A quirky and colorful Super Nintendo one-on-one fighting game in the style of Street Fighter II, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters stars a wonderfully esoteric cast from the Archie Comics series, including Armaggon the evil cyborg shark and a man-sized bat with metal glider wings named Wingnut. The only thing better than being a Turtle is beating one up.

In March 2014, former Mirage Studios letter maker and colorist Steve Lavigne auctioned off the original Tournament Fighters 24″ x 17″ Super Nintendo front cover painting and 6″ x 12″ insert art, which he collaborated on with Archie Comics and Tales of the TMNT artist Chris Allan. The final price: $2,000. Lavigne composed many of the box illustrations for the Turtles’ Konami video games and a variety of other product tie-ins, from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game for the Nintendo Entertainment System to Ellio’s Pizza. (Image source: eBay.com)

When I got word that ex-Tips & Tricks magazine Senior Editor Jason Wilson, arguably the largest private collector of classic video game prototypes in the world, had in his possession a pre-release copy of Tournament Fighters, the ravenous Ninja Turtles fan in me knew that I had to preserve it–just like the four other green-team-themed betas that I had previously purchased from the man in the past.

When I approached him this time, though, he flat-out refused.

No more Ninja Turtle prototypes are for sale, he told me rather bluntly.

I had never heard him say that something wasn’t on the table before, and so his words frightened me. They made me think: Had it really gotten to the point where the dealer was telling the junkie that he’s had enough?

I slumped in my computer chair, my elbows sliding a little on the foam arm rests still slick from the previous night’s onion and green pepper sicilian pie.

That was three years ago. A lot has changed since then, and for the better.

My life stated to turn around when I parted with my once inseparable pair of magenta Donatello web-toed rhinestone boots from the fab four’s 1990 Coming Out Of Their Shells concert tour.

“Modern man is drinking and drugging himself out of awareness, or he spends his time shopping, which is the same thing.” -Ernest Becker (Image source: VH1/YouTube.com)

I passed down the loud footwear to Michele Ivey, the ultimate Turtles collector, whose sincere enthusiasm was portrayed as being full-blown schizophrenia on national television (link). I shudder to think how that VH1 show’s host/roastmaster, Fred Willard, would have diagnosed me.

I continued my mutagenic cleanse by drastically altering my diet and exercise regimen. I had no caloric room for any pizza whatsoever, not even thin crust.

But then these good habits came crashing down one fateful spring Saturday afternoon in 2013 when my computer chimed. A new e-mail had arrived in my inbox.

“Hey, man, did you see the ooze canister from the first TMNT film on eBay?”

I dropped the dried apricot that I had been nibbling to the floor. Darkness filled the room around me.

“It’s being sold by the Turtles’ co-creator…”

Not again. This isn’t happening to me again.

“Kevin Eastman!”

(Image source: Kevin Eastman)

All that work, all that discipline, all that 100% whole wheat bread vanished like a ninja.

I bought an ooze canister.

The pathetic part is it wasn’t even my first ooze canister. But this one used the correct original comic book spelling, T-C-R-I, rather than the movie sequel’s bastardized version, T-G-R-I.

Mentally justifying buying another movie prop container of green paint over a single letter in the alphabet meant only one thing: I was finally ready to take care of some unfinished business.

A prolific seller of video game wares, Wilson didn’t remember me or his mandated mutant ban when I contacted him again about the Tournament Fighters prototype. He was, however, convinced that the cartridge had long been sold. I convinced him (with money) to go have another look-see.

While I waited, I decided to share photos of the canister with other fans through a movie forum. That’s when I received a private message from a story producer working at Reelz Channel.

If you’re not familiar with Reelz, its About page reads in part to “[connect] viewers across America with the magic, wonder and excitement of Hollywood wherever it happens” (link). In non-PR speak, what this entails is mainly airing seemingly endless loops of Access Hollywood and reruns of Celebrity Ghost Stories.

That’s not to say the network doesn’t have blocks of original programming. Alongside such rich entertainment choices as Polka Kings and Hollywood Hillbillies is Beverly Hills Pawn. In a format reminiscent of The History Channel’s Pawn Stars, customers bring in items to the pawn shop supposedly to sell them, only in the case of Beverly Hills Pawn, the merchandise is usually expensively-priced movie memorabilia.

For the show’s second season, this producer asked if I might be willing to discuss lending out my precious ooze so that I, a schlub from Philly, who mostly wears washed out gray undershirts and wrinkled black jeans that came born out of a three-pair value pack, would leisurely stroll into the upscale Beverly Hills storefront and pretend to haggle with the dolled-up employees there over fictional chemical sludge while the cameras rolled. I would receive a nominal fee for my part in the deceit and cash in on the 15 minutes that Warhol had promised me.

These programs typically have participants sign non-disclosure agreements so that none of the behind-the-scenes production information is leaked to the public (as if that would ever stop their audiences from lapping it up weekly). Since I’m telling you this story right now, it should be abundantly clear what my answer was. In the channel’s defense, it did say its mission was to bring Hollywood home. I cannot imagine anything more “Hollywood” than such manipulative, unadulterated fakery.

It took no less than two full hours for Wilson to locate the game from his mountain of 16,000 titles and 1,100 prototypes and get back to me. I pray that his family finds peace should there ever be an avalanche of plastic.

He came through and delivered the goods a few days and stacked pizza delivery boxes later.

When the package arrived, the first thing I noticed was something rattling. I thought the worst, that the inside circuit board had been damaged during shipping. My heart raced as I tore away the bubble wrap. Luckily, it was only a screw loose. Like the one in my head.

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SHVC-4PV5B-01
U1 EPROM
U2 EPROM
U3 EPROM
U4 EPROM
U5 16/64/256K SRAM [Empty Slot]
U6 PLD
U7 74LS157
U8 CIC BATT CR2032 [Empty Slot]

I shoved the game into my dumper. The sensation felt so good that I pulled the cartridge out and reinserted it just to feel the tight connection all over again.

My eyes rolled back as the data transferred over. I suddenly longed for those fabulous boots. A file comparison came next.

My head sunk. Donatello’s exaggerated on-stage dance moves dissipated from my mind, giving way for a deep black coldness to settle in.

I could’ve sponsored a child in Bolivia for three years, or adopted six battered rescue puppies from the ASPCA. But I didn’t. I instead bought an old video game. An old reptile fighting video game.

I bought an old reptile fighting video game with exactly four bytes of differences.

Prototype

North American Retail

The sample’s internal header is the only thing that’s changed. My soul, well, that remains empty. I wish the same could be said about my arteries.

Out of the seven vintage Turtle game prototypes that I have tracked down over the years, only two had any in-game differences, and of those two, just one had changes of any real significance. With a track record like that, you would think I would have given up long ago. If anything, though, these failures have had the opposite effect, driving me more in debt and no diet, culminating last Christmas in my unwrapping this life-affirming headgear:

All right, Mr. Willard, I’m ready for my close-up.