Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles describe both a fictional team of four mutated turtles that stand roughly the height of a human and have a variety of martial arts skills, as well as a large collection of movies, toys, television series, and perhaps best of all, comic books that revolve around them. They were an extremely popular fad for pre-adolescent youngsters between 1987 and roughly 1995, but their origin is in an older comic book line targeting adults.

In 1983, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, both fledgling comic book artists, conceived of the idea of a fighting, human-sized turtle that borrowed heavily in concept from Frank Miller's legendary Daredevil comics, which are to this day widely considered to be one of the best written and best drawn comic book series of all time. As the idea progressed through the fall of 1983, the one turtle evolved into four, and they acquired a sensei, a large sewer rat named Splinter, and the look of the four turtles became somewhat uniform, each of them donning a open-eyed bandana and fighting gear strapped across their shells.

Since both Eastman and Laird were fans of art history, especially of the Renaissance period, they decided to name the four turtles after their favorite Renaissance artists: Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michaelangelo (a mis-spelling of the artist Michelangelo). The duo conceived of a story that laid out the background for the characters and proceeded to work together in drawing and inking the book.

In early 1984, the first edition of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was complete, and the two searched for a publisher. They didn't find one, so the pair used Eastman's tax return that year along with some family loans to publish the comic themselves and pay for a single one-page advertisement in a popular comic book newspaper. Several comic book distributors ordered the book, and the first issue went to the printer on April 1, 1984, which I guess would be considered the birthdate of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Interestingly, the printer made a mistake and the book came out not in regular comic book size, but in an oversized format. As a result, the first issue was unique in a lot of ways: it was not a regular comic book size and it took the unusual step of being entirely black and white on the inside, a very unusual look at the time. They debuted the book at a comic book show on May 5, 1984, and used the proceeds from that show to start a company, Mirage Studios. They put together a four page press kit and shipped it to every media outlet they knew, and as a result, a story was written about the new studio and the Ninja Turtles for UPI, and a lengthy radio story was done about them on PBS radio in mid-1984. This caused the entire press run of the first issue to sell out, all 3,000 of them. If you have one of these 3,000 originals, it is a very, very valuable collector's item.

It should be noted that, rather than the fun-lovin', pizza-eatin' Ninja Turtles of their later fame, this book was entirely black and white and was done in a very gritty style. It was more of a hard-boiled crime comic than anything, but it was definitely unique in look and style. One major visual difference is that all four Turtles had the same color of bandana: red. A second printing of the first issue was done of 15,000 copies, which quickly sold out; a third printing of 35,000 copies was done, and it sold out as well.

Each subsequent issue of the original black and white Mirage Studios run had a very high demand of about 125,000 copies per issue, a huge success for a totally independent comic book shop and perhaps the most successful black and white comic of modern times. This rampant success led to a role playing game published by Palladium Books in early 1985 and several other TMNT related products and eventually led to Mirage hiring a licensing agent for the Turtles, Mark Freedman, in 1986.

Mark hit upon the idea of turning the Ninja Turtles into a toy line, but only if a television series could be made along with it as well. It was at this point, in early 1987, that the Turtles began to mutate again, this time into the pop culture icons that are much more widely known. The image of the Turtles was altered in several ways; most important was making them less actively violent. They also each adopted a unique headband color: Leonardo wore blue, Raphael wore red, Michaelangelo wore orange, and Donatello wore purple. This was so that they could easily distinguish between the action figures of the four turtles. Another change was that the character of April Hunter was significantly softened, changing from a hard-nosed urban beat reporter to more of a generic "damsel in distress." The original villain, Shredder, was revived as well.

The original cartoon series and toy line appeared in the fall of 1988, and it quickly took off like a rocket ship. Eastman and Laird licensed the comic book rights to Archie Comics, who turned the comic into a style similar to the television series, since it was so quickly popular. And the merchandising machine took off. A home video game for the NES was made in 1989, with two sequels to follow in 1991 and 1992, and a Super NES sequel in 1992 as well. Two very popular arcade games were developed as well as a pinball game. There were countless lines of toys produced, some even still appearing as recently as 1998.

