Tag Archives: michelangelo

Neca 1/4 Scale TMNT Movie Michelangelo

IMG_1679The good thing about NECA’s Michelangelo, the final turtle to be released from their quarter-scale line of action figures based on the 1990 film, is that it’s just like the previous three turtles to be released. The bad thing about it is that it’s just like the previous three turtles to be released.

Let’s start with the good. Mikey is made of the same high quality parts that his brothers are made up of. The paint applications are excellent, the texture of the skin spot-on, and the articulation better than you would expect of a 16″ turtle. He comes with an assortment of extra hands, which are basically identical to what his brothers feature, as well as the customary slice of pizza which fits so much better with Mikey than it does the other three. He has his twin nunchaku which are connected by a pair of nylon ropes to simulate his ‘chuks from the film which did not feature actual chains. He also sports a sublime bag of pork rinds, a unique accessory exclusive to Mikey and another that feels oh so appropriate. His head sculpt, which is naturally the only part of his body different from the others, features a happy expression as opposed to a grim one which also feels appropriate for the character. His wide-eyed gaze makes him look a bit less “alive” than his narrow-eyed brothers, but I wouldn’t trade this head sculpt for another.

Mikey is also just as poseable as the other three, though his choice of weaponry makes finding good poses a little more challenging. The rope between each end of the nunchaku  is pretty short. On the back of his packaging, there’s a picture of him with one end of his nunchaku going over his shoulder so his left hand can grasp it under his arm while his right hand holds the other end. Try as I might, I can’t come close to replicating this pose with my figure. I don’t know if they had to stretch the ropes to pull it off or dislocate the left arm or something. That’s okay though, Mikey isn’t really itching for a fight anyways and I’ve chosen to pose him on my shelf without his weapons at the ready opting instead for pizza and pork rinds.

That’s basically the good stuff. However, there are some flaws with Mikey not really shared by his brothers. For one, he has no holsters for his weapons. There’s a gap between the shell and belt under each arm that they can be wedged into, but in the 1990 film he had holsters on the rear of his shell (they would be moved to under the arm for the sequel) that NECA opted not to include. Curiously, NECA also sent out a promotional image to most retailers featuring Mikey balancing his nunchaku on his finder, but this special piece is not included. Supposedly it’s part of an upcoming set of baby turtles. If that’s the case, the image probably should have been circulated to promote that set and not this figure. However, the thing that bothers me the most about Mikey is his size. Since he uses the same body as his brothers he’s the same height as them as well. In the film, Mikey is noticeably shorter than his brothers and it really stands out to me when he’s posed alongside them. I suppose I could drop him to one knee or try to pose him sitting to hide this fact, but it does bother me, probably more so than it will most people though.

Because of the inaccuracies of this figure, I do feel Michelangelo is probably the worst of the four turtles released. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad figure though. I still think he looks great on his own, and I’d never buy three quarters of the TMNT and not the fourth. I love his head sculpt and I really love that he came with the bag of pork rinds. It’s such a throw-away moment in the film, but for some reason I always loved that scene of Don and Mike avoiding another Leo and Raph confrontation by stuffing pork rinds in their faces.  It also amused me as a kid to see the turtles eating something other than pizza.

This isn’t the end of NECA’s quarter scale line of figures based on the original film. As I mentioned earlier, a set of four baby turtles based on the origin flashback scene is on the way and they’ll also come with a box of pizza in addition to Mikey’s extra piece. I will admit I’m really not interested in that set, so don’t expect a review here. What I am interested in is the Shredder due out sometime next year. He hasn’t been unveiled yet, and NECA isn’t displaying anything at the New York Comic Con so we probably have to wait until Toy Faire to see him. I have high expectations. Another version of Raph is also coming and as far as I can tell it’s a re-release of the figure we have, but with a trench coat, hat, and backpack in addition to his sai. Supposedly, sales of this edition of Raph will determine if NECA goes ahead with a foot soldier figure. I kind of hate it when toy companies do this as it’s basically a lesser form of blackmail, “Re-buy this figure if you want this one. Oh, but he has a new hat!” I would have loved it if NECA had included the coat and hat with the first release, or made it available by itself, but I’m not buying another 100 dollar figure that’s essentially one I already have in the hope that it will lead to a future figure. That and honestly I don’t have much interest in a quarter scale foot solider. I would just want multiples for a small army, but at $99.99 there’s no way I’m buying more than one. So Shredder will likely be the final piece of this line I collect, and that’s fine as I primarily want the four turtles and their arch nemesis. If a Casey Jones comes around I’ll give it some thought.

Donatello was slightly scarce, as was Raph, but it seems NECA has upped their production numbers so a set of the four turtles is not hard to come by. You can find them at various specialty shops online and NECA sells direct through eBay too. And sometimes they even show up at Toys R Us. This is probably the best set of TMNT figures I own, and I own some good ones. I know some out there are holding out for a smaller scale version, but at this large scale I can’t deny they look awesome. I heartily recommend all four, but I understand that at $99.99 MSRP they’re not for everyone. It’s still great to finally have a quartet of turtles based on the original movie as that’s the best they’ve ever looked, in any medium. Don’t sleep on this set.

