Back in the early-mid ’90s fighting games ruled the scene. Street Fighter II launched a phenomenon that spawned clone after clone. Very few came close to the level of Street Fighter. Some were even downright ATROCIOUS. But once in a while, one came along that completely surprised you. One of those games was a Super Nintendo exclusive. It never came out in the arcades, but Konami could have fooled me. Its name… Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters.
Last night a friend and I caught the latest TMNT movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. It was far better than I expected, especially since I didn’t like the 2014 version at all. I mean, it wasn’t great or anything, but I can genuinely say I wouldn’t mind the inevitable 3rd film in this Michael Bay series. Seeing the movie made me nostalgic for the Turtles from my childhood, and so it’s a perfect time to talk about one of the best fighting games the SNES ever saw.
EXCUSE ME, SAY THAT ONE MORE TIME
Those were the haunting, earth-shattering words of my brother’s friend, Kerwin, back in December ’93. According to him, he had just played this new amazing fighting game — one that he claimed had“Fatality” like moves during combat and one that actually played better than Street Fighter II Turbo. If I didn’t know any better, I’d have thought Kerwin worked for Konami himself. At that time I had never conceived of anything like the idea of death moves. These were essentially SUPER special moves that dealt out a TREMENDOUS amount of damage and could only be done when your 2nd bar was full. Just the idea of two energy bars blew my 10 year old mind, let alone the idea of a screen-filling, flashy, super special attack. Maybe there was another game that had already done this at the time, but alI I knew was, Tournament Fighters was my first exposure to the wonderful wacky world of super specials. It’s one of those epic memories you always carry with you, in your gaming heart. TMNT: Tournament Fighters would have been terrific even without their Ultimate Attacks but WITH them it makes for one truly amazing fighting game.
Since late 1993, death moves have become a key staple in the genre. Everything from looks to command (i.e. how to pull off a super special move) has only gotten crazier and crazier. By comparison, these ones may seem tame today… but man, back in the day, they were something else to behold!
Tournament Fighters has two bars. One serves as your energy bar while the second fills up each time you land a blow, blocked or not. It’s a free flowing bar, meaning that if you are not on the offensive the bar swings back the other way slowly but surely. Thus, a great deal of emphasis is put on being aggressive, rather than defensive. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself compromised as your opponent unleashes his possibly two or even three times in a single round. When full, the bar ignites and you have three seconds to perform your super special. If you fail to execute your big move in that time frame, then the bar swings back the other way. Thankfully, it moves one smidgen at a time. Meaning if for whatever reason you couldn’t pull off your big move, just one or two more (blocked) attacks will see your bar refilled once more. It was a brilliant and innovative feature for its time. Back in December of 1993, none of my gaming crew nor I had ever seen anything like the Ultimate Attacks. And we loved them. It changed the dynamic of a typical fighting game match, and some of the screen-filling moves were truly awe-inspiring 20+ years ago.
However, there were some downsides to the Ultimate Attacks. Namely, since you only have about three seconds to unleash it… human opponents are very likely to block it. Though some can cause a good deal of damage even when blocked, it would be better if there was no time limit and the bar could remain full until you were ready to use it. It would have led to a bit more strategy. Instead, the game plays like a mad melee, which is not bad in its own right. Props for having these mega death moves at all.
CHRISTMAS MAGIC IN JANUARY
Having hounded both my parents about Clay Fighter and with them knowing how disappointed I was that I didn’t get it or even a video game that Christmas, my mom allowed me to buy one video game in January of ’94. I had just rented Clay Fighter and was thankful I did (boy, was it disappointing). They took me to Good Guys and I bought Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters. I had never played it before but it was #2 on my want game list that Christmas season, trailing only Clay Fighter. I grew up on the Ninja Turtles, and it looked like a terrific Street Fighter II clone. I loved the cover and will never forget seeing it at Good Guys looking all pretty in its wrapping. It seemed to call out to me. Right away I knew it was the one. My mom and dad took the game to the counter to pay for it while I stood there nearly quaking in my shoes. What a wonderful belated Christmas gift! It was the second SNES game my mom ever bought for me, just about one year after she’d bought me my first, King of the Monsters. It was one of the longest car rides home that I can remember. It was time to see if Kerwin was right or not — was this truly Street Fighter II Turbo but with death moves??