Perhaps the pinnacle of the Turtles' mainstream success came with the release of the first of three movies, aptly named Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It was released in 1990 and it featured a surprisingly clever script and well-executed filming, making this a much better film than its' marketing might have indicated. The film's stars included Corey Feldman and Judith Hoag, but the real success was the well-made costumery for the Turtles. It was a huge success, and it spawned two quickly made sequels: 1991's The Secret of the Ooze and 1993's Turtles in Time. A fourth movie was in the process of being made in 1997, even going so far as to have print advertisements, but it was never made.

The franchise also spawned countless products, including posters, bedsheets, food items, and other miscellaneous products. Sales were very brisk until 1992, in which they slowly started to slip. By 1996, the franchise was clearly dying, and so a "revival" of sorts was attempted, with a new live-action television series (TMNT: The Next Mutation), hints at a fourth movie, and a new comic book line from Image Comics starting in 1996. These were of high quality (especially the first few issues of the new comic book), but it failed to recapture the magic of the earlier works, and it passed on.

Lately, interest in the Ninja Turtles has been picking up again, with many fans now coming of age and interested in nostalgic memorabilia from an earlier time. The original 1984-1987 comics are also experiencing a great revival, with strong rumors of a gritty John Woo-directed martial arts film based on these early comics. Many Ninja Turtle fans wait with great anticipation.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a four player arcade game released by Konami in 1989. It allowed you to take control of four Ninja Turtles (Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michaelangelo), on a mission to rescue April O'Neil and Splinter, and take on Shredder, Krang, and the rest of the Foot Clan.

This was one of the most successful arcade games of the late 1980s, and it was ported to the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Playchoice 10 system. There were several sequels to this title, both in the arcade and on home consoles. There was even a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pinball machine.

The series as a whole was rather confusing, mainly due to there being two separate numbering schemes for the games. But here is how the 5 arcade versions came out.

The Game

Select your favorite turtle and get ready to embark on one of the best arcade beat 'em ups around. I always use Leonardo, but that is only because I have a four player gameboard installed in my 2-player cabinet, and Leonardo is hardwired to player 1. On the 2-player version you get to select your turtle, but the 4-player version has each turtle hardwired to a particular joystick.

The graphics in this game were just awesome. The late 80's was just about the point in time where most arcade games were beginning to look really good, and the developers had enough ROM space to put in lots of different animations. So you get a lot of different enemies, and lots of colorful backgrounds. The game doesn't quite look as good as some of the newest stuff around, but it has aged very well.

The sound in this title is just as good as you will find in most new titles. You got real voices, and all kinds of different background music, including the famous Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song. My favorite sound effect is when you fall down into a sewer and the turtle says "Duh! Who put the lights out?".

This is a beat 'em up game at heart, and if you like that kind of game, then you will love this one. The boss characters are especially difficult, and I truthfully can rarely defeat most of them without continuing my game (shh, don't tell anyone).

Hardware Information

There were several distinct versions of this game available in the arcade, but the four player dedicated cabinet was the most common by far. There were also two player versions, but they are much harder to come by. You can convert a 4-player board to the 2-player version by burning new EPROMs, but the conversion doesn't work the other way around because the 2-player board doesn't have the connectors to accomodate the extra two controllers.

The TMNT dedicated cabinet was fairly large and had an oversized control panel (to accomodate four players). The sides were decorated with full sideart showing April O'Neal and several of the turtles in a city scene. Machines in the UK will be labeled as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, because that was the name of the turtle franchise over there. The marquee shows a city scene with all the turtles and a live action version of April O'Neal. Frankly they just should have drawn her instead of using a photograph, her hair is just awful. The control panel has a city scene similar to the one on the marquee and has four joysticks (one for each player), each of which is a different color. These machines all came equipped with 25 inch open frame monitors, although you will sometimes run into one with a different size screen, these are almost always conversions of other titles.

Moving on to the interior of the machine, the game itself runs on a JAMMA compatible circuit board. The board itself will plug into a JAMMA wiring harness, but it has a second harness to accomodate the controls for players three and four. The games The Simpsons, Sunset Riders, and Bucky O'Hare are fully compatible with this extended harness, and will plug directly into a TMNT cabinet without modification. One thing that you may notice is that the jump and attack buttons seem backwards of what they would logically be, but you get used to it quickly.