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NECA San Diego Comic Con Exclusive TMNT Animated Series Action Figure Set

IMG_1436Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the franchise that won’t go away for me. I’ve been involved with it since the 80s when the cartoon series debuted and the first line of action figures started popping up in retail. I dropped the series when The Next Mutation came around, but picked it right back up when the 4Kids version of the Turtles debuted on Fox in 2003. And always there was a line of toys to go along with them that I happily indulged in. The only toy line I’ve really passed on was the current line that ties in with the Nickelodeon show. Even though I like that show, I never felt the need to go buy the toys. I thought, perhaps, I was finally maturing, but nostalgia for the original 1987 cartoon series has pulled me back into the world of TMNT toys.

Last year, Bandai gave us its take on the fearsome foursome based on the 87 series through its SH Figuarts brand. I reviewed all four and they were very impressive, but also costly. Those toys exist because they’re technically imports, though some retailers carry them in the US. When it comes to the real domestic products, Playmates still has a stranglehold on all things TMNT when it comes to action figures. Because of this, toy companies have had to get creative or get discouraged from even trying. NECA has been the leader in US TMNT toys and they’re willing to jump through the loopholes to get their versions of the Turtles to the public. When they wanted to do a set last year, they had to base it on the original TMNT arcade game which meant a bright, faux-digitized paint app for the figures. When NECA wanted to do a line of figures based on the 1990 movie, it meant they had to release them in a massive quarter-scale (and they’re awesome). Not satisfied, NECA has wanted to get cartoon accurate Turtles to market and finally got the clearance to do so. The catch, of course, was that it had to be a convention exclusive. Also possibly apart of the stipulation, was that it had to be a box set, which is how we ended up with this brand new set.

NECA’s San Diego Comic Con exclusive set of the TMNT is proving hard to get. NECA was granted permission to sell them on their website as pre-orders to be delivered the week of the convention. In addition to that, the set is available to buy at the convention the old fashioned way. It’s an eight figure set with a price tag of $200 that comes housed in a box meant to resemble the old action figure carrying cases of the 80s and 90s. I was fortunate enough to score one of the pre-orders which went live last month over the course of 4 days (and each day they sold out in about a minute) and my set arrived at my door last night. NECA is referring to this as the definitive take on the 87 Turtles, so how did they do?

The set comes housed in an attractive case. It’s decorated with all new artwork by Archie Comics artist Ken Mitchroney and depicts the Turtles outside the San Diego Convention Center with Shredder and Krang on the reverse. The case is likely made out of cardboard with a vinyl outer coating. Two clasps on the side made of metal close it up, though the case isn’t too rigid making the clasps hard to engage. This is clearly a case designed for decoration and to add a “Wow!” factor to the presentation, it’s not something you would have wanted to ferry back and forth between home and grandma’s like the case you probably had when you were a kid. I do find it a bit odd they went with an Archie look as the Turtles on the cover do not resemble the television show, but at least it’s original and not a stock image.

The set itself contains four figures:  Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello, Shredder, Krang, and two Foot Soldiers. The figures are packaged in a black plastic trays with a transparent outer shell that fits over it like a clamshell design. The trays are stacked in two layers, with the Turtles on top and the Foot on the bottom. The packaging is designed to be resealable, though it’s probably not durable enough to withstand repeated use. The figures themselves were pretty easy to remove, though some of the accessories were a bit trying (and there’s a lot of them, more on that later) and I worried I’d crack the plastic shell casing, but it held up.

If you’ve purchased prior NECA TMNT sets, then this one should feel some-what familiar. The Turtles are essentially the same figures released last year, just with a cartoon-specific paint application. Shredder is a composite of the two Shredders released last year (the arcade one and the Mirage Comics one), but with an all new head sculpt and re-tooled abdomen. The Foot Soldiers also borrow parts from last year’s Mirage Foot, but obviously with new head sculpts and new arms to represent the very long-armed look of the cartoon. The only all new sculpt is Krang, and that’s because he’s a pretty unique character and not one NECA has released before.

Let’s talk about the heroes first. The Turtles feature a dark, almost olive, paint-app for the majority of their body with a darker green used for shading on the backside of their limbs. Lots of black lines are used for definition and the look is certainly striking. The skin tone is quite close to that of the cartoon’s first season, especially for the scenes taking place in dimly lit areas like the sewers. The decision to add shading is a bit of a controversial one in the collector community; some like it, most don’t seem to care for it. I don’t think it works as natural light would have accomplished the same thing. A paint wash may have been a better approach, but it’s not something that kills the figures or anything. The colors of the pads and masks are vibrant, and each turtle sports a fighting expression. The articulation is pretty standard, and NECA hides the joints and cuts well within the sculpt. The only drawback is the hips feel a bit loose and some more ankle articulation would have been welcomed. The shells look great, and there’s no noticeable paint slop on any of mine. The only production error appears to be with Raph’s pupils, as one is centered in the eye and the other towards the top of the eye, making him look weird from head on.

The actual sculpt of the figures is also pretty solid. They’re about 5 1/2″ tall and fit nice in scale with Shredder and the Foot. The wrist bands and pads are all part of the sculpt and not separate pieces, and they look pretty good. NECA was able to get the kneepads to sort of hide the knee joints like an actual pad, though the elbow pads sit above the elbow joints. I’m always torn on what facial expression these 87 Turtles should possess since the show was so light-hearted and campy. In a perfect world, NECA would have included swappable heads, but those obviously add a lost of cost. Grim and serious works for Leo and Don, though I wish Raph’s sarcasm could have been reflected and Mikey’s more jovial nature. NECA also ran into the challenge of how to mold the head. These sculpts worked really well in nailing the lioness of the arcade TMNT, but they’re a little too frog-like for the cartoon. That’s partly because the Turtles in the cartoon look very different when they’re presented head-on or at an angle, versus a profile look (just watch the opening credits). The season one Turtles often had a vertical line on their beaks to give the impression of a sharper mouth that was mostly dropped after season one. NECA wisely didn’t try to incorporate that as I don’t think it would have turned out well had they. Overall, I do really like the look of these figures, though I think they come up just a tad short if they’re trying to be the definitive take on these characters.