THE STORY GOES…
Mike: Hey, who hacked our tube? This is SO NOT COOL, DUDES!
Raph: SHADDUP MIKEY! I wanna hear this…
Don: Amazing, I wonder what kind of device they used to hack our streaming service?
Leo: Guys, there could only be one villain behind this…
I’ve always enjoyed the presentation / vibe of most Konami titles. They had a classic, basic yet sleek look to them. You could always count on Konami to deliver the goods
When I first saw this 20+ years ago, I instantly said to my brother, “It’s Martial Champion!” We liked it. It was different from most other fighting games which all seemed to have the same select screen. This one was different enough to be a bit of a stand out, however.
Martial Champion came out February 1993. It was one of a thousand Street Fighter II clones flooding the market at the time. I fell in love with it, but I was basically sleeping with every fighting game that came out during that golden age of 1992 to 1994 or so. It was colorful, outlandish and a bit different from your average SF II clone.
Titi (renamed Chaos in the US) was my favorite character. It looked like a cross between Freddy Krueger and a Chinese hopping vampire! Sold and sold! The game was unique thanks to its high jumps and how you could disarm your opponent and steal their weapon to use it against them. Looking back, it wasn’t a great fighting game or anything, but it was yet another fun entry in that epic era I fondly refer to as the ‘Fighting Game Golden Age.’
Take a look and see for yourself! Yeah, I know. I couldn’t draw for jack but man… the memories of those fun and simple times. Running in those arcade halls with my old gaming crew, going from fighting game to fighting game. It was akin to a buffet lineup. A grand time those days were, indeed.
SETTING THE STAGE
Of the many things I love about this game the one I adore the most might be the stages. Just look at this one f’rinstance. First off, the idea of a duel to the death on a rooftop is appealing, but then you add in massive billboards and a pretty backdrop of some hotels and business buildings, including a nifty flashing neon Konami sign all set to an atmospheric night time hue, and what you have is a winner. Most of the stages in this game are chock full with detail, color (admittedly at times almost TOO much color), and oh yeah, cameos. You’ll see tons of familiar faces from the TMNT universe scattered throughout, from foot soldiers to Neutrinos to Rocksteady and Bebop (though they should have been playable fighters but I digress). You’ll battle it out everywhere, from shady back alleys to ancient ruins, sunken ships, raucous rock concerts, roaring trains and cafés filled with jukeboxes, neon signs and bloodthirsty spectators. The stages captured my imagination 20+ years ago, and to this day, in my book, they’re still some of the best backgrounds I’ve ever seen in a 16-bit fighter.
What’s a fighting game without some sort of stage select screen? I’ve always liked the one here… with the Statue of Liberty front and center, and the little light that searches for the next stage. The sound effects here, as can be expected, are top-notch and firmly embedded in my mind more than 20 years later.
LEONARDO | 5’8″ | 170 lbs.
The leader of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Leonardo is as straight-edge as they come. Focused and determined, his trusty katana blades often pushes him ahead of the competition. Not surprisingly, he plays like Ryu. Leo’s never been my favorite turtle, but he’s a solid all-around fighter, and an easy choice for beginning players. As expected, his swords provide him solid range. You can slice and dice to your heart’s content… something I always wanted to see in the old cartoon but never did for obvious reasons — but here you can fulfill those long forgotten childhood dreams.
Hustlers, hookers and hoodlums litter this shady looking back alley. In an attempt to shed his choir boy, straight edge image, Leo invites his opposing rivals to meet him way out in this dilapidated part of town in the middle of the day, breaking the age-old ninja code of hiding in the shadows. Leo is ready, at last, to step outta his shell.