The game's code itself runs on a pair of processors, an 8 Mhz 68000 and a 3.58 Mhz Z80. Konami's other 4-player games from the era run on similar hardware, but they always changed something so people couldn't just swap EPROMs to change games. For example, The Simpsons had the same basic mainboard, but used a 3 Mhz encrypted 68000 in place of the 8 Mhz unencrypted one that TMNT uses. Each one of the dozen or so Konami 4-player games has at least one component difference from all the others. I learned this when I was poking around to see if my TMNT mainboard could run any other games. Trivia

Setting the difficulty on the game at the maximum, and then starting a four player game will result in a screen so clogged with enemies that it is difficult to move (as the game changes the amount of enemies based on the difficulty and the number of players). This is really only fun to do if you want to see if you can make the game lag, as the game is already hard enough on factory settings.

Where to play

You can play ports of this title on most older console systems, or you can play the original arcade version using the MAME emulator. The original machines have mostly been pulled from the arcades, but you can still find them from time to time..

You might want this game for your arcade game collection. I suggest simply trying to find a TMNT JAMMA board, and then doing your own conversion. The reason I suggest that is because dedicated 4-player TMNT machines have recently started selling in that same $600-$1200 bracket that used to be dominated by Gauntlet (at least when it came to four player games). So I would only buy a dedicated version if this is your favorite game, as you have many other four player choices in that same price range, including all four versions of Gauntlet.

I personally own three of the JAMMA boards for this game. You have got to love the "Buy it Now" feature on eBay.

TMNT Benchwarmers

Like many other 1980s cartoon shows, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was intended primarily as a vehicle to sell toys. Fortunately, as was the case with all the most successful of these franchises, the writers took their job more seriously than that and actually tried to craft entertaining stories around the restrictions and requirements imposed on them by Playmates. Most stories centered around the core group of main characters, the four Turtles themselves, Splinter, April O'Neil, Krang, Shredder, Rocksteady and Bebop, and a handful of supporting cast members (like April's coworkers Vernon Fenwick and Irma Langinstein) who were never released as toys despite their exposure on the show. Another handful of characters, like Baxter Stockman or Casey Jones, were regularly recurring stars appearing in a dozen or so episodes, leaving us eagerly awaiting their next guest appearance.

Of course, Playmates wanted to sell more toys than that, so occasionally an episode would have to feature another character so the kids at home would know he exists. The introduction would need to provide some degree of backstory for the character and demonstrate his powers and abilities in a flattering way. If it was a good guy, he'd save the Turtles from that episode's evil plot. If it was a bad guy, he'd kick the Turtles around for two commercial breaks until they found some way to outsmart him or turn his powers against him. A surprising amount of the time, the good guy characters would begin the episode as a bad guy and have a sudden attack of conscience or a realization that the bad guys had tricked him, which would bring him to the side of good in the end.

Many of these characters only had one or two episodes of exposure. Certain other toys, like Ace Duck, never had an episode featuring them at all. One suspects that parents, who weren't watching the show, didn't know this and would buy Ace Duck as a birthday present on the basis of the TMNT logo on the package. Still other characters, mostly one-episode villains, were never released as toys.

So here's to all the "other" characters in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who never got the exposure, character development, or popularity they needed to become fan favorites, but were still released as toys:

Second String Heroes

Mondo Gecko:
Only appearing in two episodes, Mondo Gecko was pure wasted potential. A bit of revisionist history revealed that a gecko lizard was caught in the same mutagen spill that created the Turtles, but the gecko was picked up and taken away by a criminal who raised him into a life of crime. Mondo Gecko was a skateboarder and an excellent fighter, beating up Michaelangelo twice in his first appearance, but later rehabilitated through hypnosis. Unfortunately, the writers completely ignored the fact that he was a gecko, and thus should have been able to scale sheer walls and crawl across ceilings.

The Neutrinos:
Dask, Zak and Kala. Alien teenagers from Dimension X who talked in 1950s slang and rode a couple of flying cars modeled after classic convertibles. Their major contribution to the show was the flying cars.