The accessories for the Turtles are numerous and appropriate. Each character comes with his specific weapons which means Leo has two katana, Raph a pair of sai, Don a bo staff, and Mikey twin nunchucks. Don’s bo is especially well-detailed and probably the finest bo staff the character has ever come with. It also breaks apart in the middle which can make storing it in his belt a bit easier to manage as it’s really tight. Leo’s swords are quite broad and resemble a falchion more than a katana. This is consistent with the show, though the broadness might be exaggerated some (though his swords were kind of all over the place and not very consistent in the show). He has holsters too for his blades and they too are also really tight. I couldn’t really get them in and didn’t want to force it, though I’ve seen holstered pics online so it’s certainly possible. Ralph’s sai are probably the worst of the bunch as they’re really out of scale and resemble tuning forks. Ralph also carried his sai in his belt near his buckle on the show which isn’t possible with the figure as the belt is glued on. It would have been nice it NECA had found a way to make it possible without taking away from the look, but I see why they wouldn’t want to add a pouch or something where there really isn’t supposed to be one. Mikey’s nunchucks are twin pieces of plastic connected by actual metal linkage, a practice NECA basically started with its Mirage version of the figure 9 years ago that has been adopted by pretty much everyone since. One ‘chuck handle can detach and a “spinning” chuck attachment can go in its place, which is a pretty nice feature. Like Raph though, he can’t store his weapons in his belt, though I suppose you could wedge them under his arm if you wanted. In the show, Mikey stored them on his shell in little holsters that basically disappeared when he was holding his weapons (Don and Leo’s holsters often did this too, especially after season one) and NECA must have valued the look of his holster free belt over one that basically never existed in the cartoon.

Additional accessories include four turtlecoms; two are open and two are closed, that look awesome. There’s also an additional four pairs of hands that can be used on any turtle, since their wristbands are part of the arms. There’s a box of pizza from Weird Pizza with one slice missing. That slice is also present and even has a hole through the center for placement on Raph’s sai. The turtle-hook, which showed up in later seasons, is also here if you wish to change-up Mikey’s weapon. It’s slightly oversized but that’s likely because the hooks actually come out of it slightly. It’s not a great effect, but still appreciated.

Naturally, these editions of the TMNT invite comparisons with the Figuarts ones from last year. I think, overall, the Figuarts ones are superior, but they should be since they retail for around $65 a piece. Their articulation is better, the swappable heads help make the likeness better, and I really love that Bandai came up with those swappable belt pieces so all of the Turtles can holster their weapons. NECA’s chosen skin tone is definitely closer to that of the main show, while Bandai’s resembles the opening credits and later seasons. The Bandai Turtles also each had four pairs of hands, while the NECA ones share a community of hands. If I had to pick one I’d take the Bandai ones, but I wouldn’t feel disappointed if I only had these NECA ones. Both look great and they complement each other pretty well as now we have turtlecoms and a closed turtle-hook.

Of course, the NECA Turtles have one big advantage over the SH Figuarts ones:  they come with a Shredder! Shredder, for some reason, has really received some bad treatment from toy manufactures. Even from NECA, who delayed the release of their Mirage Comics Shredder by eight years (with part of that being attributable to Playmates, but mostly to a marketing decision). Toy manufacturers are scared that Shredder and other villains won’t sell. Playmates cancelled their own toon Shredder after showing prototypes, and Bandai has yet to bring theirs to market even though he was unveiled over a year ago. And the old Shredder toys from the original line? They were terrible, with Shredder having blue spikes and no shirt, plus that really weird semi-crouching pose. Naturally, this Shredder is the crowned jewel of the set as he’s a near perfect likeness to the cartoon. He comes in at nearly 7″ tall making him much larger than the Turtles. The head sculpt is perfect and conveys a lot of personality despite the restrictive nature of the character’s helmet. The spikes are a nice, soft, pliable plastic and the fabric cape adds a nice touch. I had to watch old episodes of the cartoon to spot any differences, and the only inaccuracy I could find was with the shoulder pads that featured fewer spikes on television, but I’m not going to complain about some additional spikes! My only other criticism would be the two-tone paint job is again a bit overdone, especially on the helmet, though overall it works better on Shredder than it does on his adversaries. His open hands also have some excess plastic from the mold that’s a bit ugly, though if it really bothers me I could probably trim it off with a razor blade.

Shredder comes with a few accessories of his own to go along with his excellent sculpt. He has a katana of his own, which is unique to him, for sword-fighting with Leo. He also has a gun that resembles the retro-mutagen ray from the cartoon and looks good in his hands. He has three sets if hands: fists, gripping hands, and open hands. He also has a com-link with a little picture of Krang on it as well as a blue canister of mutagen. I do not remember this blue canister from the show, but I’m sure it existed. I only remember the standard glass one with glowing, pink, mutagen contained inside.

The two Foot Soldiers are identical to each other. They are slightly stooped over and feature those long limbs they were known for. They two comes with three sets of hands each:  fists, gripping fists, and open hands in a karate chop like pose. There’s also a rifle and a large gun with a bowl-shaped end which was featured in the cartoon and also with the Playmates version of the character as well. The two-toned paint works well on the Foot, probably due to their clothing have a lot of moldered creases and folds, and it’s hard to find any fault with these figures.