Though Mike was my favorite growing up, Raph is a very close second. It’s hard not to like him. He was part of the team but it always felt like he was one small misstep from snapping [A snapping turtle? -Ed.]. Raph was easily the edgiest turtle of the lot, always exuding this aura of coolness. Maybe it’s because he’s a quasi-rebel and a hard-ass, which deep down there’s a little bit of that in all of us. He didn’t use his sai much in the old cartoon, but makes plenty good use of them here, including a M. Bison torpedo-esque move that can be a pain in the neck to deal with. Just a shame Casey Jones isn’t around as that’s one fight I’d love to see!
This was one of my most favorite fighting game backgrounds as a kid. It’s got the classic long counter you’d find at any diner worth half its salt, a jukebox, a colorful neon sign that lights up and what’s up with that strange looking cat in the middle there? He looks like an ape and for pete’s sake sir pull your shirt all the way down, son! Damn. Way to spoil one’s appetite, eh?
Often referred to as the brains of the group, Donatello is usually busy working on his latest inventions. This time however, he’s taking a firm stand to show he can not only hold his own, but that he’s the most skilled fighter of his clan. His bo gives him good coverage and he’s just plain fun to use, especially with his Cranium Crusher that is exclusive only to him. Plus, his Ultimate Attack ranks as one of the most memorable — Donnie [Yen, apparently -Ed.] sends forth a ginormous dragon wave. It was jaw dropping back in ’93, and 20+ years later still puts a huge grin on my face whenever I see it. Donnie reminds us he’s more than just a brainiac.
In a corner tucked far away from town lies a rundown scrapyard where the dirtiest of deeds go down. Classic characters from the cartoon, like the vigilante Casey Jones and mad scientist Baxter Stockman, make cameos here in a definite tip of the cap. When Donnie isn’t busy scouring the scrapheap for random parts to tinker with, he’s busy kicking some ass.
Easily my favorite Ninja Turtle growing up, every kid I knew identified themselves with Mikey at one point or another — the classic fun-loving, pizza-craving party animal of the troupe. Mikey never really used his nunchucks in the old ’80s cartoon, so it’s a fan’s dream come true to see him swinging them here like no tomorrow. He plays like a tantalizing mix of Ryu and Blanka, with a cool arcing rolling attack and a deadly rising uppercut. Mikey’s also got the best stage in the entire game. To cap it off, his Ultimate Attack is a swift and sick 10-hit barrage known as the Dance of Fury.
Hands down my favorite background of the game; hell, I’d put this up against any other fighting game stage on the SNES. The flashing Konami sign, the billboards on each side, the atmospheric city life with the bright lights — it’s a crime not to like this stage. I bet Mikey goes here after picking up a pizza and watches over the city as he munches away to his little heart’s content. Bless the lad, really.
This guy had to be every kid’s dream come true back in the day. At least he was for me. Who didn’t drool at the thought of being a mutant shark? At the time I thought he was a brand new character constructed just for the game, but he actually comes from the comic book universe of Ninja Turtles fame, like quite a few of the other characters found in this game. While I was initially disappointed in the lack of familiar faces from the cartoon, I always liked Armaggon. Everything from his look to the giant octopus sitting in the middle of his stage… he’s JAWESOME [You’ve jumped the shark -Ed.].
This stage creeped me out when I was a kid. If I were really fighting, I’d find it impossible to focus on my opponent with that grotesque abomination stalking my every move. Its eyes literally track you wherever you go. Talk about unnerving. But it’s also frigging awesome.
Okay, so I have a small confession to make. When I was growing up, female fighters were never really my cup of tea. I always wanted to pick either the Ryu clone, the “cool” Guile rip-off, or the freaks (stretch fighters, monsters and other assorted weirdos). Female fighters, bless their hearts, simply never moved my meter. Back then the only one I used to any degree was Janne from the World Heroes series. Well, here’s another rare like. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but Aska’s always been cool in my book.