The Punk Frogs:
Genghis Frog, Napoleon Bonafrog, Rasputin the Mad Frog, and Attila the Frog. I have no idea why they're called the punk frogs, since "punk" is the last word you'd think to see them. Created when a shipment of mutagen accidentally wound up in a Florida swamp (despite their Louisiana accents), the frogs (not being trained fighters) were pretty worthless and had limited exposure in the cartoon. All they could really do was jump and swim.

Usagi Yojimbo:
Samurai rabbit from a parallel dimension where anthropomorphic animals are the dominant life form, Usagi was a guest star from his own comic series and he is covered more in depth in his own writeup. Raphael said it best: He's not only from medieval Japan, but also from an alternate universe. So naturally, he speaks English. Usagi was an excellent swordsman, easily Leonardo's equal and able to defeat the other Turtles in one-on-one combat.

Zach, the Fifth Turtle:
Neither a turtle nor an actual member of the team (despite his homemade turtle costume), Zach was a normal human boy with a severe case of hero worship for the Turtles. Essentially a replacement hostage for April O'Neil, Zach was occasionally of some use as a spy since April, being a TV personality, was too publicly known and the Turtles couldn't pass for humans.

Mutagen Man, Mona Lisa, Muckman:
One-shot heroes that never had a chance to shine. Mutagen Man was created when he fell into a vat of mutagen, and now requires a special suit that feeds him a constant supply of mutagen to survive. He has the power to temporarily transform himself to copy the shape of anyone he sees. Mona Lisa was some kind of nondescript lizard and little more than a generic tough hero grrl. Muckman was a former garbage man who was mutated into a grotesque trash monster that emitted some kind of mutagenic radiation that weakened mutants who got too close to him. None of them appeared in more than one episode.

Second String Villains

Created with the Punk Frogs as their main adversary, Leatherhead was a huge mutant alligator with a Cajun accent. He was incredibly strong and tough but otherwise uninteresting. I blame the Frogs for that, you're only as good as your opponent. Leatherhead had no connection to Shredder and Krang outside the fact that they were responsible for his mutation. Leatherhead is rumored to be a more interesting character in the new cartoon, with a backstory taken from the 1980s Mondo Gecko, who does not appear in the new cartoon.

Robot ninja turtle created by Krang to fight the Turtles, he was reprogrammed by Donatello as a good guy by the end of the episode. Had sort of a multiple personality disorder because he was programmed with a brain scan of all the turtles, and switched personalities along with weapons and fighting styles. The Turtles eventually beat him by trading weapons with each other, confusing him as to what fighting style he should use to defeat them. Occasionally seen as a level boss in the video games.

The Rat King:
Really more of an independent operator, The Rat King had the power to communicate with and command swarms of rats. He sought to conquer the sewers (low, but still unrealistic ambitions) and came into conflict with the Turtles and, once, Leatherhead for domination New York's filth. The Rat King got more exposure than any other villains on this list.

Accidentally created when Rocksteady and Bebop exposed their pet baby turtle to a canister of super-mutagen, Slash was an uncontrollable super-powerful mutant who just wanted his Binky back. His Binky was a small plastic palm tree from his aquarium, and his only material possession. He tore up New York to get it back, and was eventually stopped when the turtles tricked him and launched him into space on a rocket. Later, an alien race discovered him and, taking pity on his child-like intelligence, increased his IQ to super-genius level and sent him back to Earth. Now both hyper-intelligent and super strong, he was unstoppable until a blow to the head reverted him back to normal.

General Traag:
Commander of the rock warriors, Krang's army in Dimension X, General Traag was unfailingly loyal to Krang with apparently a long history of distinguished service. Like all the rock warriors, his body was covered in stone armor, or perhaps made of stone, making him very difficult to damage. The rock army had access to powerful, high tech weapons and spaceships, and were waiting for their chance to invade Earth... just as soon as Krang scraped together enough power to open a dimensional warp gate big enough.

Wingnut and Screwloose:
One-shot villains in a single episode, they were aliens, not mutants, who were using a military school as a base to take over the world with a mind control device. Wingnut looked like a vampire bat and Screwloose a mosquito. I wouldn't mention them except that they were released in toy form.

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