Lastly, we have Krang, who too looks fantastic. He’s a light pink and features his trademark scowl lots of lumps and veins. Liberal use of black lining gives his face added definition, though they may have gone just slightly overboard with it. His tentacles are on ball joints and are also easily removable. This is so Krang can hop into his bubble walker and the tentacles clip onto outside joints to resemble the cartoon look. When not in his bubble walker, he also has his little tripod from the first season that he scooted around on before Shredder completed his body. This is a great touch by NECA as I don’t think this has ever been done before. It snaps into a recessed area on his underside so it stays in pretty well.

The villains really help round out this set as NECA hit a homer on each figure. It’s nice to have a new set of the Turtles without having to worry if they’ll ever have some villains to tangle with. Naturally, there are people who probably wish they could get more Foot Soldiers for display purposes, but that has more to do with licensing than NECA’s wishes. I have no idea what the future is for this property as it concerns NECA. The popularity of this set leads me to believe that NECA would like to do more, but it may have to wait until next year. Fans undoubtedly would love a Bebop and Rocksteady and Krang is just over here begging for a body. Other characters like Splinter, April, Baxter Stockman, and others would probably be welcomed too. I personally have no desire to go in too deep, but I definitely am hoping for more. If the property dies here though, it’s still a very satisfying collection of figures that will display well for years to come. I hope to be done with buying anymore action figures of the Turtles from this show, and I may even pass on the Bandai Shredder should he ever see release as I’m more than happy with this one. If you have the opportunity to get this set at a reasonable price, I fully recommend it.


Bandai SH Figuarts Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Michelangelo

img_0905At last, my quartet is complete! The famed heroes in a half shell have had their finest animated series likeness released to eager collectors around the globe and the results are pretty awesome. If you follow this blog, you may have caught my posts about the first three turtles. Leonardo and Donatello were released simultaneously in the late summer with Raphael arriving in the fall. The wait for the fourth, and perhaps most popular, turtle was a bit longer than expected, but Michelangelo is now being shipped world-wide by American distributors and the good news is; he’s probably the best of the bunch.

If you have seen either of my two posts on the other turtles, then you are likely familiar with the general look and construction of these figures. All four turtles are essentially the same figure, just with different swappable parts and their signature color scheme and belt buckle. They’re sturdy, mostly plastic figures with loads or articulation despite the fact that they’re hindered by their turtle anatomy. The lower portion of the figures, specifically from the knee down, is painted die-cast which gives them a solid base ensuring it will take more than the wind to knock these ninjas over. And even though those lower portions are die-cast, the paint job is seamless and you would never know by looking at them. Bandai’s SH Figuarts line is known for being a high quality line, and the turtles do not disappoint in this regard.

When it comes to the accessories, there’s been a clear pattern with these figures. Each turtle comes with two heads, with one featuring a serious, kind of generic expression that’s the same for all four turtles, and one that’s unique to each brother. They have four sets of hands:  fists, fists with a hole through the center for gripping weapons, slightly opened fists for a more gentle grasp, and open palms. Each turtle naturally comes with his signature weapon, a unique accessory or two, and a swappable belt piece that contains holsters for their weapons (in the show, these holsters would often “disappear” when the turtles didn’t have their weapons holstered and this piece allows collectors to do the same).

It’s the accessories that differentiate each turtle from the other, so not unexpectedly, it’s my enthusiasm for these that make Mikey my favorite of the pack. Someone over at Bandai must love Michelangelo, because he easily has the most accessories. Mikey comes with two sets of nunchaku:  one set is all plastic and features a frozen pose, the other has each end connected by an actual chain. The NECA Mirage Michelangelo was the first one I encountered that featured the real chain links on the nunchaku and I still love that effect even ten years later. There’s no denying though that the more realistic representation of the weapons does limit the poses one can achieve, which is why Bandai included the additional “frozen” weapons. Even though the chain on these is all plastic, the detail is still excellent making them look light-years ahead of anything Playmates has done with their figures. One ‘chuck is positioned in a triangle-like pose for an under-arm position, while the other has more of a swinging look. I’m torn on if I prefer these to the Revoltech nunchaku included in their version of Mikey from the current animated series, which features a disc at the end of the chain to really simulate the animated look of a twirling nunchaku. The nunchaku with the actual chain links are also great for posing as they have natural weight. They’re also the only ones that can really be holstered on Mikey’s back. Both offer great options for display.

The other included accessory is Michelangelo’s turtle hook. The turtle hook first appeared occasionally as a grappling hook carried by all of the turtles, but eventually the show would phase-out Michelangelo’s nunchaku and have him only wield the turtle hook due to the perception of nunchaku being too violent in some circles. It was pretty stupid to see Mikey standing there alongside his brothers with nothing but a grappling hook to defend himself, but it happened. Interestingly, virtually all of the toys associated with the cartoon would still feature nunchaku and I can’t recall a single one that had the turtle hook, so it’s inclusion as an accessory is certainly long overdue. Bandai used actual rope to connect the handle and the hook portion and it looks great. The hook unfortunately is permanently in its open position, but it probably would have been either really fragile or over-sized if it featured moving parts. The rope is also too short for it to look like an actual grappling hook, but it probably would have looked sillier if it was absurdly long (the cartoon version stored the additional rope in the shell portion which isn’t feasible in reality). While I’ll always consider Mikey’s weapons to be his ‘chucks, I do love the look of the turtle hook and it’s a fun display piece.