In 1993 there was a very popular SNK fighter by the name of Samurai Shodown. This backdrop always made me think of that game. Noh is a classic Japanese drama dance show that surged sometime in the 14th or 15th century. The mutant frog which resides in the middle of the stage always intrigued me. I remember rumors circulating within my own gaming crew that the giant frog was a secret character you could use. Of course, it was just a BS rumor my friends and I formed — it was a sign of the times. The good old days…
Considering how most of the roster consists of antagonists NOT from the cartoon universe, Chrome Dome was a very welcomed addition. I love how Konami gave the token “stretch fighter” the game’s biggest damage-inducing throw (outside of the bosses). It’s very cool as it’s just something you didn’t see in fighting games at all during that era. So in some ways, Chrome Dome felt like a slight mix of Dhalsim meets Zangief. He could stretch for defense and offense, and if you get too close to him, he could grab ya and take you on one SHOCKING ride.
Who knew tin head was so artsy fartsy? With a penchant for the fine arts, the culturally cognizant Chrome Dome gets his kicks off on piledrivering his competition at the local art museum. Familiar cartoon faces make a spot cameo in the form of Mousers and the Neutrinos. ‘GROOVY!’ indeed.
This ain’t your regular Shredder you remember bumbling around in the ’80s cartoon. No, far from that. Indeed, this is THE SHREDDER ON STEROIDS. This is Cyber Shredder, a walking weapon of destruction. Part of me wishes we got the ’80s version instead, for nostalgic reasons. I was saddened to hear about the passing of one, James Avery, in December 2013. Better known as Uncle Phil, Avery was the voice of the late ’80s and early ’90s Shredder. When I found that fun little factoid in the late ’90s or so, I never looked at Shredder the same way ever again.
On the outskirts of town, there exists an iniquitous construction site that is rumored to have been taken over by the evil and nefarious Cyber Shredder and his Foot Clan. There are even whispers on the street, though apocryphal, that the police themselves dare not step foot onto the Cyber Shredder’s hot new territory. It’s considered a lost part of town and most have turned a blind eye in exchange for their own personal safety. All hail the mighty Foot!
A savage bipedal triceratops? Sign me up! Those were my sentiments when I first laid eyes on him 20+ years ago. Originating from the comics, he was one of the Four Horsemen — along with Death, Famine and Pestilence. A real shame then, considering the superb look and cool name. He goes down in fighting game history as one of the most disappointing fighters ever. He’s limited to two special moves that aren’t too hot. Thankfully, his stage stands out and his Ultimate Attack is a rip-roaring attention grabber. War hurls himself around the screen like a pinball of destruction, but even that can’t save him from feeling like a largely wasted roster space.
It’s a beautiful sunny day, with only a couple clouds hanging overhead. Your breath is taken away as you look around at all the beautiful sights, until you catch sight of your old bumbling rivals, Bebop and Rocksteady. You chuckle to yourself as a savage roar erupts nearby. A giant 8 foot tall armored monster leaps within 10 feet of ya, the sunshine shimmering off his razor sharp talons. And just as quick, your smile fades.
I remember thinking to myself, “Why this bastard over a classic fan fave like Bebop or Rocksteady?” Wingnut appeared briefly in the ’80s cartoon series and had a much bigger role in the comics. He’s the very definition of an “unorthodox fighter.” It will take a highly skilled player to get the most out of his unusual offense. Possessing a somewhat awkward moveset, and considering how his Ultimate Attack can be a total flop, to his credit he’s got one of the coolest stages in fighting game history. What’s better than a rock concert while watching two combatants knock the stuffing out of each other?
Wingnut, the master of soundwaves, is hardly a stranger to loud noise. Whereas it distracts and even causes damage to the ear drums of most mere mortals, Wingnut relishes on such raucous and frenzied environments. From the HEAVY METAL headbanging to the strobe lights to the t-rex twins, the ringing Thunder Dome produces a mad rocking atmosphere like no other. The audience is more than happy to pay top dollar for this BARBARIC MASHUP.
In the comics, Rat King had a telepathic super power where he could communicate with rats. In the ’80s cartoon series he had to use a flute. He’s always been a cool cat [rat? -Ed.] in my book, and I wish we saw more familiar faces from the cartoon than the comics. Although I realize by late 1993 the cartoon series was not nearly as popular as it once was. Still, how lovely would it have been to see the likes of Krang, Rocksteady, Bebop and Casey Jones?
