RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Jun 18th 2019 at 08:00:00 AM by (bombatomba)
Posted under Arcade ports, console, port, hidden gem, NES, Cobra Command, TMNT, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ikari Warriors

Once upon a time, the most desired trait of any home console gamer was accurate arcade ports.  In this fashion, one could say that arcades ruled the jungles of electronic video game entertainment.  While complete faithfulness to the arcade original was the holy grail, it was certainly not a requirement, though individual interpretation on the quality of the port was certainly in place, especially in the playgrounds and hallways of schools.

For your reading pleasure, this article is setup using three "categories," those being "The Safe One" (which would generally be agreed that the port is superior to the arcade), "The Controversial One" (which many likely wouldn't agree with), and "The Garbage One" (in which the console port is metaphorically a trash fire).  Enjoy!

The memories of my arcade years when I was a kid are amongst my most cherished.  At ten years-old I was finally allowed off my street, and I took to (along with some of the neighborhood kids) scouring the surrounding area for returnable bottles, not to use for food or trading cards (though this occasionally happened), but to play the rotating group of three or four games at the local 7-11.  Even the most potent of determination I could muster for purchasing Garbage Pail Kids would crumble at the sight of Rastan in attract mode.  These memories are so strong that even looking at online pictures of Explorin' Norman brings back more nostalgia for Ghosts 'n Goblins than for waxy packages filled with stickers and crappy gum.

Game #1 "The Safe One" - Cobra Command

The Arcade Original: This is one of those rare arcade titles that often brings confusion, though based solely on its name.  See, there were two very different games named Cobra Command; the first being one of those visually striking LaserDisc titles released in 1984, while the second was a fairly simple raster game that hit the arcades in 1988.  As you can tell from the above pic, my experience is with the later title.

Cobra Command is, for all intents and purposes, a competent (if basic) side-view shooter, though it uses a "two button" method (guns and missiles) that seems more in line with vertical shooters like Xevious.  The power-ups are gathered more like Salamander versus Lifeforce, but are scaled, so you get more powerful as you pick them up, and thus are equally more in trouble when you die.

The game isn't too bad, and during my day I put more than a couple of quarters into the Cobra Command cab, though it could have been because shmups were pretty rare at my 7-11, and were more in abundance at the Little Caesar's Pizzeria a couple of miles away.  I played it enough that I would remember, oddly enough more than I remember well known shmups such as R-Type.  I guess there just wasn't anything special about this game that really pulled me in back in the day.  I was able to play it again on a friend's Retro-Bit Super Retro-Cade (version 1) and it is as I remember; fun but basic.

The Console Port:  Someone going from the arcade to the console would have been likely quite surprised at Cobra Command.  Instead of simply expanding greatly on one of the core elements during the conversion from arcade to console and building upon it (like Trojan or Bionic Commando), Data East decided to utilize a very different game was and give the "NES" treatment, that being Choplifter, one of the original helicopter action games back from the halcyon days of the Apple II and ported far and wide.  Though it still retains the "two button method" attack from the arcade, nothing else remains.  Your primary mission is to rescue a certain amount of hostages per stage while also "destroying" underground enemy strongholds.  Upgrades can picked up after "destroying" enemy strongholds, and can be cycled through in a submenu whenever you want.  You get to upgrade your main gun, missiles, engine, armor, and even your rescue system (from a rope to a ladder).  I loved this system, though I only wish switching different weapons was a little faster.

Cobra Command always made me feel like I was exploring a world, despite the game actually being fairly linear.  I never got the sense of wonder that I did in far more open-worId games, like Clash at Demonhead, but it also didn't feel like a straight-line stroll through a stage - well, like the arcade original of Cobra Command did.  And it never got old and was always a "safe bet" and guaranteed fun weekend pickup from the rental store for a long time, and would generally come into play when I passed by that copy of Dr Chaos for the upteen-millionth time and don't feel gutsy enough to experiment.  Basically, it was a rare game that lived up to it's awesome box cover.

After playing the arcade original of Cobra Command recently I can see its appeal more than I did as a youngin', but these few fleeting moments cannot replace the amount of fun I had on my NES, burning up those weekend midnight hours when my parents thought I was asleep.  I would rather play the port than the original, any day of the week.

Game #2 "The Controversial One" - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The Arcade Original: Alright, let's just get this out of the way:  The arcade original of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is simply one of the most well remembered games from my "wandering" arcade days.  It was, from my earliest memories, always up and running at the Little Caesar's Pizzeria near my house, and always had kids coined up and ready to play.  You know the game right?  The general feel went on to inspire future games, such as The Simpsons arcade game in 1991 as well as X-Men in 1992.  My arcade had the four player version, which I imagine would cause a lot of elbow rubbing today, but back in 1990 it was just about perfect.  It helped that I was a skinny little kid whose biggest feature was the size of glasses and hair.  I like to imagine my all natural afro-bouffant partially blocked the arcade marquee.