Mikey’s second head features a smirking grin. It’s not unexpected that his unique head sculpt would be something light-hearted, as opposed to the angry expressions worn by Leo and Raph. I still find it kind of weird though as the smile gives his head a shape I can’t ever recall seeing depicted in the cartoon. In short, I think Bandai could have done Mikey better in this regard. And it’s also kind of disappointing that Bandai included the same generic facial expression for each turtle. I get it that it helps cut down on costs, but how expensive is it to make a new mold for such a small piece? Obviously, Michelangelo wasn’t always smiling and goofing off in the show, but who really is going to display their Michelangelo with the serious expression? Very few, I’d wager.

That about covers it. Any of the flaws possessed by the other turtles are naturally attributable to Michelangelo too, but so are all of the good points. These four represent a pretty awesome collection, but the true test lies ahead. Will Bandai continue to support this line beyond the four turtles? So few companies have. Shredder was unveiled last year, but I have yet to see anyone start taking pre-orders so I’m not holding my breath. With the New York Toy Fair drawing close, perhaps we’ll see how far Bandai intends to take this. I’d love to round out the villains at least with Krang, Bebop, and Rocksteady joining Shredder. Foot Soldiers, Master Splinter, and April would be the icing on the cake, should they come to be. Anything beyond that would be unexpected, but most likely welcomed.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Nickelodeon) Season 2

TMNTThe resurgence of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has been one of the more fun story lines from pop culture for me over the past two years. With an all new comic line, cartoon, and feature film, the TMNT are almost as relevant today as they were in 1990. Considering other old properties from the 80’s have been successfully resurrected recently, perhaps it’s not all that surprising the Turtles were able to accomplish the same. What has been surprising though is how successful the relaunch has been from an artistic standpoint. The general consensus for the vast majority of new films based on properties from the 80’s is that the material has been lacking. While no one can dispute how commercially successful a franchise like the Transformers has been for Hollywood, the movies themselves come across as overstuffed toy commercials. Like the Transformers, the return to the big screen for the Turtles was decidedly lacking when the new film was released in 2014 (I’d call the film trash but I personally have not watched it and don’t plan to). However, the comic book line launched in 2012 has been pretty well-received while the television show has been a smashing success.

When the cartoon was announced by Nickelodeon I was not optimistic about its chances at success. I was borderline indifferent, but my past romance with the Turtles was enough to make me curious. I set the DVR to record season one, and by its end, I was a fan. The show is witty, action-packed, and stuffed with enough in-jokes and material to appeal to 30-somethings who grew up with the Turtles. The cartoon successfully melds the old cartoon with the comic books while also taking its own path. The 2003 cartoon attempted the same, but was probably too reliant on the original Mirage comics. The old comics are an entertaining read, though nothing magical, but they do not possess an energy that lends itself well to animation. While on the other hand, the original cartoon was set on creating a fun series that appealed only to children. It never put the characters in any real danger and would eventually lose its audience as it grew up and acquired an appetite for more mature material. When the show finally made an attempt at change, it was too late.

What's old is new.

What’s old is new.

Like with season one, season two of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opts for a more serialized nature with plots carrying over from one episode into another with few stand-alone episodes and characters. When a stand-alone episode does pop up, it serves as a palette cleanser from the main plot and is often a more offbeat episode. Most of these episodes are packed with humor with season two’s “Mazes & Mutants” topping the list of funniest TMNT episodes so far. The writers have found a nice balance in the humor for the show with it coming up at opportune times and resisting the urge to go for the easiest joke or pun. The show is genuinely funny, but it also knows when to let up on the humor and isn’t overly-reliant on the Michelangelo character.

Season two picks up right where season one left off with The Kraang being beaten back temporarily. Shredder and The Kraang have appeared to have forged an alliance, and an early mishap with a canister of mutagen mutates April’s father, Kirby, into a bat monster causing tension between the Turtles and their lone human friend. Meanwhile, Splinter (and this is a spoiler for those who missed season one) is coming to terms with the fact that his daughter is alive and well but has been brainwashed by the Shredder into believing she is actually the daughter of the Foot Clan’s leader and not Splinter. These two threads, April’s distrust of the Turtles and Karai’s lineage, are major plot points for the bulk of season two. The Karai plot twist could be seen coming from a mile away, but it was still effective as the writers handle it well. Karai naturally does not react well when the truth is first presented to her, and her response to it is complicated and appropriately remains unresolved for several episodes. The Kraang maintain a healthy presence throughout the season as well, often playing a role in a small way in most of the episodes. The season concludes with another big face-off between the Turtles and Kraang and it would seem the alien race will not be going anywhere anytime soon.

Casey Jones and Raph team-up yet again.

Casey Jones and Raph team-up yet again.

Season two introduces several characters, old and new. As was revealed in press kits, Casey Jones made his series debut in season two. Like April, he has been aged-down for the show from his original depiction but remains a vigilante of sorts. And like the Casey of old, he forms a bond with Raph pretty quickly and the two are a crime-fighting duo in some episodes. And as predicted by me (and likely many others), Casey forms the third corner of a pseudo love triangle with Donatello over April. Naturally, April is more taken with the human and this creates tension between Don and Casey that is sometimes entertaining, and sometimes feels a little stuffy, but is one of the ongoing aspects of the show that serves to remind the audience that these characters are, in fact, teenagers after all. Other characters familiar to fans of the old show that make their debut in season two include Slash, Mutagen Man, and Pizza Face while other characters are obvious references to old ones (Kirby bares an uncanny resemblance to Wingnut, for example). The show also does a good job of hinting at future characters. When a thief with a purple mohawk shows up it’s only natural for fans of the old show to assume this character has a date with a warthog and some mutagen in his future.

