A feature I’ve been wanting to do here is one where I talk about how I became a fan of something very near and dear to me. After mentioning how I came by the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the NES in my Blockbuster memoir and not wanting to have three solid entries straight on that, now seemed like the right time to do this thing.
Looking back, I was amazingly resistant to the entire concept of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, at least as far as what the name presented: I had no special love of turtles, and the ninja craze of the 80’s hadn’t really taken any great hold over me. Heck, I don’t think I even knew Snake-Eyes from G.I. Joe was a ninja, now that I think about it (but don’t worry, I definitely knew Storm Shadow was). To my credit, though, Snake-Eyes was downplayed considerably in the old cartoon in favor of Duke and Flint, and I didn’t read the comics at the time. Heck, I’m not even sure they ever touched on his background, or said he was a ninja in the original series! So yeah, ninjas just weren’t a thing with me, though Ninja Gaiden might have begun turning me around to them.
Perhaps the biggest thing standing between me and Turtle Power was the “mutant” part, though. At the time, mutants meant only one thing to me: Those idiots who were taking up valuable Mumm-Ra time during ThunderCats. Why would I, or anyone, want to watch a show with a bunch of guys like that running around? So in the earliest days of the TMNT’s rise into the mainstream, I largely ignored it. I think even my mother tried to get me into them (she often nudged me towards what was hot with kids at the time), but to no avail… yet.
As it turns out, something else I initially resisted, something that would change my life on numerous levels, would work its magic.
I wasn’t into Turtle Power yet, but I was certainly into Nintendo Power by this point. Early on, they had ever-increasing coverage about a new game from Konami shell subsidiary Ultra Games which featured the Heroes in a Half-Shell. As the magazine was bi-monthly, I had a lot more time to re-read issues between receiving them, and my eyes would eventually creep occasionally into other parts I might not have been as interested in on a first pass. Parts like previews/reviews for this particular game.
It raised my curiosity quite a bit. Apparently age wasn’t just a number, but a mindset here. They talked funny and ate pizza? They rode around in blimps and missile-firing vans? And what’s up with the guy in the metal mask?
For what it’s worth, Nintendo’s hype machine worked on me where nothing else would. For what it’s worth, I’m happy that it did; though I imagine I might have cracked eventually, at least I was able to get in on it all fairly early. Nonetheless, Nintendo Power only told me so much; if I was going to play this game about these “Ninja Turtles,” then I felt I should do more proper research. To the video store!
What? We didn’t really have the internet at our fingertips to answer anything.
Interestingly enough, this was before Blockbuster Video opened in town, and for some reason or another, I don’t think our usual local video store, Sandra’s Fun Time Video, had the tapes, either. We wound up going to Rose’s, a department store which happened to have a handy video rental service located at the front of the store. But which one to get first? Where do I start if I want to learn their origin?
“The Epic Begins”. Well, that was easy enough.
It’s easy to imagine how things progressed from here. I watched it, and I loved it. Robotic Foot Soldiers, strange pizzas, the freaking Technodrome. The more I saw, the more I got into it (also, my dad was watching those eps with me. It never quite became a thing we did, but it was cool at the time). The only problem was choosing who my “favorite” was going to be, because they were all so cool.
Leo was the leader, and he had dual-katana, which was pretty awesome. Raphael was funny (though I’ve come to appreciate angry Raph more), and he had those neat sai. Unfortunately for me, in participating in TMNT fun with the neighbor kids, the two brothers had already called those two, so I was left to choose between Donatello and Michelangelo. Fair enough; Donatello does machines and carries a big bo staff, while Michelangelo was essentially the icon– he was the chief pizza fanatic, he was the one who would always shout “cowabunga”, and he wielded the nunchucks, which were arguably the most ninja-y thing they had (breaking it down, the others had swords, daggers, and a stick– weapons not unheard of elsewhere).
Oh, and he wore orange– my favorite color at the time, thanks to Garfield.
To help me decide, I did a little shopping and got my first two TMNT figures in short order. Of the ones shown here, I wound up eventually getting all but Bebop. Always kind of felt bad for my Rocksteady, not having his buddy around. When you’re that dumb, you need all the support you can get– or at least one really good friend.
At first, I wanted to be Donatello; unfortunately for me, there were two things which worked against that. One was that there was no role-play costume/weapon toy set for Donny at this early point. The other was that these same neighbor kids held another neighbor with greater regard, and after telling me I could be Don, decided to give it to him instead when he wanted it. Which would have been fine, except after I’d started investing in Michelangelo, they tried to give him Mike’s spot when he changed his mind. At that point, I stood my ground, and when it came to getting individual Turtles merch or playing games, Mike always came first.
As an aside: I’ve always liked all four, but my preference shifted to Raph during the 4Kids cartoon, then to Leo when he managed to surpass Splinter. And these days, with the new Nickelodeon cartoon? It turns out Splinter is my favorite… and for good reason:
Can you blame me? Or maybe it’s just that I’m getting too old to appreciate teenage high jinks the way I used to.
Bringing things back around full-circle, after– ahem– mutating into a proper Ninja Turtles fan, I did get the NES game as soon as it came out. Unlike a lot of people, I actually rather enjoyed it, despite its difficulty. I even got it again on the Wii Virtual Console, and I can still come far closer to beating it than I ever could a lot of other NES games. Castlevania or its second sequel, anyone? StarTropics? Kid Icarus still manages to vex me. And if I’m given proper time to prepare, I can beat it without too much difficulty.
Without naming names, some of the complaints I’ve seen out there– including a recent one– astound me. It’s like people forget how to play games once they reach the dam or something. Who in their right mind leaves Raphael until last at the dam?!
Of course, while I did enjoy their first game… well, their second game is what really delivered Turtle Power, both in the arcades and on the NES. But by then, I was already a fan for life anyway. To this very day, I’ve never stopped enjoying the fab four, not even during that Next Mutation period. Though, to that show’s credit, its crossover with Power Rangers in Space led me back to that lifelong love after I thought Power Rangers Turbo had done me in… but I suppose that’s a story for another time.