You’ll love being a turtle
Somewhere, tucked away in a photo album at my dad’s house, there lies a photograph of me playing Konami’s Teenage Mutant “Hero” Turtles arcade, during a 1990 family vacation to the tropical paradise that is South Devon. I remember literally having “jelly legs” after playing, such was my complete, unadulterated excitement at my two greatest loves of the time combining. You see, my friends, what I was experiencing was the perfect marriage of the two most important elements of the 1990s for any 10-year-old: TMNT and arcade games.
While Eastman & Laird’s iconic Heroes in a Half Shell have since dipped their two-toed feet into all manner of gaming genres, there is little argument that they will always be suited best to the beat-’em-up genre. From the aforementioned 1989 arcade classic, to the beloved 1992 SNES release Turtles in Time and its Sega Mega Drive compadre The Hyperstone Heist, the lean, green fighting machines are perfectly attuned to multiplayer mayhem. TMNT was made for brawling… More so than The frikkin’ Simpsons.
And so, with the genre currently enjoying a major renaissance, publisher Dotemu and developer Tribute Games have decided it’s high time that Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michaelangelo make their grand return to the mean streets. But in a whole new era, one where the brawler genre has advanced beyond its rudimentary beginnings, is the TMNT brand capable of regaining its button-mashing crown, or is it just ninja, ninja, crap? Let’s check it out. And remember, the clock’s tickin’, dude.
Describing the gameplay of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is something of a monument to pointlessness, as we all know the score by now. You pick your favorite characters, and then take to the streets of New York City, laying down a solid green knuckle sandwich on the battalion of foolhardy Foot Clan members that stand in your way. Break some skulls, toss some bodies, face down an end-of-level guardian, and it’s on to the next stage. It’s a tale as old as time and, for the most part, Shredder’s Revenge changes very little from the core gameplay of Konami’s 1989 classic. You gotta know what a crumpet is to understand cricket, and you also know what you’re getting yourself into here.
As it is no longer 1989, the brawler genre has, itself, gone through some serious evolutionary stages since those halcyon arcade years. And in order to bring Shredder’s Revenge screaming into the terrible 2020s, developer Tribute Games has seen fit to widen each individual character’s arsenal of attacks, combos, and specials, as well as fine-tune their individual strengths and weaknesses in battle.
For your hapless opponents, we now have tried-and-tested button mash combos; various anti-air counters; two forms of dash attack; jump and dive kicks; team attacks; and flashy, screen-clearing specials. The biggest addition is that of a tactical roll, which has invincibility frames and will prove to be a crucial tool in your battle with the robo-ninjas. Our heroes are also equipped with several very familiar throws, including the famous Mode 7 screen toss, the multi-slam, and Raphael busting out a German Suplex that would make Lesnar proud.
Shredder’s Revenge has sublime controls, effectively designed so that beginners and younger players can get straight to dishing out vigilante justice, while offering hardened brawler fans elbow room for slick combos, juggles, and wall splats. While this makes for impactful and satisfying combat, it must be noted that Shredder’s Revenge does not boast the same precision of a Streets of Rage 4 or a Fight’n Rage. These are titles that truly explore the marriage between brawler and fighter, presenting each and every enemy encounter as an individual problem to be solved.
While Shredder’s Revenge is undoubtedly deeper than its TMNT forerunners, its role is that of a “Supercharged Turtles in Time,” rather than a groundbreaking example of the genre’s evolution. Crucially, however, Shredder’s Revenge is committed to an all-out effort to ensure that you and your friends are having pure, unadulterated fun. A mission goal that the colorful scrapper achieves with ease.
Shredder’s Revenge sets itself within the world of the 1987 TMNT animated series. The colors, style, humor, characters, and locations immediately recall memories of the classic TV show — the medium in which “Turtle Mania” became a global phenomenon. If the faithful appearance of the Fab Four (voiced by their original actors) wasn’t enough, then fans will be giddy with excitement to hear that Shredder’s Revenge is jam-packed with characters from the show, ranging from regular villains such as Bebop, Krang, Rocksteady, and The Shredder himself, to a wide variety of deep-lore cameos.