Don't be surprised if Kirby's Party Wagon gets a make-over in season 3.

Don’t be surprised if Kirby’s Party Wagon gets a make-over in season 3.

My main point of criticism with the show early on was for its lifeless take on the city of New York, and while the show has done a better job of making it look like people actually inhabit this city, it’s still a relevant criticism for season two. The character designs though have improved. Some of the villains in season one were pretty boring to look at, and that has mostly been remedied (though some are underwhelming, I’m looking at you Tiger Claw). There’s very little for me to complain about when it comes to this show. The writers have also wisely made the Foot Clan robots in season two (and not just randomly, it’s explained in an episode) so the Turtles are free to user their weapons against them. The more graphic violence is handled offscreen, but the consequences are shown. When Leonardo gets isolated from his brothers in the season finale and beat-up by Shredder, we don’t see any of Shredder’s bladed strikes landing. However, when an unconscious Leo is tossed through the window in April’s apartment where the other turtles are holed up (awesome reference to the comic and original film, by the way) his body is cut and bruised.

Just like with season one, season two does a great job of tossing in winks and nods to the old material that came before it. They’re sometimes hidden in the background and other times in your face (the party wagon!). Shredder remains a credible threat to the Turtles throughout the season and is a more than competent ass-kicker when pressed into battle. And while the April plot is resolved during the season, the other big ones are still open heading into season three. The season concluded with an hour long special that was perhaps the best in the show’s short existence thus far. It was satisfying on an emotional level while also delivering the humor and action the show has become known for. I’m even more enthusiastic for the show’s third season than I was the second (aside from the fact that Seth Green is set to takeover the voice-acting duties for Leonardo). If you were a fan of the Turtles in your youth and still have a fondness for them residing somewhere inside of you then you should be watching this show.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – NES

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989)

One of the most successful games of all time, and one of the most divisive, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, arrived in 1989 for the Nintendo Entertainment System and flew off the shelves or retailers and rental stores across the United States. Turtle-mania had a strong grip on the nation’s adolescent and it would have been a huge embarrassment if the game actually failed. And while it was named as 1989’s Game of the Year by Nintendo Power, the first ever NES TMNT game is often regarded as a disappointment. Calling it divisive in the opening line may have been misleading, for the game is almost universally loathed for numerous reasons: too hard, not enough recognizable characters from the cartoon, no multi-player, and not the game fans wanted. In 1989, another game based on the TMNT was released, the equally successful arcade game. Based on the animated series, the arcade game boasted 2 to 4 player play allowing each kid to select his or her favorite turtle and wail away on an almost endless supply of Foot Soldiers, Bebop, Rocksteady, and of course, Shredder. When it was announced the Turtles were coming to the NES, many fans expected a port of the arcade game, but instead they got a solo side-scrolling adventure with few recognizable elements from the cartoon making an appearance.

The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game is best called infamous than famous. It was notably the subject of one of the earliest Angry Video Game Nerd videos in which The Nerd (James Rolfe) reminded many of us of the same frustrations we experienced as children playing this maddeningly frustrating game. As a kid, I never was able to beat the game without the near essential Game Genie peripheral, usually failing to make it beyond the battle with Slash/Mecha-Turtle/whatever the Hell that thing is at the end of act three. And like many, I preferred pretty much every other TMNT based game that followed over this one, which all took the form of arcade style beat-em-ups. I’ve since relived this game many times as a teen and adult but recently felt compelled to revisit it and see if the reputation this game had acquired was entirely justified. Just what is that reputation? Many Google searches will return this game on the list of hardest NES titles as well as worst or most disappointing NES games. The only way to answer my questions was to dust off the old NES and sit down in front of the TV.

Definitely not the arcade game...

Definitely not the arcade game…

For starters, the game was developed by Konami’s Ultra division, a secondary label created to circumvent Nintendo’s then policy of limiting publishers to how many games they could release in a year. Konami probably paid a boatload of cash for the TMNT franchise, and considering Konami was known to gamers for its Contra and Castlevania franchises, it seemed like the TMNT license was in good hands. Right from the start though, some things seem out of place. For one, the cover art depicts the four turtles all sporting red bandanas. For kids accustomed to the television show, this looked wrong while comic book readers would have recognized the cover to issue number 4. When the game boosts up, an unfamiliar tune plays as the four turtles are introduced. No player select screen is displayed once start is pressed, instead the game drops the player right onto a map-like screen with a tiny Leonardo in the center and some steam-roller like vehicle driving around. To summarize, there’s no licensed music, no option for 2-player, and no option to select which turtle to play as.

