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Cowabunga! Ninja Turtles arcade machine is radical retro fun

Go, ninja, go, ninja, go!

turtles4

Choose your hero in a half shell.

Bryan VanGelder/CNET

Party dudes and dudettes, your game has arrived. The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade cabinet of 1989 is making a heroic return, but this time you don't need a fistful of quarters to fight Shredder and his goons. Arcade1Up's remake of the classic arcade machine lets fans relive the four-player fun with a build-it-yourself home version, now on sale at Walmart for $400.

Now playing: Watch this: Kick some shell with Ninja Turtles Arcade1Up cabinet
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Shell shock your friends with this classic arcade cabinet remake.

Arcade1Up

After building and playing it, I can tell you as a Turtles fan, this machine was exactly what I hoped it would be -- and the materials are a nice upgrade in quality from last year's Arcade1Up cabinets.

It's no secret that retro gaming is having its moment. Sega Genesis is back with a mini console. There's a new Atari VCS set-top box console. And Nintendo Switch owners can feed their nostalgia cravings by subscribing to the online service to play older games (if you didn't already scoop up a Mini NES or SNES in the past couple of years).

Arcade1Up is standing out in the trend by offering titles that are hard to find on these home consoles -- and choosing machines that hit a sweet spot in childhood quarter-slinging memories, becoming more of a statement piece in home decor. Along with a Ninja Turtles machine, the company is also now selling the original Pac-Man, the Atari version of all three original trilogy Star Wars games, Mortal Kombat from 1992 and a Marvel Super Heroes fighting game from 1995. There's even a cabinet for the classic 1989 track-ball golf game, Golden Tee. 

The company is also expanding beyond the upright cabinet design, with new gaming tables to play head-to-head while sitting down. There are Pac-Man and Street Fighter II tables, and customers can choose models with classic artwork or a more refined all-black theme. 

Heroes in a 3/4-scale shell

Ninja Turtles is the first four-player machine from the company. It's the same height as Arcade1Up's other cabinets, roughly three-quarters the size of a standard arcade cabinet. But the control dashboard extends six-inches on each side to account for the extra players. 

This time around it also includes a riser with custom artwork (the risers were usually sold separately last year) to bring it to standing height. And the riser is really essential to this particular game. It's a bit tight with four people playing at once, so sitting is not an option. As for the cramped playing space, it wasn't a deal-breaker for me since I was playing with friends and colleagues (that, and it helps that the game doesn't last that long). 

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Here's the swanky, all-black sit-down version of Pac-Man.

Mike Sorrentino/CNET

The machines also leveled up on packaging and materials. The Ninja Turtles dashboard includes a plastic covering to protect the art on the panel. I wondered why the company did that... until I saw a Street Fighter machine we had in the office for the past year, with the decal art completely worn off where wrists hit. Yes, bring on the plastic protectors. 

Company CEO Scott Bachrach tells me that this year's machines also have better quality joysticks and buttons with faster response time, along with an upgraded 17-inch color LCD screen. There's now an adjustable volume control, analog style, instead of a preset low-high-mute option. Dual speakers blast that irresistible music that drew me in as a kid, begging my parents for money to play.

The panel art looks authentic and well made. Bachrach says the company bought an old machine to replicate the original look. But it's not going to be exactly the same. For example, the Nickelodeon logo is added to the front, since it owns the rights to the Turtles. (CNET's parent company, CBS, is in the process of merging with Nickelodeon's parent company, Viacom.)

Two tubular games

Arcade1Up machines include more than one game. In the case of the Turtles, it also includes the 1991 Konami title Turtles in Time. If you didn't play it at the arcade, you may have on a Nintendo system. It's very similar also to the Sega Genesis game Hyperstone Heist, which I rented at least 50 times from Blockbuster. So even though I didn't play Turtles in Time in the arcade, it still was a lot of throwback fun from what I remember playing at home.

If the sticker price of $400 for two retro games is leaving you shell shocked, consider this: finding that original machine on eBay would cost well over $3,000, and it would weigh a couple of hundred pounds. The home model is 60 pounds, and is simple for one person to put together with only a Phillips screwdriver.

It's not a machine you would play by yourself often. But it is a piece of memorabilia that is a fun conversation piece for any fan, which is exactly why it appealed to me: I sang along to the theme song every Saturday morning. A costumed Michelangelo visited my sixth birthday party.  And I slung countless Chuck E. Cheese tokens into this game in the '90s. Having this machine suddenly in front of me after all these years just brings so many smiles and good feels, and it certainly drew a lot of co-workers eager to help me test it. 

It's great for letting off steam in the office break room. And it's the perfect party machine when having friends over. The only thing that really bummed me out about it? Pizza is not included.