When some of these lesser-known characters popped up, my jaw dropped, having not had them enter my sphere of reference since I first saw them on TV all those decades ago. I was expecting to see Bebop & Rocksteady — and was spoiled with an appearance of Best Girl Irma Langenstein — but I had completely forgotten about one-off characters such as… well… why would I spoil the surprises? Tribute Games, true to its moniker, has gone above and beyond to make Shredder’s Revenge a celebration of the show’s legacy, filling its games with references to the series that will please the most dedicated TMNT fans.
As you might expect, Shredder’s Revenge sounds as good as it looks. The action is soundtracked with an excellent score from artist Tee Lopes, which is punctuated by appearances from vocal legends Mike Patton and The Wu-Tang Clan. There’s also a fantastic mullet-rock song, complete with lyrics, that helps to capture the game’s nostalgic Saturday Morning vibe. Lopes has made the smart decision to replicate the legendary “Konami sound,” vibrant tones that scored the days when Konami was king of both the arcades and the hearts of the video game community. No, honestly, it really was.
Where Shredder’s Revenge shines brightest, however, is in its personality, utilizing awesome pixel-based animation to afford life and charm to the characters and their world. It’s the little things: Individual run cycles, taunts, and celebrations; goofy background characters; and nods to previous TMNT games, shows, and movies. Adding April O’Neil, Splinter, and an unlockable Casey Jones as playable characters is inspired, providing welcome variety in multiplayer games. (April, in particular, has some of the cutest sprite animations in the genre, including some suspiciously familiar Street Fighting maneuvers.)
From hazardous open manholes and fire hydrant traps, to promises of Turtle Soup, the return of those irritating “Do Not Resist Us” bots, and even a sequence that references another famous Konami brawler, Tribute Games knows what the audience wants to see, hear, and experience, then goes out of its way to deliver. And while it doesn’t always work, (the vehicular sections have some irritating forced perspective issues, for example), the flaws are swiftly forgotten in the energetic, joyful spirit of the gameplay.
As a beat-’em-up Shredder’s Revenge is, ultimately, a shallower experience than one might expect in the current climate, though it does add depth with its great range of moves and minor fetch quests. Outside of the TMNT fanbase, I don’t think Shredder’s Revenge will offer the same long-term replay value as some of its contemporaries. For party play, however, the six-player co-op mode will provide some enjoyable, accessible action for any group of friends. Shredder’s Revenge isn’t really a title to be “mastered,” it’s more a lazy afternoon riot, to be enjoyed with good company. A true arcade experience.
[Note: Shredder’s Revenge features both online and local six-player co-op. As of press time I was unable to test the online multiplayer capabilities. I will return to this review following launch with my findings. The PlayStation version, curiously, is strictly limited to four-player local co-op.]
TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge delivers exactly what one expects. It’s a great-looking, great-sounding, and great-playing love letter to one of the most beloved franchises of all time. It lacks the top-tier polish and scalpel-precise intelligence of Streets of Rage 4, instead choosing to present itself purely as a retro multiplayer masher — albeit one with a far expanded moveset than its predecessors. As a brawler aficionado, I think Shredder’s Revenge is good, delivered with a passion that veers into great. I don’t think it topples the best examples of the genre, but I defy any TMNT fan to play this game without sporting a massive grin on their face. And, ultimately, that’s the highest praise it can receive.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is a delightful celebration of the Heroes in a Half-Shell. More importantly, it’s simply a helluva lot of fun to play. It breaks little in the way of new ground, remaining rooted in old-school cool, but it does offer wild, satisfying combat, packed out with personality and charm. For anyone who ever jumped off a schoolyard wall — tree branch in hand — shouting “Cowabunga!”, Shredder’s Revenge is absolutely worth shelling out for.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]