Why Not to Play the Games from Your Childhood

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Unemployment and poverty are rapidly on the rise in this nation again, a generation of youth will have to learn what its like to grow up during hard financial times and live with the inherent tough decisions that families must make to come out successful and prosperous on the other side. From 1988-1994 my family struggled with the collapse if the Art industry in California and a general recession that forced us to make a lot of changes once our house was foreclosed. Being very young I found innovative ways to make up for our families lack of cash flow and vagabond life style by investing a lot of myself into the few video games that my family did have. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the one game I was most invested in.

My love for all things Ninja Turtle was at its epoch of power at this time. In 1989 the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle commercial empire was quickly spreading its vast tentacles into millions of television screens with the wildly popular cartoon, invaded toy stores with their action figures and launched a Trilogy of movies. In a very hard time in my life, the world the Turtles lived in and kicked serious butt was great escapism for me. That is why I ritualistically played TMNT for my NES every single day for a year. My gaming palette was not very sophisticated at this point, four and five years olds rarely do have very high standards on entertainment, but I remember always having fun, always enjoying my romps into Ultra Games (aka Konami secretly releasing games under a made up label) vision of the TMNT universe.

Alas, I have become old, decrepit and jaded in the ensuing years. My rosy tinted glasses removed, I recently pushed past the fog of nostalgia and took TMNT out for another spin. This was a poor decision. Some things should always remain in the past. Should always be maintained in your memory where your mind has the ability to craft truth in its own particular manner.

TMNT was a platform action game that did not take notes on the other great games that were occurring within its vicinity. The gameplay in TMNT is very similar to Castlevania, the player is given control of one of the aforementioned Ninja Turtles and can switch between the four brothers at any time and can pickup various side weaponry, such as ninja stars or boomerangs.  Similar games such as Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden were markedly better than TMNT in gamplay, because each of those games had logical physics, had characters whose movements and jumps that were infinitely repeatable and easy to comprehend. The turtles though were unwieldy Mexican jumping beams, their jumps were floaty and they jumped so high that it became an ordeal to land them properly.

The game is plagued with glitchy infinitely spawning enemies. While I was able to come to an eventual understanding of the logic of Ninja Gaiden's constantly spawning baddies, TMNT seems to work beyond any set logical frame. Enemies will simply appear, disappear and perhaps even never appear at random. Looking at the game with a more mature and pessimistic eye the game was poorly coded and is ripe with bugs. In a game that required a lot of memorization it was quite off putting.

The turtles themselves had the same problem that they had in the multiple arcade iterations of the series. Leonardo and Donatello were simply more useful then their two brothers. The range of Michelangelo and Raphael’s weapons were miniscule compared to that of Leo's swords and Don's long Bo. The Turtles weren't different in any other regard either; they controlled exactly the same and had the same access to various side weapons. Even as a Five-year-old Raphael and his stumpy daggers were relegated to serving as a sacrificial lamb, health bar wise, for the Dam sequence.

Not Fun!
Not Fun!
The Dam sequence in TMNT is probably the most infamous portion of the game. While the gameplay of TMNT is not strong, it is playable game and the ramp up in difficulty from the first level to the second level prior to the Dam is relatively fair. The Dam, however, committed numerous gameplay sins that cause players to quit a game in frustration. In the Dam level the player is: given a new set of underwater controls that are hard to master, tasked with a hard to achieve time limit that requires immediate mastery of a new gameplay variant and the dam level itself is infested with annoying electrified seaweed that quickly kills your character unless you have memorized exactly when to press the swim button. For a modern gamer is impenetrable, it's a by gone joust of wills that to the nihilistic mind to have been made crafted purely to frustrate, purely for malice. In retrospect its far less sinister though, just a mishap of the time that confused varying gameplay and mini games as fun.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the NES is not a very good game. I was able to struggle through it in childhood and due to a lack of other options had convinced myself that what I was doing was great, that somehow fun was being had. It's good to remember that sometimes the past should remain just that, a memory, and an experience you have internalized and moved on from. A sad way to end a blog, but this was a sad time for me, and TMNT was one of the things that gave me solace, gave me a brighter outlook on life. I marred my great youthful experiences bringing my grownup modern gamer sensibilities. A sad way to end a blog, but a nice warning to kids whose families are going through rough times and enjoying playing Iron Man for the Wii. Enjoy the game in the present as much as you can't, but please don’t play it again in 20 years. That path just leads to tears and second guessing.