Archive for April, 2024

A Stray Thought on Konami Four-Player Arcade Brawlers Circa 1990

In 1989, Konami released an arcade game based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. Everything about it was tailored to the source material. In the cartoon, there are four ninja turtles, who usually fight together as a team, so it was a four-player co-op game, even though this required a larger-than-standard cabinet. The turtles frequently fight their way through masses of faceless goons, so it was a scrolling brawler. Each of the turtles carries a different weapon, and this is reflected in differences in how the characters handle in the game. (I favored Donatello, whose bo staff gave him the longest reach, but I know people who preferred the speed of Raphael’s sai.)

The TMNT game was a hit, so of course they decided to apply its formula to other franchises. The 1992 X-Men is essentially TMNT with a coat of paint, and it too is remembered fondly, but the format designed for mutant turtles doesn’t fit mutant humans as neatly. There are a lot more than four X-Men — even in the game, where Konami could have just picked out four of them for us, they apparently couldn’t narrow it down to any less than six, only four of whom can be active at a time (plus a couple mainstays who appear in cutscenes but aren’t playable). And the six they chose were chosen more for recognizability than for fitting well into a brawler. The turtles had their slight differences, but they were all still fundamentally ninjas. The characters chosen for the X-Men game vary wildly in their abilities, but the constraints of the format require that Dazzler’s hand-to-hand combat ability is approximately on par with that of Colossus and Wolverine, and that Cyclops’ main power, his eye beam, is treated as a special action with a limited number of uses, rather than something that would be active all the time if he didn’t have special headgear to suppress it.

But perhaps we were more prepared to accept such concessions to format because of what had happened in between TMNT and X-Men: Konami’s 1991 four-player brawler adaptation of The Simpsons. This is an IP that doesn’t fit the format at all. It makes about as much sense as basing a brawler on pease porridge. But the fact that it doesn’t make sense is why it makes sense. The absurdity of the idea perfectly suits the source material’s sense of humor. In the show, Springfield’s arcade featured games based on such unlikely things as Doogie Howser and My Dinner with Andre. The Simpsons arcade game isn’t just an arcade game based on The Simpsons, it’s an arcade game that fits the sensibilities of the Simpsons world. So what I’m postulating is that the large but appropriate inappropriateness of the Simpson arcade game paved the way for the many smaller but less appropriate inappropriatenesses of X-Men.