giving you different color foot soldiers with different types of weapons. Something that the cartoon didn’t even do, at least in those early seasons when I was still watching.

Years later, playing the game side by side with my wife on the MAME cabinet was fun (even though it got too repetitive at times), as was playing with my 10-year-old nephew, who is really obsessed with Wizard of Wor for some amazing reason (he wants to play that one immediately every time he visits). This game certainly holds up, but not as much as some of the other beat-em ups from the late 80s and early 90s. And this game was everywhere. You could play it at Walmart. You could play it at a laundromat. You could even play it on a riverboat in St. Louis. And now, you can play it in MAME!

Running it in MAME.

Getting the game to run in MAME is pretty simple. Nearly any PC in the last 10 years or so will run it, so if your MAME cabinet is powered by something from 2002, no sweat. The main thing to watch out for is the number of players. If you have a four person MAME cabinet, this is of no concern to you. But my cocktail MAME cab only has two sets of controls next to each other, so I had to find the ROM that is set for two player only. I’m running the Japanese 2-player rom in my MAME cabinet, and a UK version of the game in two players only exists as well (although they were tyrants who referred to them as Hero Turtles instead of Ninja Turtles). To my knowledge, a U.S. version with two players only does not exist, although I could be mistaken.

However, even if you only have a two-player panel, there’s one great reason to get a four-player version of the game. You can set the input controls so that all four turtles are controlled with one set of controls (or two turtles to one set of controls if you’re playing with a friend). Since this is a mindless beat-em up, it doesn’t detract from the game when you have mindless turtles, all going the same direction. Only once as a kid did I ever get to play with three other people, and to be able to have four turtles on the screen, even if it is just you, is a real treat. It’s a LOT of fun playing as all four turtles. It lives up to the spirit of the show when you see all four turtles beating up foot soldiers.

Hopefully the new movie lives up to the spirit of the comics and tv show as well.

My Wife Plays TMNT: The Arcade Game

In an effort to get my wife to play more games, I agreed to give her space to rant and give her thoughts on a game with one credit’s worth of playtime. Here are her words. Oh and she’s on Twitter, @alliwait).

The first level or so is fine. It’s kinda cool killing the foot soldiers.

After three levels, it’s the same thing. It doesn’t really change, there’s no variety. Only one button, not any variety with moves really. And you can’t even block attacks, which makes some boss fights unfair. But it was a neat game.

I remember when it came out. TMNT was such a big thing, I remember playing it at the time, we loved all the movies and the games were awesome, it was definitely cool as a kid. Too monotonous nowadays.