As the game unfolds, things start to become clearer. This overhead, Zelda-like perspective, leads into more traditional side-scrolling levels whenever the player enters an open manhole or building. A quick look at the pause screen is enough to clue the player in on the objective (rescue April, big surprise) and the ability to switch between turtles. The player is free to change-out a turtle on the fly. Each one has his own health bar, and since the game has no 1-up pickups, they function as extra lives. If a turtle loses all of his health, he’s out of action until the final level where a turtle can be rescued. Each turtle uses his own unique weapon and it will soon become obvious which turtle to use. Donatello, with his boring but long-reaching bo-staff, is easily the superior turtle in this game. When walking or standing still, Don thrusts his bo-staff out in front a great distance and even slightly behind him as well. He can thrust up and down as well with a press of the D-pad and take out multiple foes at once as a result. Because the animation for his attack lingers so long, he even seems to benefit from a double-hit, and as a result, does more damage per strike than the other turtles. If you lose Don, you’re in big trouble because the drop-off is huge to the next most useful turtle, which should be obvious for those familiar with the four heroes in a half-shell, Leonardo. Leo swings a lone katana in a downward arc when attacking and it’s useful for enemies at eye-level, but his reduced range and damage when compared with Donatello makes him far less suitable for the environments ahead. After Leo, Michelangelo is probably the next-best option as his nunchaku has slightly better reach than Raphael’s sai, which is pathetically useless. Raph and Mike are best treated like canon fodder and used only when attacking is not an option, such as when driving the turtle van or during the infamous swimming level. Each turtle can hold one secondary weapon, most of which appear as pickups randomly and range from throwing stars to boomerangs, to a weird energy wave that kicks a whole ton of ass (shell).

What the hell are these things attack Don, and is that a Foot Balloon?!

What the Hell are these things attacking Don, and is that a Foot Balloon?!

Gameplay wise, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is fairly straight-forward. The turtles can attack and jump as they move left to right, right to left, and across gaps and platforms. The pace is fairly slow and reminiscent of Castlevania, including the ever annoying jump-backwards animation after being struck. If you’re not familiar with Castlevania, when the character takes damage they always jump backwards. This is ever annoying when trying to negotiate a series of platforms as enemies frequently appear in mid-jump leaving the player helpless to defend. The turtles handle kind of like trucks as they’re heavy and clunky. Pressing fully on the jump button will cause them to go into a ninja flip of sorts that has a floaty affect on the character, which sometimes helps to re-align a jump but mostly just seems to cause panic in the player leading them to miss a platform. Enemies are numerous, and for the most part, unrecognizable from the show. There’s foot soldiers and mousers here and there, as well as boss encounters with Bebop and Rocksteady early on, but aside from that there’s a lot of just weird enemies. There’s some chainsaw-wielding maniac, a guy composed entirely of fire, and weird butterfly enemies that dive-bomb the turtles, among others. The obstacles are pretty standard for the era and take on the form of conveyor belts, water, and spiked floors/walls. The game gets bogged down frequently when too many enemies are on screen and slowdown is a frequent annoyance. Enemies on the map scenarios tend to flicker in and out which harms the presentation elements of an otherwise underwhelming looking game.

So what makes Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles so difficult? Well, for one, three out of the four turtles are borderline useless. As I mentioned earlier, Donatello is by far the best suited to overcome the various obstacles placed in the turtles’ path. The other three are so bad that you might as well quit if Don falls in battle. Enemies who can be felled in one strike are manageable, but the ones that require multiple hits pose a challenge as they do not react to taking damage. The game also loves having the player enter a new screen with an enemy literally right on top of you, forcing the player to take at least some damage. The pizza power-ups, which restore health, become scarce the deeper into the game you go and are sometimes intentionally placed in impossible to reach locations. Platforms are often placed above turtles, making some jumps particularly challenging as if the turtle hits his head on a platform above, his forward progress is stunted and the jump falls short. There’s one really annoying jump in a sewer scenario that’s actually impossible in the PC port. There’s also no password feature, but unlimited continues, so this is one that has to be completed in one sitting which adds to the challenge. And if the game wasn’t annoying enough, Ultra did include a beeping alarm for when the selected turtle is low on health.

Even though this level isn't as bad as people make it out to be, Leo is totally about to end up dead.

Even though this level isn’t as bad as people make it out to be, Leo is definitely about to end up dead.

All of that said, this game does do some things well and some of the things it has become known for (negatively speaking) aren’t as bad as they’ve been made out. For one, the ability to swap the turtles into and out of battle is pretty cool. Yeah, it sucks that there’s no two-player and it really sucks that three of the four turtles are horrible to play as, but the thought was a good one and one I’d like to see revisited in a new game. The under water level that has become so reviled and is the part of the game often cited as being hard, unfair, and noteworthy, isn’t as bad as its reputation. If you get to it with little health on each turtle, then it’s pretty damn hard. As a kid, I failed many times. As an adult, I just save Raph for it and have no problem making it out with minimal damage taken. It, like just about every swimming level in recorded existence, is not a fun stage by any means, but it’s far from being among the hardest sequences in gaming history (and is among the easier parts of this game). And aside from the turtles not really handling like ninjas, the control is satisfactory and the ability to drive the turtle van is pretty cool (though why it doesn’t have its own health bar is a mystery still to this day). The soundtrack is actually enjoyable, even if it doesn’t contain any music from the TV show, and isn’t something I’d change about the game.

In conclusion, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was destined for commercial success just because of the license alone, but doomed to disappoint gamers for not being the game they truly wanted. Unfortunately, the game was not able to make-up for not being the arcade game by offering a lesser experience. The good news is that gamers didn’t have to wait long as a port of the arcade game arrived on NES consoles in 1990 as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game. Yes, it wasn’t a perfect port due to the system limitations of the NES, but it was suitably fun and is often remembered fondly by gamers from that era. The one that arrived first though is not, and it’s hard to defend the title even today. While it’s far from being the worst NES game, and certainly not the most difficult, it’s definitely not good and just another example of a licensed game gone wrong, but at least it’s not as bad as E.T.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (4Kids): The Christmas Aliens

images-166In 2003, Fox and 4Kids Entertainment launched a brand new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series.  This series was the first re-launch for the TMNT after a long hiatus from both film and television and was an attempt at introducing the Turtles to a whole new generation.  One of the consultants for the show was TMNT co-creator Peter Laird and his Mirage Studios.  Something everyone seemed to be in agreement on was that this new show would borrow more heavily from the original comic book run of the Turtles while still keeping a general audience in mind.  This is, of course, in stark contrast to the original cartoon which all but abandoned the comics as both Laird and Kevin Eastman felt it was impossible to adapt that for a children’s show.  It would be easy to point to that decision as a mistake, but really that original show gave the world a whole separate take on the Turtles that proved endearing, if nothing else.