Studio 6 is where they film this game show format for Tournament Fighters. High school cheerleaders adorn the stage. A badly missed opportunity at a sewer-based stage. If you’re not going to give it to one of the turtles, then at least give it to the Rat King (AKA the King of the Sewers). This game has plenty of cool stages, but this one was rather dull. Can’t win ‘em all, I guess.
A duel to the death atop a screaming metro train. Mr. Vernon Fenwick from Channel 6 News captures the chaos for all to see from the comfort of their home. Perhaps Konami knew all along just how bloodthirsty humanity is…
The endings are rather disappointing. Each character ending has only two shots with hit-or-miss artwork and a few text messages. For as difficult as the computer opponents are, this is a major letdown.
Like most fighting games of the early-mid ’90s, there lies breakable furniture in some of the stages. It’s a damn classic staple of the genre. The ones here are, admittedly, a bit ‘weak’ [I see what you did there -Ed.], but hey, they’re there.
Speaking of um, bonuses, check out probably my all-time most favorite fighting game bonus stage around. Destroying bank safes one after another? Sign me up!
I love the idea that someone was dropping these bad boys from the sky like a madman. They kept raining down, and you had to bust ‘em up until there were none left. It was extremely satisfying and I much rather play this bonus stage than any other.
Besides the concept and killer sound effects, I love this bonus round because unlike 90 to 95% of bonus rounds you come across in the genre, this one is actually quite challenging. You need a plan of attack rather than just mindlessly pound away. There were enough safes that ya barely had enough time, and it was SO cool how they can topple over (and knock you out, too).
ONLY IN JAPAN
There a few notable differences between the American and Japanese versions of the SNES game. In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Warriors (to give it its Japanese namesake), among the differences include Rat King’s extra stage bit, where combatants can be knocked through the wall revealing the control room of Studio 6.
The other difference is the censorship of Aska. In the Japanese version you can see her buttocks a bit, but they covered it up in the North American version.
In what very well might be the first and ONLY time in gaming history, Konami released simultaneously three games of the same name on the NES, Genesis and SNES, but with very different game engines and rosters. While cool of them to diversify like that, it was clear SNES owners received the superior version. The Genesis version is broken and by comparison, crap. By late ’93, the Genesis was starting to look like the grandfather on the block while the SNES was just hitting its prime. With Tournament Fighters released across all three platforms, it was clear (at least in my mind) who the king of the jungle was. I was happy to own all three systems, but Super Nintendo was clearly KING in my household.
The 8-bit NES game is not even worth talking about from a gameplay standpoint; although, it does make for a fun water cooler topic as far as near final NES releases go. The NES was gasping its last breath by late ’93, so any title released was newsworthy, indeed. This was just a painful reminder though that my dear old friend couldn’t keep up with a changing of the guard. I love the 8-bit Nintendo and Sega Genesis, but I’m just calling it like I see it. When Tournament Fighters came out on all three systems, it was like a subtle declaration in my own heart which of those three systems reigned supreme.
CRACK THE CODE
I sat there completely dumbfounded, my jaw on the ground. I had to do a double take. Right there in my friend’s room, I could play as the Rat King or Karai. I ran downstairs to tell my friends about it. I still remember the skeptical looks on their faces, and how they kept saying, “Dude, this better not be a hoax. I’m about to eat some KFC!” They followed behind me as I took the stairs 2 steps at a time. I stood at the doorway and stretched my hand out as to welcome them in. One by one they filed in and I stood there still in the doorway smiling when I heard the collective HOLY SHIT! cries. I can’t tell you how red my hand got that night because of all the high fives. They asked what the code was, and sadly, I had no clue. We left the game on the entire night just so we could play as the bosses. When we finally turned it off at 12 something in the morning, we turned it right back on so I could try the code again. No such luck. Whatever I punched in randomly before was now gone.
