If you think the most critical juncture in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time” for Super Nintendo is the final battle with Shredder, you’re wrong. It comes before the game even officially begins – it’s the “Select Your Turtles” screen.
There are certain rules that govern this universe: Leaders pick Leonardo, nerds pick Donatello, clowns pick Michelangelo and rebels pick Raphael. You’re one turtle, and only one turtle, for life. Two people with the same favorite character must fight to the death to earn turtle rights, or at least play a game of rock-paper-scissors.
As for the actual game play in “TMNT IV,” when it came out, it didn’t matter what turtle the player chose because each character attacks in an almost identical fashion. But 9-year-olds don’t give a shit about details. They just want to be their favorite heroes and stick it to the bad guys. And that’s only one of the many reasons that kids loved “TMNT IV.” It’s the quintessential “beat ’em up” game. It was simple: Anyone could beat it by continuously pressing the attack button while moving forward. Most kids didn’t mind this low level of difficulty. Who didn’t want to lay the smackdown on hundreds of different-colored foot soldiers and watch them fly off the screen?
“TMNT IV” also has a charm that doesn’t exist in today’s video games. Consider that in “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” the main character regains his health by having sex with prostitutes. The turtles were never interested in “doing it” – otherwise they would have been constantly hitting on April. They just wanted some pizza and an occasional soda to wash it down, which restores their lost lives in the game. And even though Leonardo and Raphael use blades to defeat their enemies, there was never any blood spattered across the pavement. No kid was going be corrupted by playing “TMNT IV.”
Perhaps the biggest reason kids were drawn to “TMNT IV” was the teamwork required to play the game. No one ever played alone, and if you did, you shouldn’t have. What could compare to the feeling of pure bliss that comes from the synchronized yelling of “Cowabunga” by you and your partner after completing a particularly challenging level? Who would remind you that Splinter would want you to keep going even after getting that blister on your thumb? Even more crucially, would anyone sit with you in your musty basement for five hours if he weren’t playing “TMNT IV”? Unlike most games, “TMNT IV” didn’t steal you away from your friends and family – it brought you closer together.
So when you get home this Thanksgiving break, go ahead and climb up to the attic and dust off that Super Nintendo. Dig through that pile of game cartridges until you find “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time.” I guarantee that you’ll love kicking the Foot’s ass one last time. And for God’s sake – or just for mine – stick with your favorite turtle.