The 2003 series was more mature, but still pretty much directed at kids.  It took a lot from the old comics but also did its own thing.  Eventually, it would more or less go off on its own, especially once it hit the Fast Forward seasons towards the end of its run.  I can’t pretend to be an expert on the series as I really only watched the first season before eventually losing interest.  The show seemed to be fairly successful, though not a huge hit, with kids.  There was a new toy line and I’m sure the show’s success had some part in the decision to do the feature-length TMNT film.

The source material for this episode.

The source material for this episode.

Something unique to this series is that it contains what is, so far, the only animated Christmas special the Turtles have ever done.  It seems crazy to me that there was a never a Christmas episode during the original cartoon run, but I checked, and there isn’t!  The new series has also yet to do one, but it wouldn’t shock me to see one pop up eventually.  The only Christmas special featuring the TMNT so far is the live-action “We Wish You a Turtle Christmas” and if you’ve never seen it, DON’T WATCH IT!  The 4Kids series decided for its third season to adapt the Michelangelo (then Michaelangelo) Micro Series story for its first episode, “The Christmas Aliens.”  Having read that issue, I was interested in checking this episode out as that story is one of my favorites from the comics as it puts Michelangelo in the starring role as he attempts to make sure a donation of Christmas toys gets to a local orphanage.

Each episode of the series opens with a scene from later on in the episode, usually with a turtle or turtles in some kind of trouble.  This one opens with Michelangelo driving a truck as he’s being chased by some crooks before the opening credits hit.  The opening song for this show is one of its weak points.  I don’t care for the song on the new series, but it’s at least a throwback to the old series so I give it some points.  This one is just lazy.  When we get to the episode it shows Michelangelo strolling through the park on Christmas Eve.  The other guys are back at home in the sewer decorating for the evening’s festivities while Mike befriends some kids in the park and finds a stray kitten he dubs Klunk.  It doesn’t take long for Mikey to stumble upon a toy store that’s in the process of being robbed.  Apparently, this season’s hottest toy is a Christmas Alien doll (I believe in the comics it was intended to be a parody of the then mega-popular Cabbage Patch Kids) and it’s sold out everywhere.  A delivery truck loaded with them is the target of the thieves, but Mikey overhears the truck driver tell the crooks it’s intended for a local orphanage.  The crooks obviously don’t care as they make off with the truck and Mikey feels compelled to stop them.

That's one weird looking Santa.  I can't imagine he smells all that great as well.

That’s one weird looking Santa. I can’t imagine he smells all that great as well.

At the lair, various other characters start piling in.  I actually can’t name any of them since I didn’t watch the show regularly, except for Usagi Yojimbo who arrives with two other characters via some kind of portal.  All of the Turtles’ friends are here though to celebrate Christmas and some mischief is made.  Casey tries in vain to score a kiss under the mistletoe from April, while everyone tries their luck at beating the resident superhero in an arm-wrestling contest.  Everything has to be put on hold though as they all wait for Michelangelo to get home.

Meanwhile, Michelangelo has to contend with a bunch of crooks and even the police as he overtakes the delivery truck and heads for the orphanage.  The majority of the episode is a chase sequence, first with Mikey hanging onto the truck as he tries to take it over, then with more bad guys, and eventually the police.  The animation shows its limitations here as the truck looks extremely heavy.  It strikes parked cars and other moving vehicles and goes right through them without even the slightest wobble.  It’s an okay sequence, but not a very exciting one.  The Michelangelo character in this series is enjoyable though, and Klunk is supremely cute as he hides in Mike’s coat and pops his head out to take a look.

Michelangelo is eventually able to lose his pursuers and wind up back at the lair.  Everyone is ready to scold him for being late, but he of course explains himself and everyone heads to the orphanage.  The Turtles don elf costumes while Splinter goes as Santa and all the kids get their alien dolls.  We get a final lesson on giving, and everyone feels like a good person in the end.

Elf Mike and Klunk.

Elf Mike and Klunk.

As Christmas specials go, this is a solid entry.  It’s not too sentimental, there’s no silly drama, and everyone ends up with a good feeling when all is said and done.  There’s some light humor that is, while not inventive, at least amusing.  Michelangelo is a good choice for the lead role in this one as he’s always been the one that’s easiest to relate to.  His child-like state of mind doesn’t need to be exaggerated any further to make the story work.  In the comics, Klunk stayed around and would show up in future issues.  I don’t know if that was the case here or not but I never mind the addition of a kitten to story.  This episode was released on DVD as a Michelangelo’s Christmas Rescue and if you stumble upon it in your travels it wouldn’t be a horrible pick-up.  The running time is only around 22 minutes so definitely don’t pay too much should you come across it.  Since Nickelodeon launched the new series last year, episodes from this show are no longer on television so don’t expect to find it airing on any channels this season.  As always, there’s youtube if you really want to watch it.