Growing up there were only ever 3 careers I wanted to pursue: being Spider-Man, becoming a Ghostbuster or altering my own DNA to become an anthropomorphic turtle with my own renaissance artist inspired name and join the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”. It wasn’t until years later that a careers adviser assured me that these were not in fact legitimate means of employment. Way to crush my dreams madam. Referred to as “Hero Turtles” here in the UK due to the prohibition of the word “Ninja”, which censors deemed an inappropriate terminology, owing to the inflammatory hostility associated with the connotation, they were my idles. Whatever you want to call these conglomerate of teenage reptiles, their boisterous nature, penchant for Italian cuisine and memorable charades against the fiendish “Turtle Soup” loving Shredder and his hapless cohorts “Bebop and Rocksteady” were captivating. And even to this day I can still recite the theme song with rhythmic precision despite decades worth of absence.
Every Saturday morning I would tune in to watch their next scintillating escapades, trying to emulate my hero “Donatello”, by fastening my own cartilaginous shell to my back, fashioned from a turtle shaped potty lid I had and wielding my mother’s mop as a substitute bow staff. I even tried to apply to become a fifth companion by submitting a crudely written letter, sealed in a plastic pocket sheet and deposited in the nearest drain believing that the network of aqueducts would somehow deliver my message to master Splinter. Alas I did not receive an invitation for recruitment, as it was probably intercepted by the Rat king, but that didn’t deter me from accumulating a retinue of expensive merchandise. T-shirts, hats, lunch boxes and toys, so many toys. The Turtle van, Turtle Blimp and my most prized possession, the Turtle Sewer lair. But it was “TMNT II The Arcade Game” that I remember with the most affection.
Egregiously undermined as merely a “Double Dragon” imitator, TMNT’s II was a frenetic side scrolling beat ’em up that I’d literally play for hours, mother permitting of course. Battling your way through the altering environments and swarms of colour specific foot soldiers, that indicated their preferred weapon choices felt like being in the television show! You derive a great deal of satisfaction from clobbering numerous interchangeable aggressors with fervent aggression, abusing the “A” button with furious intensity. You had destructible environments, lampposts that could be used as projectiles, trash cans that concealed nourishing life-sustaining pizza and a boss to conclude each level. Not to mention the innovative simultaneous 4 player Co op introduced in later iterations that enabled me and my friends to assume the roles of our favourite Turtles. It may not have the depth or cultural status as many others on this list, but it’s simplicity was undeniably compelling. But what was most evocative about this game is the memories it conjures up from being a kid, namely my relationship with my father.
This game harks back to a time when the most prominent father figure in my life was my dad. We’d play TMNT II for what seemed like hours, but may only have been minutes. He’d play as Leonardo and I of course was Donny. Together we’d eliminate anything stupid enough to inhibit our progression, providing each other with refuge and facilitate the restorative properties of pizza to whoever needed most. We functioned as an efficient if competitive unit, with my dad boasting a greater ratio of kills to me. And though my father and I have drifted apart over the years it’s comforting to reflect on a time in my life when we were close. Not just as father and son but as friends too. And that’s why “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II The Arcade Game” is my #9.