I wish I could better describe the arrival of TMNT.  It was likely almost certainly 1989 and oddly enough not at the 7-11 "rotating" arcade that I frequented most.  Whatever year, Turtle fever was in full swing, and the devs wisely chose to ape the look and feel of the cartoon show (though oddly enough not the voice actors).  That year (and the one after), whenever you heard that baby in attract mode blasting the TV show's theme song it was almost like you had to look.  When I quartered up I would naturally gravitate towards Michelangelo (as many did), but since I was so passive I would take whomever was available, which was normally Raphael.  What's funny is that while I did play it a lot, I don't really remember much past the first stage.  Maybe I sucked so bad at it I never got far, though it is far more likely that my funds were very limited and I had to make those quarters stretch pretty far. 

The Console Port: Originally I thought of being funny and using the first TMNT game released on the NES, mainly because my friend got it not realizing that it was an original game and not a port.  I can report that because of that he hated TMNT for the first month until he finally began to see the merits of the title.  Plus, the real NES console port had already been announced, so that helped take the pressure off as well.

I can think of no more single game that pulled me from the arcades more than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game for the NES did.  In fact, I can remember when it released and my best friend got it, because I nearly stopped going into the 7-11 "rotating" arcade as well as the Little Caesar's Pizzeria, and all we did for what seemed like months was play TMNT II on his TV.  The graphics aren't as good, the sound definitely took a hit, and the hit detection can sometimes be spotty, but darn-it we played the crap out of this game!  This was an excellent example of the negative impact that the NES had on the arcade market in the United States.  No more quartering up and waiting, or listening to people argue over getting Leonardo or Michelangelo, and no more deciding how many quarters were going into TMNT versus Berzerk (if I suddenly had a strong urge to play Road Blasters, which happened a lot), and no more having to sneak into the Pizzeria! 

Slight tangent:  Back in those days you couldn't just walk into Little Caesar's Pizzeria (a local place that was the equivalent of Showbiz Pizza or Chucky Cheese's) and play arcade games.  See, they stationed employees at the front counter to guard against folks not coming in to order pizza, which we would usually circumvent by just coming in with a group of people.  As you can imagine, waiting outside for periods of time (some long) for a large enough group to sneak in with wasn't very convenient, so there were times when we just wanted desperately to play and just couldn't get in.  This also came into play at the local skating rink (Skateland West), which housed some of my favs that weren't in bike riding distance (such as Gauntlet and P.O.W.  Perhaps we will revisit that again later in this series, but for now, Slight tangent over!

With all of that in mind, I think you can see why the console port of TMNT was such a big hit with me and my friends, and why we played it as much as we did.  We loved that game as much as any twelve and thirteen year-old boys back in 1990 could, and because of that, I would rather play the port than the original, any day of the week.

Game #3 "The Garbage One" -  Ikari Warriors

The Arcade Original: While this game was in my 7-11 "rotating arcade" for a brief moment (likely less than a week), it had a massive impact on me.  Along with Contra and Ghosts 'n Goblins it was among the first games I played at that 7-11 after gaining my freedom to roam at ten years-old, and since this happened during the summer I visited and played Ikari Warriors many times over that week, so that in my memory it felt like months.

Upon first seeing Ikari Warriors, my eyes were immediately drawn to the very strange LS-30 rotary joysticks.  All the ones I saw had a weird little yellow octagonal cap on the top.  The idea was that instead of using two joysticks (one for movement and the other for shooting) as seen in Robotron, a single 8-direction joystick could be used, making it more space efficient and allowing for a second player.  It took a quarter or two to get used to this control setup, and while I don't think it is superior to the Robotron setup, I do love it so.  In fact, when I got "home arcade" crazy back in the early 00's, the original control panel I conceived of was for two of the LS-30 (or at least Happ optical rotary) joysticks.  Keep in mind this was back when less people cared about collecting, and one could pick up two working joysticks on ebay for less than $50.  Now...  well, it doesn't even bear mentioning.

The game itself is pretty fun, full of large explosives and plenty of enemies.  It was also the first game I played that allowed you to get in tanks (and helicopters at later stages) and cause havoc, and I did that as much as possible.  Two player gaming can be easy or a challenge, depending on whether or not the arcade operator set the dip switch for friendly fire with the grenades.  Of course I didn't know this at the time, and thought that getting killed by the other player's grenades was normal.  What also didn't help was that the kid I typically played with was normally a bit of a bully, and while a truce was normally in place when were playing arcade games, it didn't stop him from occasionally killing me anyway.

The Console Port:  One of the greatest risks I run is offending someone by referring to their favorite game as "garbage."  I certainly don't want to hurt anyone with these articles, so I ask that you try and detach your nostalgia from your reason and make a bold statement of fact.  Ready?  Ikari Warriors for the Nintendo Entertainment System is hot garbage.  Too much?  I understand, so one more time:  Compared to the arcade original, Ikari Warriors for the NES is hot garbage.  Better?  Great, let's move along then.