The infamous boss code. Right there in all its glory. Looking back, it’s a fond memory for me. The thrill of cracking the code, the joys of sharing it with my friends, creating a lifetime memory. Back then, you couldn’t just log into damn GameFAQs for your hints and secrets, oh no. It was either through tip sections in gaming magazines like such, or plain discovering ‘em yourself through dumb luck. Discovering the boss code made me the man of my group for that one epic night, anyhow, and I recall with deep fondness just the sights, sounds and smells of that great night. The KFC aroma in the air, the thundering footsteps up the stairs, the tingling rush that I felt sweeping every fiber of my being when I saw Rat King and Karai on the select screen, the cries of sheer joy from my friends, as though we just collectively won the Mega Million Lottery, and the stinging high fives. Man, we must have played like 3 straight hours that night. Boss code, how I miss you and your simplicity. Boy, were things different back then. I’m very grateful I was lucky enough to have grown up when I did. When gaming with friends was all that mattered.
Look, she’s taunting me! GRR! So, I discovered the most wanted code and could have won a free game from EGM, but I couldn’t remember the code anyway, so Konami giving it to EGM first was a moot point as it would turn out. I suppose that softened the blow for not being able to remember the damn code!
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Tournament Fighters was received well by the press. It garnered high scores across the board and I can’t recall anyone ever having a bad thing to say of it. From the critics to regular gamers like you and me, the game was beloved and extolled by many. It is also widely regarded as one of the better fighting games on the SNES. EGM gave it scores of 8, 9, 9 and 9. GameFan rated it 85, 92, 96 and 96%. Super Play Magazine scored it 90%. It was not only one of the BEST fighting games of 1993, but one of the best games, period, that year. One play and it’s easy to see why the game had so many diehard supporters. It succeeds where most clones fail miserably: it’s fun, fast, fluid and to boot it’s the TEENAGE MUTANT f*ckin’ NINJA TURTLES!
Tournament Fighters is a fantastic fighting game. In fact I think it’s the best SNES-exclusive fighter. In an age where crap clones were slapped together and shipped out the door like no tomorrow, Tournament Fighters was groomed for success. It’s packed full of quality from top to bottom. Those graphics are bright, bold and classic mid ’90s SNES magic. The sound and music both hit the mark, with tunes you can rock out to. The fighting game engine just feels right. Jumps aren’t floaty. Physics don’t feel off. It’s extremely well polished. What can I say, I loved it 20+ years ago, and even still to this day I’ll play it for a round or two, or 50. It’s not better than Street Fighter II Turbo but came DAMN closer than most.
But best of all, how about the wild Ultimate Attacks, eh? Whether you prefer to call them desperation moves, super specials or death moves, there’s no denying they are a game changer. They added an extra layer to the battles, encouraging the player to be offensive-minded. For balance, the weaker your health, the easier it is to fill up your extra bar. Likewise, the stronger you are, the harder it is to fill it up. Tournament Fighters did a lot of cool things, but for me the Ultimate Attacks come to mind first. Whether it was a giant ass mythical dragon or a deadly tidal wave screaming across the TV, it was jaw dropping and all part of the fun. Like fine wine, the game has aged tremendously well. Konami delivered again, crafting a finely tuned fighting game that exudes meticulous care and is bursting with quality from every seam. Sure, a bigger roster including the likes of Rocksteady, Bebop, Krang, and Casey Jones would have been perfect, but the list of negatives are short and brief.
Konami sure did hit a home run here, as they often did back in the ’90s. There aren’t many home-grown fighting games on the SNES, and the only ones giving Tournament Fighters any run for its money are: Ranma ½: Chōgi Rambu Hen and Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Endless Duel. Some other SNES-grown fighters include Tuff Enuff, WeaponLord and Double Dragon V. Of all of them, I’d happily play this game the most. To me it’s a LEGIT Super Nintendo classic. It’s a quality fighting game with an engine that stands the test of time well. I still break it out on occasion to pass the odd evening or two. I will forever harbor fond memories of this game, from Kerwin’s unbelievable stamp of approval to my parents buying it after Christmas to the night I randomly unlocked Rat King and Karai… DAMN, the nostalgic goodness just goes on and on. Tournament Fighters, I salute thee!