You know, when I think of Ikari Warriors on the NES it really brings me back to Commando, which was "The Garbage One" from my "Port" article last year, and how I thought so highly of it for so long.  I remember looking over the maps for Ikari in the first Official Nintendo Player's Guide and being taken aback by how extensive the game looked.  Of course I was so young back then and had only played the arcade original (and also didn't own an NES), but I thought the game looked so much bigger than it did while playing at 7-11, which in my mind equated to being more fun.  I managed to play the console port a tiny bit a few years later, but since I couldn't play it with my friend (who due to circumstances in which he was grounded and forced to watch me play it alone as a punishment) I didn't want to; Ikari Warriors was two player or nothing.  I didn't play it again until 1998, during my FuncoLand "Summer of Fun," when I played every game in the store, and it was here that I got my first true taste of the gameplay.

Oh, how the Ikari Warriors port could have been wonderful, and how I really wanted to love the game.  I was a massive fan of the arcade original (as stated above), and at first blush Ikari on the NES appears to be a solid port.  The intro is roughly the same, and save for the lack of rotary joystick, it controls pretty good too (though many seem to dislike the "circular" way the Warriors turn).  The graphics also aren't half bad, and the music is pretty nice (some would perhaps say superior to the arcade original).  But it doesn't take long before the first cracks to appear, within the first five minutes of the first level, and by the time you get to the second, you know what the rest of the game is about. 

First, the Warriors move too slow.  It feels like they are crawling across the level, while the bad guys fly at you, sometimes in waves.  Now on its own this wouldn't be a big problem, but coupled with the sheer length of the stages, so much that the first half of Ikari Warriors isn't as much a challenge, but rather a test of endurance, though I find the last stage a real clincher; a marathon that only the most dedicated or masochistic would want to finish.  By the end of the game you will have faced countless turrets, submerged enemies that move twice as fast as you, terrain that traps you until you die when you respawn after dying, and more needless resets due to bad level design (and the loss of the ability to continue on the final stage) than I would care to list.  In fact, I would like to make a prediction now:  Amongst the final games that we will be scrambling to take down for the RFG NES Challenge 2019, Ikari Warriors will still be there, waiting.

Gosh, what a waste of a great game.  I would rather clean the entirety of a men's bathroom at Tiger Stadium (circa 1988) with nothing but ammonia and my bare hands than play this port over the arcade original, any day of the week.

Thanks for reading!

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Oh man, I love TMNT II, both the arcade original and the NES port. I wouldn't be surprised if TMNT II was my most played game back in my very young (3-5 years old) NES days. I think the NES port is great and was a good compromise at the time considering the NES's comparatively limited horsepower.

Also, I told myself that I wouldn't buy any Arcade1Up cabinets because I know it would be a slippery slope, but I don't think I can resist the TMNT one. The artwork alone invokes a ton of nostalgia.
Like you, I played the heck out of the TMNT arcade game. And like your friend, I was super disappointed that the first NES game wasn't the "real" ninja turtles game. When I first got that Nintendo Power that told me the port was coming home, I could hardly contain my excitement. And it even had 2 extra levels! They were pretty bare bones, but to my easily excited kid brain, it felt like a better version of the game despite the graphical compromise. It's still my second favorite TNMT game of all time behind Turtles in Time and it's nearly perfect SNES port.
The TMNT arcade game has a ton of memories for me. I distinctly remember a cold, late-December day, during the Christmas break in school, when my younger brother and I, and a couple of our friends, all trudged through the snow, across town, to the local burger joint. They had a TMNT machine, and between the 4 of us, we pooled together our quarters to a little over $15 in total. We beat the game that day, and it was glorious. I had previously played it a couple times in other locations, but this was a shining moment for me, and to this day, still one of my favorite coop gaming memories. The NES version is quite nostalgic as well, and a couple of my friends and I put a fair bit of time into it, but for me, nothing beats the original arcade version.
I am digging the love for TMNT here!

@Disposed Hero:  I have a friend that is a devoted fan of TMNT in general, but obsessed with the arcade game.  I've rarely seen people as happy as he the day the Arcade1UP cab was announced.  So awesome.

@zophar53:  It's funny, but when my friend got the first NES title we were both under the impression it was the arcade game.  I still remember the silence that filled his room when we started playing it.  We eventually made it fun, but that was nothing like the NES port of the arcade.  And thanks for mentioning the SNES port of Turtles in Time!  I never played the arcade original, but my friend and I played the port to death.  We would have been better off buying the game considering the amount of times we rented it (and returned it late), but hey, we were kids!

@MetalFRO:  I respect that FRO.  Like I said, memories of the arcade original are so tied with my "wandering" arcade days (1987-1991) that they will forever remain entwined.  Whenever I think about the game, I can see the cab sitting there in the "hutch" at the Little Caesar's Pizzeria arcade.  It sat across from many games throughout the years (even the massive fullsize version of Street Fighter), but it always remained.  While I stopped going to the Pizzeria arcade not long after that (the SNES kind of killed it), I like to think it remained there until the bitter end (along with Robotron and Gorf).

Thanks for commenting all!

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